Questions about Protests

Questions about Protests
by Susan Basko, esq

I was just looking at the Google Queries that led people to this blog today.  These include the following questions, which I will answer.  I am taking the google search queries exactly at they were written: 

how long do protesters go to jail 
Protesting is legal in the United States.  It is our right under the Constitution.  The vast majority of people that participate in protests do not get arrested. Some people do get arrested at protests, usually for such things as blocking traffic, trespassing, or property damage.  It is also possible to be arrested at a protest for no reason other than being targeted by the police.  In most cases, those who are arrested are let out after a few hours or within a day. Sometimes they are charged with a crime and sometimes they are not.  If they are charged with a crime, then they are usually given a date to go to Court.  If a person was arrested at a protest for something more serious, such as breaking windows or starting something on fire, then they will probably be held and should go before a judge within a couple of days to set bail.  If a person is arrested and has an outstanding warrant from something that happened before, they will usually have to be in jail until they can clear up that warrant.  That has been known to take weeks.  If you know you have an outstanding warrant, then you should probably avoid going to a protest or being arrested.

KEEP IN MIND that many people who are arrested at protests are doing so intentionally as a form of CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE.  They intentionally break the law because they want to be arrested as a form of protest. If you do not want to get arrested and if people start talking about "Civil Disobedience," then avoid participating with them since their goal is to be arrested.  Don't be swayed or coerced by what they say.  If you don't want to be arrested, do not participate in activities that are geared to get you arrested.  A lot of people leading such activities fail to plan for or take care of those they have caused to be arrested.

how long does it take to get a permit in nyc to have a protest
 I don't know, but in most cases, you do not need a permit to hold a protest.  If you keep the protest in a public space, such as a plaza, or on the public sidewalk, you don't need a permit.  Applying for a permit in other cities I do know about can take months.  That all makes no sense since the thing you are protesting about will most likely be over before a city gives you a permit.  If you are planning a really big protest tied to a future event, then it makes sense to apply for a permit.  International law says that cities are supposed to accommodate the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, even if this inconveniences others.

can fbi search a computer if not listed on search list
The FBI is supposed to have a search warrant before it can search a computer.  Ask to see a warrant and read it carefully.  As you note, the search warrant has a list of places to be searched and items to be seized. If the computer is not on the list, then it is not supposed to be searched or seized (taken).  If the FBI doesn't have a valid search warrant that lists the computer, then any evidence they find on the computer might be suppressed as being gotten without a lawful search warrant.

HOWEVER, if you give permission to the FBI or to any other police agency to search your computer or to search anything, then you are forfeiting your rights and protections.  Never give permission to allow any police or agency to search anything. If police or an agent ask you "Do you mind if we look?,"  the answer is, "Yes, I do mind.  No, I do not give my permission for any type of search."  I know of an instance where law enforcement agents asked to search and seize computers during a swat -- a false emergency call to the police.  If asked for permission, say no.

chicago protest permit
In Chicago, you do not need a permit to protest unless you are in locations where a permit is required to gather a large group, or if you plan to block the street.  Even then, international law standards say that if a protest is large, it should be allowed in the street.  See the article on this blog about Where You Can Protest in Chicago.   Getting a permit in Chicago is a lengthy process and should be reserved for times when you are planning well into the future.  If you are just holding a simple protest -- go out and do it.  If you want it to be legal, keep it to the public sidewalks and publicly-owned plazas.

do protesters have to have a permit to march on streets
To march on the sidewalk, you do not need a permit.  To march in the street, you do need a permit in most cities. HOWEVER, the international law standard says that the police should accommodate a large protest and let them march in the streets.  If a protest blocks traffic, often there will be arrests.  Something may be the "right" of a protest, but that does not mean protesters won't be arrested.  If there is a big group, sometimes police will follow the international law guidelines and accommodate the protest so it can be held on the street.  Not always, though, so you need to gauge what is happening and listen to instructions if you want to avoid being arrested.

do you need a permit to protest
 No,  Protest does not require a permit if you keep it on the sidewalks or in a publicly-owned plaza.

do you need permits to protest in california
No, see answers above.

find a place to protest
You can protest on a public sidewalk or in a publicly-owned plaza.  Look where others in your area have successfully run protests and use that same space.

how long do you sit in jail protesting
Most protesters do not get arrested.  Of the few that are arrested, most are released within a few hours.  A very few will be kept up to 2 days, if they are facing charges and need to go before a judge to set bail.   If a protester has an outstanding warrant for their arrest from something that happened before, they might be kept until the warrant is cleared up, which can take weeks.

how much does a protest permit cost
A protest permit should be free.  You don't need a permit if you keep your protest on a public sidewalk or in a publicly-owned plaza.  If you are running a big protest for a specific event and you do want to get a permit, there is usually no cost in most cities -- but a city might insist on such things as insurance, porta-potties, etc.  International standards state that a city should bear the cost of policing and should not require insurance. If your protest is just a rally or march held on short notice in public spaces and on public sidewalks, then you will be doing that without a permit.  Sometimes a big protest is also held without a permit.  If there are many people and they do not all fit on the sidewalk, sometimes it will be held in the street, even without a permit.

why are people being arrested for protesting
Protesting is legal, so the vast majority of protesters do not get arrested. Sometimes protesters do get arrested. Sometimes the arrests are targeted by police who are looking to harass the people they perceive as leaders.  Sometimes police act crazy at a protest and engage in what are almost random kidnappings of people. But that is pretty rare and more confined to cities where the police are poorly trained.  But it does happen, so it is good to be aware of.   AND. . .

Other than that, the main reasons protesters get arrested are:

  • Being in the street when they've been told by police to get out of the street.
  • Blocking traffic or blockading a roadway.
  • Sitting in traffic or in the street.
  • Writing on anything with spray paint or markers.
  • Carrying any fire-creating device such as fireworks or a road flare, or using one to start fire.
  • Causing any damage to property or people.
  • Climbing on any vehicle.  Rocking or tipping any vehicle.
  •  Harassing or menacing other people walking, in shops, in cars, etc.
  • Trespassing onto private property.
  • Blocking an entry, exit, elevator, public transportation, etc.
  • Not following police orders during the protest.
  • Possessing a bottle bomb, bat, gun, knife, etc.
  • Throwing anything.
  • Not leaving if the police have announced it is an UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY. Once the police call this, then anyone that stays can be arrested.
  • Not leaving if police announce it is a RIOT.  Once the police call it a RIOT, then they can also announce that everyone there is "Under arrest."

Deray sued by Cop for Incitement: Far-Fetched

Deray McKesson
Deray sued by Cop for Incitement:  Far-Fetched
by Susan Basko, esq.

Tuesday, November 9, 2016.  Yesterday afternoon, a lawsuit was filed against Deray McKesson of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement by an unnamed police officer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The police officer claims that the BLM activist, popularly known as Deray, incited violence during a protest in Baton Rouge.  The officer was injured by a man who threw a rock or piece of concrete at his face.  The officer does not claim that Deray played any part in the rock throwing, nor does he name any words spoken by Deray that allegedly would cause the other man to throw the stone.  Nor does he claim that Deray ever spoke with the man who threw the rock.  Rather, he claims that Deray was present at the protest, he is a BLM leader, and that he was speaking with others at the protest.  The officer claims that Deray was "ordering" others.  The officer also sued Black Lives Matter, which is not an organization, but a movement of people nationwide in protest of police killings of Black people.  You can read about the lawsuit against Deray in this article in the Daily Kos.  There is some sort of affiliation of BLM chapters, but Deray's group does not belong to it.  Rather, he is a founder of a group called Campaign Zero, which seeks to end police violence by collecting data and strategically affecting Use of Force policies and police union contracts.

Deray was arrested at the protest in Baton Rouge, as seen on video live streamed by both himself and his friends.  At the time, Deray was walking in a legal space along the side of a road. From the video, there was nothing discernable as being illegal in Deray's actions.  He was simply walking along in a protest with his friends, when he was set upon and dragged off.  Several days after the arrests, Baton Rouge announced it would not be charging about half of those arrested, including Deray.  Such arrests still severely chill rights by making people less likely to participate in protests, which is their legal right as forms of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

Deray and a group of others filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Baton Rouge saying the police violated the civil rights of the protesters by acted in a militarized and aggressive manner toward them.  You can read about this here in the Guardian.

This lawsuit by the Baton Rouge police officer is highly unusual in several ways:  First, if any incitement to violence had taken place, it would be a crime that could be prosecuted, and not usually handled as a private action tort, or lawsuit.  Second, it is very unusual for a police officer to sue someone as an unnamed John Doe.  Third, "incitement to violence" requires words that are an imminent call to violence, and in this case, no such words have been alleged.  It is not even alleged that Deray ever spoke to the man who threw the stone.  The known words of Deray that are heard on video have Deray stating that the protesters had been peaceful and the police had not been.  It is very far-fetched that such words could be considered incitement, aside from it being even more far-fetched that the man throwing the stone even heard the words.  Fourth, neither Deray nor his group called the protest.  It would be extremely unusual to try to hold Deray responsible for what happened at the protest.

In any protest group or other gathering, there can be people who either come to cause trouble or get caught up in the moment.  Each person is responsible for their own behavior.  Incitement involves an exhortation or urging to imminent violent action. There simply is no known evidence that any such thing happened at the Baton Rouge protest.

The lawsuit against Deray also claims he did not try to calm down the protesters.  However, from Deray's perspective, it was the police who were out of control, overly aggressive, militarized, and acting inappropriately toward peaceful protesters.  From the videos, it looks as if Deray was simply trying to keep himself and his closest friends out of harm's way.

What makes this lawsuit even more far-fetched is the nature of Deray himself.  For the past month or so, I have been blessed with being granted a coveted spot at seminars run by Deray at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics.  I've had the opportunity to hear and learn from Deray, to meet and listen to his closest associates in Campaign Zero and the Black Lives Matter movement.  There is no way on earth Deray incited anyone to violence.  I'd describe Deray as highly intelligent, well-spoken, calm, funny, slight nerdy,  friendly, busy, practical.  I could picture him participating in a spelling bee or a math contest, not in a gun battle.

When Deray was arrested, he seemed surprised, so much so that naysayers online claimed it was staged. Nope, he was just a goody two shoes walking along, shocked to be arrested and hauled off for no particular reason.  The wide-eyed "deer in the headlights" look in the pics of him being arrested is genuine.  Deray's response to the lawsuit against him has been that he hopes the Baton Rouge Police will return his bookbag.

Deray's associates from the BLM movement are strikingly brilliant and filled with hope and ideas.  One such is Sam Sinyangwe, who gathers and charts data on police department Use of Force policies and killings by police.  Another is Brittany Packnett, a graduate of the prestigious George Washington University in St. Louis, who trains educators as her full-time job and volunteers to help raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement.  Anyone who is hoping to find swaggering tough-talking throwbacks to the 1960 radical days will be surprised that the BLM movement is run by top-tier graduates of prestigious schools, with perfect diction, poise, grace, seemingly boundless natural energy, positive enthusiasm, and a strong dose of humor.  There is much good-natured laughter in our seminars.

Deray was formerly a 6th grade math teacher at a Baltimore public school with violence problems.  Just yesterday, Deray stated that he he disagreed with many people and thought there should be police in schools, or at least in schools with problems of violence.  But he does not think police should be handcuffing kids and taking them to the office, but rather than they should be on hand for incidents of violence.  This does not sound like a man who would incite someone to toss a rock at another human.

If the Baton Rouge police officer suing Deray is hoping to pose Deray as a tough talking bad guy, he's got quite a surprise coming.   It is too far-fetched.

How to Run a Protest - Basics

How to Run a Protest - Basics
By Susan Basko, esq.

See Also:  Counter-Protesters and Counter-Demonstrators
See Also: High School Protest Rights

At least once a week, I get a query from someone wanting to run their first protest. There's a lot of protests happening these days.  That's a good thing, since it means people worldwide are exercising their rights to seek redress of grievances by calling public attention to the matter.  The basic list I am giving here is for the U.S. Please understand that what is legal in the U.S. may not be so elsewhere.  In fact, in some nations, protesters have been put to death.  This is also a reminder that if you are in the U.S., to cherish and value out rights to protest.  If you see a protest, rather than think of it as an annoyance, think of it as a refreshing and valuable exercise of our U.S. Constitution.   Even if you don't agree with the protesters, be proud of the freedom that gives them the right to protest.


1.  CHOOSE YOUR TOPIC. Your protest must have a topic.  The protest can be for something, against something, or generally educational or rallying.   Some topics can be wide: for example, against racism, against police brutality, for reproductive rights. Or a topic can be narrow: a protest because a particular police officer was not indicted for police brutality, a protest against a particular expansion of a pipeline, etc. 

2. CHOOSE YOUR FORMAT.  There are many kinds of formats for protests, including a march, a rally,  camping in tents, a sit-in or holding a space, attending a public meeting and possibly raising a ruckus, street theater such as performance, a flash mob of singing or dancing, projection of pictures or video, holding a group bike ride, candlelight vigil, etc.  Some protest formats are low commitment, such as a rally and march, and some are high commitment, such as camping, a sit-in, or holding a space.

The most common forms of protest are a rally and a march.  A rally takes place in one large public location, such as park or plaza.  A march moves as a line or parade along a sidewalk or street.

3. PICK A LOCATION.  PERMITS: THE GENERAL RULES.  In most locations in the U.S., the general rule is that you do not need a permit to protest, unless you are going to be blocking the street or interfering with pedestrian, car, or bike traffic.  

The other general rule is that it is legal to hold a protest in a PUBLIC space such as a government plaza or park, unless it is specifically designated as being for some other purpose such as art displays or music concerts.  The PUBLIC sidewalk is a legal place to hold a protest march, but you must leave enough space for others who also want to use the sidewalk.  Conversely, it is generally illegal to hold a protest in on PRIVATE property. Some examples of private property are a shopping mall or a private plaza or private sidewalk. 

If you want to close down the street and want to do it legally, you need a permit. If that is your plan, you are best to get a local lawyer to assist you.  Many will do this for free.

For a BASIC protest, let's say you are going to meet in a public location and then go on a sidewalk march. Let's say you expect a group of anywhere from 20 to 200 people to attend.

Try to pick a location that relates to the topic of the protest or to the intended audience.  For example, if you want to show your support or disapproval of a certain act of government, you may want to stand with signs by the side of a busy road during rush hour and ask people to honk their car horns in agreement.  If you want to protest something the federal government is doing, show up at a federal plaza or building.  If you want to protest what a mayor is doing, protest at City Hall.  If you don't like what a certain company is doing, protest outside their headquarters or nearby location.  If no location is applicable or convenient, then pick any general public plaza or sidewalk.  

4. SET YOUR DATE AND TIME.  Most cities, when giving permits for a protest, allot time slots of 2 hours.  If this is your first protest, stick to the 2-hour window.  That keeps it compact and manageable.  As you get more experienced and have a group you can trust, you can move on to more elaborate plans.

Choose the date, day of the week and time slot when your people can attend.  For a successful first protest, it is best to choose a time when students and workers can attend without problems, which is usually after school or work or on a weekend.  Check what is happening at the place you plan to hold the protest. For example, if you plan to hold your protest in a city plaza, but if at that same time there will be a band concert or a holiday event in the plaza, you are best off choosing a different time or place.    

5. NOISE: When setting your date and time, be sure you are not interfering with religious services that are held near your chosen location.  In many cities, it is illegal to make noise outside a place of religious worship during services.  It may also be illegal to hold a noisy protest near a hospital, school, or nursing home.  It is also illegal to interfere with a clinic or with patients or medical personnel coming and going.

6. FORMAT/ SCHEDULE.  You have chosen your topic, your format, your place, your date and 2-hour time slot.  Now, figure out how you will spend your 2 hours.  Usually this will be divided into gathering, holding the protest, and breaking up/ clean-up.  The typical events include people holding signs, speakers, chants, singing, music, dance, drumming.  

One of the most effective protests I ever saw was a simple march down a sidewalk in a very busy area in a major city, where each of the marchers held a yellow helium-filled balloon on a string.  They had a drummer.  They had a few signs to explain what they were protesting.  They had information people to talk with the public.  They also had printed flyers they would hand to people who showed an interest.  

7. GATHER YOUR GROUP.  Publicity. Commitment.  Dividing Responsibility.

8. WILL YOU BE ARRESTED?  The main thing that gets protesters arrested is blocking the streets.  It is as simple, and as complicated, as that.  See other posts here for more info.