Recent events of police brutality and the horrifying killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police have many people taking to the streets of Seattle and around Washington to express their outrage and to demand justice. This freedom to assemble and express our grievances is one of our most important civil rights in the United States.
“The Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enshrines the right to assemble and protest peacefully in public forums. The Government can put in place some limited restrictions that deal with the time, place and manner of the protest as long as they are justified and serve a legitimate government interest and the same rules apply to every group regardless of the content of their message. The First Amendment does not condone an assembly where there is clear and present danger of a riot, interference with traffic on public streets or an immediate threat to public health and safety. Protest groups who break local laws can be dispersed or arrested even though their speech is otherwise protected. If the police issue an order to disperse they must communicate it to the protestors and allow a reasonable amount of time for compliance as well as an unobstructed exit path.
What if the police violate my rights?
Do your best to document everything: try to get names, badge numbers and any other identifying information about the police including their department or agency. Get the contact information for any witnesses at the scene. Document any injuries you may have received. Take pictures or videos if possible. It is within your rights to take pictures or video of anything in plain view when you are lawfully in a public space. After the protest, you can file a written complaint with the responsible party’s agency. You may also want to contact a civil rights lawyer to find out additional legal actions available in your situation.
What if I get arrested?
If you are stopped by the police, remain calm and respectful so as not to escalate the situation. If you are unsure if you are under arrest or not, politely ask the officer if you are free to go. If you are, walk away calmly. If you are not free to go, the arrest has begun and you should try to keep the tension between you and law enforcement from escalating. Keep your hands visible, do not run, obstruct the police or resist arrest even if you think it is a violation of your rights as this could get you injured or give the police an opportunity to add extra charges to your arrest. Calmly state “I’m exercising my right to remain silent” and then actually remain silent. Immediately ask to speak with a lawyer and do not sign anything until you have consulted the lawyer. The police have a limited exception to the requirement of a warrant that allows them to search you or your belongings subsequent to arrest to check for weapons or other safety issues and ensure that evidence is not destroyed. You may want to state “I do not consent to this search.” It won’t stop the officer from searching you or your belongings, but it might be helpful in preserving your rights in later proceedings in court.
If you have been arrested at a protest or have questions about your case, please contact us at info@brumleylawfirm or (253) 236- 4079.