Know Your Rights When You Go to Protest in Michigan

A woman stands with a megaphone and many smiling protesters waving signs stand behind her exercising their right to protest.Challenging a rule or a law is important. It is through questioning authority that individuals ensure the laws or rules are just. Citizens in the U.S. elect officials to represent their views and opinions by enacting laws that will support and protect them. Citizens can show their disapproval legally through contacting their representative, voting the officials out of office, or protesting.

The first amendment that focuses on freedom of expression states that it “guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.” Many of the founding fathers of the country supported protest, that is one of the big reasons this country came into being. 

However, with the recent protests, many people wonder what their rights as a protester are. Keep reading to learn about your rights at a protest.

What Are My Rights at a Protest

  • You are safest in areas of “traditional public forums.” These include parks, sidewalks, and streets. Public property such as in front of government buildings are other good spots
  • Private property owners can set their own rules on their private property. 
  • Counter-protesters also have rights. They can be within sight of another group. The police may separate antagonistic groups.
  • You don’t need a permit to march. You can march in the street or on sidewalks - just make sure not to get in the way of drivers or walkers. If anyone needs that path, officers may ask you or the group to move to the side.

Can I Take Pictures at a Protest?

  • If you are lawfully on public property, you can photograph or record anything in plain view. 
  • This protection extends to public buildings and public servants, including police officers.
  • Police may not take or confiscate your photographs or video recordings. They also may not delete your data at any time for any reason. If an officer has a specific warrant, they may take your recording device or the recordings. 
  • We would caution you to be aware of the following: officers may ask you to stop behaviors that interfere with law enforcement. This may be loosely interpreted.

What Do I Need to Do If the Police Order the Crowd to Disperse?

  • Police may order a dispersal of the crowd
  • This should be law enforcement’s last option. 
  • Reasons for issuing a dispersal include: there is a danger of a riot forming, traffic obstruction, or a threat to public safety.
  • Officers must allow reasonable chances to comply with dispersal orders. There must be enough time and a clear path to exit the area.
  • People must have clear, detailed notice of the order. They must have information regarding how much time, the consequences of ignoring the order, and their exit path. All this must take place before legal arrests or charges may take place.

What Should I Do if Stopped by the Police?

  • As much as possible, stay calm. Make sure your hands remain visible. Even when you believe your rights have been violated, don’t argue or resist if you are being arrested.
  • Ask the officer if you can freely leave. If so, do so immediately.
  • You have the right to ask why you are under arrest. Then remain silent until you have a lawyer present.
  • You can legally make a local call. Additionally, if that call is to a lawyer, law enforcement is not allowed to listen.
  • It is in your best interest NOT to consent to a search of your belongings.
  • Police can pat you down for weapons. Also, law enforcement can search you after arresting you.

Exercising Your Right to Protest is Legal

We hope this guide helps you understand your rights and how to legally attend a protest. According to the ACLU of Michigan, protesting is a legal way to exercise your rights. Here is some additional information from the ACLU on protesting rights

If you believe your rights have been violated at a protest, give our legal team a call. The attorneys at Pitt, McGehee, Palmer, & Rivers enthusiastically defend the rights of workers and civilians who have been wronged. 

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