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Protecting yourself while protesting: An overview of protestor’s rights in Washington

Before you join any protest, you should know the full extent of your legal protections. Here are a few essential facts to keep in mind before you exercise your rights.

Shortly after news of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis spread throughout the nation, millions of activists banded together to protest racial injustice and police brutality. If you’re thinking about joining one of the many rallies in Washington State, you might be worried about legal repercussions. It’s not uncommon for new protesters to be concerned about getting arrested for defending themselves during a demonstration.   

Before you join any protest, you should know the full extent of your legal protections. Here are a few essential facts to keep in mind before you exercise your rights. 

What Are Your Rights As A Protestor?  

First off, protestors should know the First Amendment fully protects their right to “peaceably assemble.” The First Amendment also grants citizens the “freedom of speech.”     

As long as the protest you’re attending remains peaceful, police have no right to intervene. Police are only tasked with keeping the peace and maintaining a safe distance between protestors and counter-protestors.

If fighting breaks out, the police may get involved to help restore order. In this case, please try your best to find a safe place to avoid serious injury.

Please keep in mind: protestors have the greatest legal protections when they are in large public areas like plazas and parks. Not only will these public arenas give you more space for social distancing, they also allow you to videotape without fear of disobeying a private property owner’s rules.

Before you join any protest, you should know the full extent of your legal protections.

What Should I Do if A Police Officer Arrests Me?    

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If a police officer takes you into custody, you must try your best to remain calm. Resisting arrest will only make matters worse, even if you believe you’re being unlawfully detained.

According to the ACLU, the best thing you could do in this scenario is to ask the officer why he or she is detaining you. Police are only allowed to arrest protesters if officers believe demonstrators were engaged in violence or were about to commit a violent crime.

After asking why you’re being detained, you should mention that you were only expressing your First Amendment rights. You could also ask for the officer’s name, unit, and badge number.

Before saying anything that could incriminate you, it’s a good idea to call a professional attorney for assistance. Please do not sign or say anything until you have your legal expert by your side.   

What About Self-Defense Laws? 

When it comes to self-defense, there are two significant laws residents of Washington State need to know about. First, Washington’s RCW 9A.16.020 clearly states that citizens can use physical force to defend themselves from violence or the threat of injury. However, the amount of physical force you’re allowed to use varies on a case-by-case basis.

Although deadly force is permitted under Washington State law, you should only do so if you have strong suspicions your life is in danger. The full details on Washington’s justifiable homicide law are listed in RCW 9A.16.040.      

As long as the protest you’re attending remains peaceful, police have no right to intervene.

How Can I Learn More About the Legality of Protesting? 

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If you still have questions about your legal rights as a protestor, then we suggest checking out additional self-defense resources, like this list of protest-related laws compiled by Evergreen State College. 

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