Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Protest rights: Top 5 Things To Know During Demonstrations

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation sent volunteer legal observers to witness the large-scale protests in Madison and Milwaukee. In Madison the protests have gone largely without incident and with full cooperation between law enforcement and activists despite the estimated 10,000+ demonstrators picketing inside and outside the Capitol each day.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation would like to affirm the rights of protesters to peaceably assemble. As the demonstrations continue this week, we want to remind activists about the top five things to remember when demonstrating:

1. Signs with sticks are not allowed in the Capitol building for safety reasons. Paper signs are allowed.

2. Peaceful demonstrations are allowed, so long as they don't violate other people's rights. However ignoring police orders is not allowed. The police may not shut down a demonstration entirely, but may put reasonable limits on the time, place and manner of a protest. If police issue orders to protesters to leave an area or to otherwise conform to announced rules, protesters who ignore orders could be subject to citation or arrest.

3. Be a good observer. Document any problems at demonstrations with notes (time, location, details) and especially with cameras. The National Lawyers’ Guild has a guide for trained legal observers that is an excellent resource on how to document protests (PDF).

4. An individual under arrest should say nothing to law enforcement without their attorney present. Please see the ACLU of Wisconsin Guide for Demonstrators (PDF) for more details on what Constitutionally protected activity. Criminal behavior is not protected by the First Amendment. For more information on interacting with law enforcement, please see our bust cards for Milwaukee (PDF) and Madison (PDF).

5. Protests in public spaces like sidewalks and in the Capitol within a reasonable time, place and manner are allowed. In general, protesters have the most rights in outdoor public spaces like public sidewalks and the Capitol grounds. As long as the protest is peaceful and does not block traffic, most protest activities are allowed in such spaces. Inside buildings like the Capitol, however, authorities may impose more limits to ensure that government functions are not interrupted.

As protests continue, we remind everyone to take care of themselves, cooperate and continue to exercise their free speech rights without problems or incidents.