Protesters, Know Your Rights!

Occupy Wall Street has spurred the creation of like-minded groups across the country and around the world, including the First State’s own Occupy Delaware.  The ACLU supports all forms of free speech, including protest rallies, demonstrations, marches, sit-ins and camp-ins.

But protesters need to know their rights.You can bet the police will be near-by whenever these activities occur.

Protected Speech v. Civil Disobedience

First, it is important to differentiate between protesting with protected speech and using civil disobedience. With civil disobedience you are choosing to break the law, and perhaps be arrested to make a point. You need to be prepared for what happens if you are arrested.

Even though protesters are clearly protected by the constitution, the definition of “peaceful protest” may differ from person to person. Here are some valuable tips on what to do if you are confronted by a police officer or another public official during a protest. If you believe that your rights have been violated, please contact the ACLU-DE with your complaint.

If You Are Confronted by the Police

  • Be careful of the words and tone you use. What you say can, and will, be used against you. It can give the police an excuse to arrest you – especially if you “bad mouth” an officer.
  • Stay calm, and do not do anything the officer could view as a threat.
  • Ask the officer if you are free to leave. Do not walk away if the officer says you may not leave.
  • If a police officer requests your name and address and you do not answer, the officer may hold you for two hours to investigate.  You should then be released or arrested.
  • If you answer a police officer’s questions, do not lie. That would be a crime.
  • You do not have to consent to a search of yourself, your bag or your car, except in limited circumstances, and you should not consent.  You may be searched anyway if the officer has reasonable grounds to believe you have a weapon or are committing a crime.
  • If you have problems with your immigration status and are arrested, that could lead to deportation. More information for non-citizens can be found here.
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