The news has been filled with people protesting in the streets in recent weeks over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police.
Perhaps you’ve been inspired to join in the protests. Or maybe you’re still considering it. It’s certainly a bit frightening to go out en masse without understanding what you’re rights are, but that’s something that can easily be remedied.
Protesters have rights in Florida and across the country. If you’re protesting — or want to — then know you have the right to do so without fear of personal injury at the hands of the police. Here’s a primer on your protesting rights as well as what you can legally do if, as a peaceful protester, you’re injured by the police.
Your Protesting Rights in Florida (and Beyond)
Here is some important information from the ACLU you must arm yourself with if you plan to attend a protest:
Can You Be on the Streets or In Front of Government Buildings?
If you’re attending a peaceful protest, then you have the right to be on the streets, in the parks, and on the sidewalk. You have to right to have your voice heard as long as you are on public property, such as in front of government buildings. As long as you aren’t preventing access to these places for cars or pedestrians, then you absolutely can be there.
What About Your Rights on Private Property?
On private property, you have to limit your activities to what the owner of the property allows. Keep in mind, however, that government property is not private property and because of that, your speech cannot be restricted there.
Can You Record or Photograph What Is Happening?
If you want to keep your phone or camera on you to take photos or record videos, you have the right to do that as well. In fact, anything in plain view — including police officers or federal buildings — can be photographed.
Do You Need a Permit?
To march on the stress or protest on sidewalks, you do not need a permit. The only caveat is that you are not allowed to obstruct traffic — either pedestrian or automobile traffic. You may be asked to move off the street without a permit, but you have the right to be there regardless of a permit.
What If You’re Injured While Protesting in Florida?
Even attending a peaceful protest brings with it some danger of being injured by the police. If this happens to you, there is legal recourse. If the police have used unreasonable or excessive force on you or you’ve been falsely arrested, then you should:
Do you have pictures or video footage relevant to the incident or can you track down some? Make that, as well as collecting contact information from witnesses and preserving any items that were damaged by the police, a priority. It can help to ensure that the police will not get away with violating your rights.
Seek Medical Help
If you’re injured, then it’s important to seek medical care for your injuries. Keep all photographs and records from this visit to the healthcare provider. Remember that if you seek action against the police for misconduct, you must prove the impropriety of their actions. Medical records can help.
File a Complaint
If you are a victim of police misconduct, then take advantage of available administrative remedies. Report any improper incidents to the internal affairs division of the police department in question. This is called making a citizen complaint. That should trigger an investigation.
Bottom line? You should be able to protest without fear for your personal safety.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all kinds of personal injury cases, with a particular focus on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and named one of America’s Top 100 High-Stakes Litigators. Mr. Winston is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2020 – an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – was voted to Florida Trend’s ”Legal Elite,” recognized by Expertise as one of the 20 Best Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys, named one of the Top 100 Lawyers in the Miami area for 2015-2017, and one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida for 2015-2017 and 2019.