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  • Writer's pictureWandro, Kanne, & Lalor, PC

Know Your Rights as a Protester

At Wandro & Associates, we strongly condemn in every conceivable way the actions police officers took in Minnesota that resulted in the death of George Floyd. There have been protests here in Des Moines and throughout the United States dedicated to championing increased law enforcement accountability and for the rights of persons of color. As we observe these protests, we are mindful that many protesters may not know what their rights are as they attempt to peacefully assemble to advocate for change. Below we have provided some tips and FAQ so that all protesters know what their rights are and how to protect themselves, both legally and physically, from any repercussions they suffer as a result of exercising their First Amendment right to peacefully protest.

The First Amendment protects the fundamental right to peacefully assemble and express your views through protest. It is one of the most fundamentally important rights that we possess as citizens of the United States of America. After the indefensible murder of George Floyd, protests have sprung up across all 50 states in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. As protests continue across the country, it is important to know your rights as a protester and what to do if you are arrested for protesting.


Attending the Protest: What Rights Do You Have?

  • Your First Amendment right to protest is strongest in what are known as “traditional public forums” such as sidewalks, streets, and parks. Protesting on private land is not protected and the private landowner sets the rules for speech on their property.

  • The government cannot stop you from peacefully protesting, but restrictions on the time, place and manner of the protest are permissible, such as requiring a permit or instituting a curfew. If you stay on the street past a curfew, you could be cited or arrested.

  • When you are lawfully protesting in a public space, you have the right to photograph and record anything in plain sight including federal buildings and the police.

  • You do not need a permit to march in the streets or on sidewalks as long as you do not obstruct car or pedestrian traffic. Police officers may ask you to move to the side of the street or sidewalk to allow passage.


What if the Police Issue an Order to Disperse?

  • Shutting down a protest should be the last resort for law enforcement, and police may only break up a protest if there is a clear and present danger of a riot, interference with traffic, or other immediate threat to public safety.

  • Police must provide a reasonable opportunity to comply with their dispersal order and provide a clear and unobstructed exit path.

  • Protesters must receive a clear and detailed dispersal order, such as how much time they have to disperse and any consequences of not dispersing before the police may arrest them or charge them with any crime.


Taking Photographs and Video: What Rights Do You Have?

  • You have the right to photograph or record anything in plain sight, including federal buildings and the police.

  • Police officers must have a warrant to search or seize your phone. Police also need a warrant to view your photos or videos. A police officer may ask for your consent to search these things, but politely state that you do not consent to the search.

  • Do not interfere with law enforcement officers when you are recording. You may record police officers making arrests, but make sure to maintain a safe distance and do not interfere with the officer’s actions.

  • Police may not delete your photos or videos or demand that you delete any photo or video under any circumstance.


What Rights Do You Have if You are Stopped by the Police?

  • Stay calm, be polite, and make sure your hands are visible to the police. Do not argue or resist the police, even if you think they are violating your rights.

  • Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says that you are free to leave, calmly walk away.

  • If the police arrest you, you have the right to ask why you are being arrested. Otherwise, tell the police that you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer. Do not say anything to the police or sign anything without having a lawyer present. Do not make any decisions without a lawyer present.

  • You do not have to consent to a search of your belongings, but police may pat you down in order to check if you have a weapon.


What Should You Do if Your Rights are Violated?

  • Always try to stay calm and be polite with police, even if you think they are violating your rights. Do not physically resist officers or threaten to file a complaint.

  • As soon as you are able to, write down everything you can remember about the incident, including police officers’ badge numbers and patrol car numbers, and what agency the officer is from.

  • Take photographs of any injuries that you have sustained but seek medical attention first if you need it.

  • Get contact information of any person that witnessed the incident.


More Tips for Protesters

  • Bring water and a snack to the protest.

  • Wear a face mask or covering to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Try to maintain a safe distance, if possible, from other protesters.

  • Different locations have different rules for protesting, so make sure to check the rules for the area that you will be protesting in before arriving.


Wandro & Associates strongly condemns the death of George Floyd and every other person of color who has been unlawfully attacked, assaulted, arrested, or murdered by law enforcement. We will not forget Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Ahmaud Arbery, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Dreasjon Reed, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Michelle Shirley, Redel Jones, Kenney Watkins, Stephon Clark, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and the many, many other persons of color who have lost their lives without justification. We will fight on behalf of protesters who were unlawfully arrested or assaulted by law enforcement in the course of protesting.


Have questions? We have answers.

Call us at 515-281-1475 or email us at


This Wandro & Associates Update is intended to inform firm clients and friends about legal developments, including recent decisions of various courts and administrative bodies. Nothing in this Practice Update should be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion, and readers should not act upon the information contained in this Update without seeking the advice of legal counsel.

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