Andrew H. Stevenson, Attorney at Law
Help! I got arrested at a college protest
College campuses across the nation have been a hotbed of political activities and protests ever since the 2016 presidential election. University students have traditionally engaged in all sorts of political and social protest activities over the years, and most participate with no undue harm coming to them.
But it doesn't always end harmlessly, as was seen just last month in Charlottesville, Virginia, at a counter-protest of a white nationalist march when a 32-year-old paralegal was killed by a man intentionally ramming the crowd with his car.
Is protesting legal?
Yes, with some limitations, protesting and peacefully assembling is your legal right. However, law enforcement and other authorities can stifle citizens' rights by using illegal force, making mass arrests and attempting to criminalize the protesters' nonviolent actions.
What can I expect from the authorities at a protest?
That varies widely with the tenor of the protest and nebulous other factors too numerous to list. In general, however, you could face detention by the police and arrest. Your civil rights could be violated, and you risk being injured.
If the police stop you from peacefully protesting, it's important to remain calm and not escalate the situation. Don't volunteer information about your role in the protest or the roles of others. Give them your name, if necessary, and let them know that you are exercising your right to remain silent and that you want a lawyer. Say nothing else until you and your attorney are alone.
What can I do if the cops violate my rights?
There's an old saying that you can't hold court in the streets, and this is especially true when your rights were violated at a protest. Physically resisting arrest and threatening the police will only exacerbate the situation.
Remember as much as you can about the police that were involved, e.g., descriptions, names, badge numbers. Get witnesses' names if possible.
Once you are released from custody, seek medical attention and document all of your injuries with pictures.
Share this information with your criminal defense attorney who can then advise you what to do if you decide to pursue a case against the officers who violated your civil rights.