ActivismNationalNewsSF Bay Area

Know Your Rights as a Protester

The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news

If you are going to attend a protest, organize a protest or photograph a protest, you should definitely know your rights as a protester, AND the rights of the police officers, to police you.  For more in depth advice on ‘HOW to protest safely’, check this article out.

The ACLU of Southern California is serious about protecting protesters’ First Amendment rights.  You can download and printout a copy of the ACLU ‘Know Your First Amendment Rights to Demonstrate and Protest and have it on you in paper form.

Bellow are guidelines directly from the American Civil Liberties Union, on your rights as a protester:

Protester BASICS: What you can & cannot do:

  • You CAN: distribute leaflets, flyers, and literature
  • You CAN: picket and protest on public sidewalks, parks and plazas
  • You CAN: chant and sing protest songs on public sidewalks, parks and plazas
  • You CAN’T: block access to sidewalks or buildings
  • You CAN’T: physically disrupt counter-protests
  • You CAN’T: distribute anything that is obscene, defamatory or likely to incite an immediate disruptive or dangerous disturbance


 ACLU tips on how to interact with the police, including:

  • Think carefully about your words, movement, body language, and emotions.
  • Don’t get into an argument with the police.
  • Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you.
  • Keep your hands where the police can see them.
  • Don’t run.
  • Don’t touch any police officer.
  • Don’t resist even if you believe you are innocent.
  • Don’t complain on the scene or tell the police they’re wrong or that you’re going to file a complaint.
  • Do not make any statements regarding the incident.
  • Ask for a lawyer immediately upon your arrest.
  • Remember officers’ badge and patrol car numbers.
  • Write down everything you remember ASAP.
  • Try to find witnesses and their names and phone numbers.
  • If you are injured, take photographs of the injuries as soon as possible, but make sure you seek medical attention first.
  • If you feel your rights have been violated, file a written complaint with the police department’s internal affairs division or civilian complaints board, call the ACLU at (213)977- 5253 or go through our legal intake system here.


View our Know Your Rights Guide for Photographers for more information on your right to take photographs and to videotape, including:

  • When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.
  • Police officers may not generally confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant. If you are arrested, the contents of your phone may be scrutinized by the police, although their constitutional power to do so remains unsettled. In addition, it is possible that courts may approve the seizure of a camera in some circumstances if police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that it contains evidence of a crime by someone other than the police themselves (it is unsettled whether they still need a warrant to view them).
  • Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances.
  • Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.
  • The right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.
  • View the rest of the guide here.

View the National Lawyers Guild’s Legal Observer Training Manual for more information on assisting with training legal observers.




For more information concerning protesting and your rights, visit

Previous post

March Against Police Brutality in San Francisco Tomorrow

Next post

Where to Donate to Help Bail Out Protestors

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor and co-owner of this little expiriment. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

If you're a writer, artist, or performer who would like to get your work out there, or if you've got great things to promote, we've got 160k followers and really fun ways to reach them. We love making things with other Bay creatives, for our partners, and our community. Don't be shy.
alex at
IG: @alexmaksf