This information is not legal advice and is not a substitute for individualized legal advice supplied by a lawyer familiar with a client’s case.

This Know Your Rights document is intended to provide you with basic information for when you attend protests. The First Amendment guarantees your right to free speech, including protests, but the government may place restrictions on time, place, and manner related to some speech.

What should I do if I’m stopped by the police?

  • Stay as calm as possible. Make your hands visible. Don’t argue, resist, or obstruct the police, even if you believe they are violating your rights.
  • Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly walk away.
  • If you are being detained and not free to leave, you can ask why you are being arrested. Other than that, say you wish to remain silent and clearly state “I want a lawyer.” Don’t say anything further or sign anything until you are able to consult with your lawyer.
  • You have the right to make a phone call once you are arrested. However, it is important to remember that your calls to anyone other than your attorney are not confidential and can be used against you later. 
  • You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings. If you do consent, it could affect you later in court. However, police may pat you down after an arrest and they may search you after an arrest.
  • Before you go to a protest, it is important to gauge what you are bringing with you. You should not carry anything that you would not want to be found on you, if you were to be arrested or searched, including any weapons, drugs, etc.

When can police issue an order to disperse the protest?

  • Police should not break up a gathering unless there is a clear and present danger of a riot, disorder, interference with traffic, or other immediate threat to public safety.
  • Individuals should receive clear and detailed notice of dispersal before they can be arrested.

Can I take photos/video of the protest and police? Do I need to give up my phone to the police? 

  • When you are lawfully present in any public space, you have the right to take pictures/record anything in plain view without police interference.
  • Police are also not supposed to delete anything off of your phone if it is taken for any reason.
  • It is important to be mindful of state wiretapping laws. There have been instances in which police have used these laws to arrest people who have recorded them.
  • Remove fingerprint and face recognition capabilities and only have a passcode on your phone.

What should I do if I am arrested?

  • Everyone has a right to an attorney in criminal matters. If you cannot afford one, an attorney through the public defender’s office will be provided to you free of charge.
  • You have a right to remain silent. Remember, do not say anything at all to the police either than an explicit statement of “I want a lawyer.”
  • Do not plead guilty on anything (even minor charges) without consulting your attorney.
  • A number of organizations, such as the National Lawyers Guild, offer hotlines for those who are arrested during protests. It is a good idea to look up these phone numbers in your city/state prior to participating in a protest and to write these numbers on your arm (or somewhere easily accessible on your body) in permanent marker, as your belongings are taken from you when you are arrested.
  • Bail funds are available in many cities to offer support, but they often do not have enough funding for everyone who needs it.

What should I consider if I’m not a U.S. citizen?

  • Local law enforcement and ICE often share databases. This means that if you are booked and fingerprinted, ICE could very likely get access to this information. ICE has also been seen at protests in the past, so it is important to know that there may be ICE presence.
  • While every person’s immigration status and situation is different and laws also vary by state and city with relation to non-citizen communities, protesting poses a significant risk for any non-citizen, particularly people with DACA, prior orders of removal or pending removal cases, and/or criminal convictions. Those who have lawful status (like a green card) and a criminal offense that ICE does not yet know about are also at particular risk.
  • Unlike criminal proceedings, you are not entitled to have a free attorney with you during immigration proceedings. While there are some non-profit organizations that provide services to immigrants, they cannot guarantee representation to everyone. 
  • You also have the right to an interpreter during court proceedings, the right to see an immigration judge, the right to contact your consulate, and you may have a right to a bond hearing in your immigration matter if you are detained.
  • Additionally, you can and should tell your public defender or private criminal defense attorney of your immigration status. All information you tell them is private, and they have a constitutional duty to advise you on any immigration consequences related to your criminal case. 
  • If someone pleads guilty or no contest without knowing or understanding the potential implications for their immigration situation, they might be able to get their conviction vacated. If this situation applies to you or anyone you know, they should consult a “clean slate” attorney or defense attorney.
  • Paying bail may also trigger a transfer to ICE in some places while in others, paying bail quickly after arrest may avoid transfer to ICE. The risk also varies depending on the person’s individual immigration circumstances. It is important to connect with your lawyer about this.

What to do when I am hurt at a protest and I don’t have insurance?

  • There is no difference between being injured at a protest and being injured or needing medical care in general when it comes to getting coverage for your medical expenses.
  • While you may consider bringing a suit against the police related to injuries, successful civil lawsuits are fairly rare, require a lot of time and effort, and take a long time to resolve.
  • If you don’t have insurance, you can still obtain medical care in an emergency room. However, you will still be billed for the care.
  • Some clinics in your area may offer free or sliding scale costs for non-emergency medical care. However, it is important to note that these clinics often have limited capacity, so it may be a long time until you are able to get an appointment.
  • If you are hurt and then arrested, you may be taken into custody for booking first, especially if your injuries are not time-sensitive emergencies. After you are released, you can seek care with the advice of this section in mind.  

Can my employer retaliate against me for protesting?

  • This depends on a number of factors, in particular your contract, your state’s labor laws, and whether you are part of a collective bargaining entity.
  • However, most people are “at will” employees, meaning that they can be fired for any reason other than protected classes. Under federal law, protected classes are race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity. However, some states cover more protected classes. 
  • Typically, “at will” employees can face adverse employment outcomes for any reason other than the protected classes.
  • Some states do have laws in place that prevent employers from firing you for any lawful activity done outside of work hours. While this may offer you some protection, it is important to remember that protesting does carry a risk of being arrested. 
  • Arrests and convictions may also affect future employment. Some states have laws in place to prevent or mitigate the use of criminal records in employment decisions.

Do you have the right to an interpreter in jail?

  • You are entitled to interpretation in certain circumstances. It is not guaranteed at all times. 
  • However, there are certain instances during an arrest in which the person being taken into custody must be able to understand. For example, if you did not understand your Miranda rights, you should let your attorney know. 
  • You also have a right to an interpreter in court proceedings. Your lawyer will also likely coordinate with an interpreter to ensure that you can communicate with each other in your meetings with each other outside of court.

What should I do if the police violate my rights?

  • When you are able to, write down anything you remember including, if possible, badge numbers, patrol car numbers, and other identifying information. If you are taking a video, you can also say this information out loud in the video.
  • Get contact information from witnesses. There may also be legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild at the protest, in which case you or your lawyer may be able to contact your local NLG chapter to obtain their records.
  • Take photographs of any injuries.
  • Once you have this information, you can file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. It would also be a good idea to contact an attorney who can advise you about potential civil legal remedies.