Allegedly Extra: Your Right To Protest

It’s Election Day!

If you haven’t voted yet, stop reading and get to the polls! You can always read Allegedly in line or after you cast your ballot. 

Not surprisingly, this special edition of Allegedly involves the Presidential race. 

The New York Police Department has been prepping for mass protests over today’s election. 

In an October memo, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea reportedly said: “There is also a strong likelihood that the winner of the presidential election may not be decided for several weeks...accordingly, we should anticipate and prepare for protests growing in size, frequency, and intensity leading up to the election and likely into the year 2021.”

Shea also said in this memo that starting Oct. 25, uniformed officers of “every service rank” needed to be ready for deployment. Most officers must report to duty in uniform, even if they don’t usually wear this dress, NBC New York said.   

Considering what happened during protests this summer--when NYPD officers were repeatedly accused of brutality and misconduct, including false arrest, and harassing journalists-- and the fact that it appears to keep happening, you might wonder what your rights are at demonstrations. 

So, Allegedly put together a quick guide to your rights in New York City.*

Yes, you can protest even though there’s a pandemic. 

It’s is your right under the First Amendment!  Even with social distancing requirements, you can still assemble in groups of 10 people or less, so long as you keep six feet of distance from others.  If you want to hold signs and pass out fliers, that’s also within your rights, The Legal Aid Society said.

Importantly, you do have the right to film protests--including “police activity,” according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. The NYCLU noted: “Maintain enough distance not to interfere with police activity.”

And remember: Mask mandates are still a thing even if you’re outside and can’t keep six feet of distance from others, advocates said. 

As for permits…

If you’re not blocking pedestrians, you don’t need a permit to march on sidewalks “without amplified sound.” You don’t need a permit to pass out pamphlets in public parks or public sidewalks. In fact, you don’t need a permit to have a demo, presser, or rally on a public sidewalk, the NYCLU said. 

There are protest activities that do require an NYPD permit. Those include “marching in the street” and “using sound amplification,” per NYCLU. 

Legal Aid said that a permit might be required to “gather in a city park.” NYCLU notes that you need a permit for a park event if there are more than 20 people. Also, “a procession involving 50 or more vehicles or bicycles in a public street” requires a permit.  

Allegedly scribe and public space scholar Catherina Gioino informs us that a permit is required, however, if large groups of people leave the sidewalk, or public space, and go into the street, technically blocking traffic.

You have rights if you’re arrested 

If you’ve watched any TV in the past however long TV has existed, you know that you have the right to remain silent. Legal Aid explains: “If you choose to talk to the police, it can be used against you. Don’t tell the police anything except your name, address, and date of birth.” 

The legal advocacy organization said that if you’re arrested, ask for a lawyer right away. 

What else?

Even if you protest peacefully,  doing so in accordance with the law, you might still get hassled just for being there. Police might give a “dispersal order” -- basically, an official get-out-of-here. However, if cops do this, they have to give “clear notice” and give you the chance to leave, Legal Aid said. 

If cops stop you, they have to disclose their name, rank, and command--and they also have to tell you why you’re being stopped. Also, remember how you absolutely have the right to take photos and record video? Well, they can’t take them, or demand to see them, without a warrant. They’re also not permitted to erase data “under any circumstances,” Legal Aid explained.

*Obviously, this isn’t legal advice because we’re not lawyers. It’s just information that you might find interesting, or useful, or whatever. Again, it’s not legal advice! Again, we’re not lawyers! And we’re most definitely not your lawyer! We’re a newsletter. If you want legal advice, you need it from a lawyer, not us!