As America’s political climate grows more contentious, people of all political affiliations are taking to the streets to exercise their constitutional rights to free speech and to petition the government for a redress of grievances by assembling in public, usually through organized marches. Unfortunately, mass action does not always stay peaceful, and when that happens, local law enforcement are obligated to move in. Sometimes, police actions seem unmotivated, but they can be easier to predict if you understand why and how officers arrest people at a protest. After that, it becomes easier to understand how you should deal with the situation if it happens to you.
Gather information before the march
If you are attending a march or rally, chances are there is a central group or coalition of groups organizing things. Typically, these groups will know if they have to have a permit from the city for such a gathering, and if they do, they will have information about what conditions have been placed on the permit. Those conditions might include limitations on where the march spreads, or they might place behavior conditions on attendees to protect the general public. Common limitations include:
- Restriction to a single venue or march route
- Rules about sidewalk and/or street clearance
- Limitations on size, signage, or use of the land, such as injunctions against camping
If the event has no protests, the chances of being arrested are much higher. If you do think you are going to be arrested, the best thing you can do is limit the valuables you will bring and label the ones you do have.
What to do if you are arrested
In general, protest arrests tend to be a way of clearing the area. Sometimes charges do occur, and they seem to be growing more frequent as the age of regular protesting continues. When that happens, your best options are the same as when you are charged with any other crime: call a lawyer or someone who can call a lawyer. Otherwise, here is how to get through a basic arrest:
- If you think you are being arrested, ask if you can leave. If you get a no, you are probably being arrested.
- Once you are told you can not leave, comply throughout the arrest to minimize chances of being accused of resisting.
- Do not talk about what happened or attempt to explain yourself to law enforcement or anyone else.
- Be calm and wait.
If you are not facing charges, chances are you will be released fairly quickly, perhaps with a minimal bail. If you do face charges, stay calm and remember that peaceful protest is legal. Then call a lawyer with experience dealing with civil rights cases.