Cassie King

Published on:

September 2, 2018

Know Your Rights and Stay Safe as an Activist

  DxE protestors head towards police during a mass Open Rescue at an Amazon and Whole Foods egg farm in Petaluma. Photo by Direct Action Everywhere
DxE protestors head towards police during a mass Open Rescue at an Amazon and Whole Foods egg farm in Petaluma. Photo by Direct Action Everywhere

Every person, non-citizens included, has rights protected under the U.S. Constitution:

The First Amendment protects your right to speak freely and to advocate for social issues. Protests, marches and other demonstrations are a protected right, though other laws and regulations still apply to these actions.

Whenever you are doing advocacy work or participating in a demonstration, remain nonviolent at all times. And even when you are not currently at a demonstration, even if you are just talking among friends or joking around on Facebook, remember that anything you say that hints at violence could later be used against you. If you are at a protest or other event and you hear someone say something violent like “I wish we could just burn this place down,” you should report it to the event organizers because even talking about violent acts can put the whole group in danger. Although the First Amendment protects your right to free speech and free assembly, law enforcement officials often target politically-active individuals who challenge the status-quo, and they may actively look for something to use against you to determine that you cannot continue your action. Violence or threats of violence will give police an easy reason to put a stop to your demonstration.

The Fourth Amendment offers protections against the government’s power to search your home or workplace.

It is always best practice to check who is at the door before opening the door. If a police officer or agent comes to your door, you do not need to let them inside unless they have a valid search warrant. If they have a search warrant, ask to see it to know specifically what they have been authorized to search as it may be only one room. You can say "I do not consent to a search" to make it clear that you do not give them permission to search anything not listed on the search warrant. If the police come to your door because they want to speak with you, you can tell them you do not want to speak to them and you will have an attorney reach out to them. You are not required to answer questions from law enforcement and you have the right to speak with a lawyer before you decide whether or not you will talk with them.

The Fifth Amendment gives you the right to remain silent. You are not obligated to answer questions asked by government agents or police officers.

Let’s say you pass a police officer after leaving a protest and they ask “Were you just at that protest?” You do not have to respond and can keep on walking. If you are detained or arrested and brought to jail, you still do not have to answer questions and can simply say: “I am invoking my right to remain silent.” Although you cannot legally lie to the police (another reason to not say anything to the police), it is not illegal for the police to lie to you. The police may tell you that they are vegan and support your cause in order to get you talking more openly, or they may say that they just need you to answer one question and you’ll be free to go. It’s important to remember that anything the police tell you could be a lie, and it is best to invoke your right to remain silent.