Thinking of protesting? Here’s what you need to know to avoid confrontations

Protesters outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on May 29, 2020. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)


Non-violent protests, riots and looting have broken out nationwide in response to the police-involved death of George Floyd after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck while responding to a call about a man allegedly using a counterfeit check.

Chauvin has since been charged with third degree murder for his role in the murder. Three other cops who watched as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck as Floyd said he couldn’t breath have not been charged for their actions as of early Saturday afternoon. 

Protests that started in Minnesota reached New York City on Thursday in Manhattan and escalated Friday night in Brooklyn. At least three more protests were planned throughout the city on Saturday, including one in Elmhurst planned for 3 p.m. 

While State Attorney General Letitia James announced she will lead a swift, independent investigation into the NYPD’s actions while responding to Friday night’s wild protest outside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, it is important for protesters to know what speech is protected during demonstrations and what happens if a protester is arrested during a demonstration.

Right to peaceably assemble

The first amendment affords citizens and non-citizens the right to peaceably assemble if it falls under what the law calls reasonable time, place and manner. 

The key part of these protections is “peaceful” assembly, according to civil rights and liberties attorney Norman Siegal, who has been practicing civil rights and liberties law for 50 years. 

What is happening in Minnesota, Colorado and in Brooklyn Friday night — including looting, fires being set and vandalizing — is not considered protected speech under the first amendment, he said. 

Protesters cannot block pedestrian traffic or the entrance way to an establishment. 

Demonstrators are expected to hold a permit or oral permission from police officers at the event to be in the streets. At times police may ask demonstrators and allow them to be in the streets to not block pedestrians not involved in the protests. 

What to do if arrested during a protest

If someone is arrested during a protest, legal experts advise them to not resist as it is not the time to disagree with what is happening to them. Once someone is taken to a precinct they should request a phone call to call a lawyer, the ACLU or the National Lawyers Guild. 

If someone does not have a lawyer or can not afford one they will either be assigned a public defender or they can call Good Call NYC, a NYC-based legal aid non-profit who will connect arrested demonstrators with a lawyer at 1-833-346-6322. 

The Good Call NYC hotline is available in all five boroughs to connect people to the legal aid required for arrested protesters. 

Demonstrators who are arrested have the right to remain silent and are advised to until they can consult with a lawyer. 

It is also advised that those arrested do not give access to their DNA which can be obtained when police offer gum, drinks or cigarettes.  

Good Call NYC also advises people being arrested do not sign any documents 

There are times when protesters are arrested without just cause, and they can file a claim against this false arrest. After the arraignment consult with an attorney to find out if a claim has merit in your case. People wanting to file a claim have 90 days to sue the city for state claims and three years to file a federal claim. 

Editor’s Note: Schneps Media is not a legal entity and people hoping to file claims should consult with an attorney to understand the best course of action in that specific case. 

How to stay safe during demonstrations 

It is advised that demonstrators turn off location services, bluetooth and face/fingerprint unlock functions on their phone including the GPS to avoid being tracked or illegally searched at demonstrations and to only take video and photographs of the demonstrations from the lock screen to keep the phone locked. 

Police must obtain a search warrant to open a phone of someone who has been arrested. 

Protests can and do at times escalate toward violence and it is important to understand the group someone is surrounding themselves with at a protest. If someone does not know the group who is organizing the event it is advised that people remain back until they get a better understanding of the safety of the event. 

“[The] first amendment is a very important bedrock principle for America and we have to make sure that people in government including police respect it and protect it,” said Siegal. 

Photo via @GoodCallNYC/Twitter

Editor’s Note: Schneps Media does not condone the use of violent tactics during protests but is committed to protecting the First Amendment and the protections of free speech it affords. If you are arrested during a demonstration and require representation you can call the Good Call NYC hotline at 1-833-346-6322 to connect with legal representation. 

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