America has a long history of protest, dating all the way back to demonstrations like the Boston Tea Party in the colonial era. While protests have happened in all eras, some points of history have seen more protest than others. Currently, the United States is experiencing high levels of participation in political protests. One study conducted in early 2018 found that one in five Americans has participated in some type of political protest or rally since 2016 and that 19 percent of those participating had never done so before. Protest is a valid way to express your views and use your First Amendment rights, but being arrested is a risk that you take when participating in protests—and if you're new to protesting, you may not know how to handle it. Take a look at a few things that you need to know if you're arrested while protesting.
Because an arrest is often a possibility when protesting, it's best to do some planning ahead of time. If you're participating in a protest with an organized group, check to be sure that the group has secured any required permits, and make sure that you know what the conditions for the permits are. Protesters who are protesting as individuals should be sure to find out what areas are open to the public and pedestrians. Keep in mind that in some locations, protesters may be restricted in how close they can come to certain buildings—for example, some states and cities have laws that establish buffer zones around abortion clinics.
Bring your photo ID with you when you go to protest—if you're arrested, the ability to easily verify your identity can help you get out of jail faster. You should also bring the number for an attorney of your choosing, or for an organization that provides legal support, such as your state bar or the ACLU. If you have children, make arrangements with someone who can watch them, just in case (and if you're bringing them with you, have a friend or relative who can be relied on to come to pick them up if needed.) Memorize emergency phone numbers, because your cell phone will be confiscated during an arrest. Finally, if you're bringing equipment like video cameras or photography gear to document your protest, label it with your name. This helps ensure that you'll get it back if you're arrested.
People tend to protest when they feel strongly about an issue. Being surrounded by like-minded protesters can also ramp up the excitement. Unfortunately, the combination of excitement, strong feelings, and a sense of injustice can lead to poor decision-making or escalation during an arrest.
If the police decide to make arrests during a protest, you won't be able to argue them out of it. Once an arrest is underway, it's going to proceed. You shouldn't try to interfere with someone else's arrest or try to debate your way out of your own, and you certainly should not resist physically. At best, it won't work. You could find yourself charged with obstruction, resisting arrest, or something else. And at worst, a previously peaceful arrest could turn violent. The best things that you can do while being arrested at a protest are cooperate with the arresting officer, request an attorney, and remain silent otherwise.
Arrests during protests sometimes constitute a violation of your civil rights. Protesters are often arrested and then released without being charged or arraigned, but if you are charged, evidence from the protest during your arrest may help you defend yourself in court.
You're allowed to record the action around you in a public place, and that includes police action. As long as you aren't interfering with the officers as they do their work, you and your fellow protesters should feel free to record police activity with your cell phone or other equipment. You will have to stop filming if arrested, but chances are that people around you will continue to film. After you are released, reach out to other protesters and ask for any footage they have of your arrest and share it with your attorney. If you're injured during the arrest, seek medical care to document the injures, and make sure that you get photographs from multiple angles in good lighting. This kind of evidence can be crucial to your defense.
No matter what your stance on a given issue happens to be, protesting is your right as an American citizen, and fear of arrest shouldn't stop you. However, being arrested can be a serious event in your life, so it's important to plan ahead, know your rights and responsibilities, and make sure that you have good legal representation to protect your rights after an arrest. For more information, contact a law firm like Funderburk and Lane.