Arrested at a Pittsburgh Protest? Your Rights as a Protester
In Pittsburgh, the protests ignited by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have been a mix of peaceful marches and violent near-riots. While hundreds gathered in Downtown and East Liberty on Sunday peaceably, it was a far cry from the destruction Pittsburgh saw Saturday.
According to city officials, 60 businesses and other properties suffered serious damage and dozens of arrests were made. With more protests likely and continued unrest in the community, people are justifiably worried about being arrested at demonstrations.
It’s important to remember that protesters have rights, even if they aren’t made clear by the police. If you are planning to take part in a protest but are worried about the possibility of arrest or are already facing charges, read on for more information about your rights as a protestor or contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC.
Let us explain your situation, fight the charges, and help you deal with it the right way, Call 24/7 for a free consultation: (412) 281-2146
Your Right to Protest
No matter the cause, protests are often disorganized environments. But even in the most chaotic setting, the First Amendment protects your right to assemble and speak freely.
Protesting on Public Property
Protesters are allowed to assemble in most public spaces, like streets, sidewalks, and parks. You can also gather in plazas or in front of government buildings, as long as you are not obstructing access or interfering with its primary purpose.
The exception to this is private property. If a protest spills onto private property, you may be asked to move or risk trespassing charges.
Taking Photos & Video
When you are lawfully in a public space – even during a protest, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view. This includes the police.
Officers should not interfere with recording their actions, but it happens, especially when their behavior is questioned. Therefore, it’s best to calmly assert your right to record so long as you are not on private property or creating a hazard.
Being Stopped & Questioned by Police
When it comes to interacting with police, either during the protest or if you are questioned, it is wise to keep your emotions in check. This can be hard in a heated situation where you want to express your frustrations, but try to remain calm and avoid making threats or comments that may be construed as eliciting violence.
When you are stopped or suspect that you’ll be arrested, you have the right to ask why. If the officer can’t or won’t provide a reason, ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says no or applies force, do not resist or become combative.
Just follow their instructions because at this point it’s likely that you’ll be taken into custody. And it’s best to let a lawyer handle the situation from there.
Police Orders to Disperse
This is usually the last resort to end a demonstration, but the police cannot break up a lawful protest unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, or other immediate threat.
When the police issue an order to disperse, they must provide a reasonable amount of time to comply. This means giving you an opportunity and a clear exit. For example, they cannot order you to leave the area, keep the street obstructed, and fire rubber bullets into the crowd.
In addition, the police must explain that failure to comply will result in arrest. Being subjected to crowd dispersal tactics without waring is a serious violation of your rights and may cause serious injuries.
Remember Details and Document Injuries
If you are arrested at a protest, try to remember the officer’s name, badge number, or other identifying information. If you suffer injuries, request medical attention immediately, and take photos as soon as possible. Also, make sure you hang onto any documents or forms given to you that relate to your arrest.
This information may be useful in your case or any formal complaints you may wish to file against the officer, with the police department, or the city itself.
Have a Plan & a Lawyer’s Number on Hand
Prior to attending a protest, it’s wise to communicate with your friends and family. Let them know your plans, where you plan on being, and what to do if you are taken into custody. This will make locating you and your release a lot easier.
Finally, it is always a good idea to have the number of a trusted lawyer ready. While your phone or wallet may be taken if you are arrested, you could write the number on your arm or memorize it.
Some organizations partner with legal groups like the Pennsylvania ACLU, which provide low cost or pro-bono legal services but you should think about having your own attorney, who will make your rights and release their top priority. These legal aid groups are often overrun after large protests, and may not have the local clout to secure your release as quickly as possible.
Arrested at a Pittsburgh Protest? Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness
These protests should drive us to improve the systematic problems in our legal system, but Pittsburgh will likely see more clashes with police and arrests first. Our defense attorneys believe in your rights, not least among them is the right to speak out against police misconduct and brutality. Let us ensure your right to be heard is protected.
If you were arrested in a protest or plan to attend a demonstration and want legal help, an experienced and highly skilled lawyer is ready.
Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at (412) 281-2146 24/7. Consultations are free and confidential.