Protest is the new brunch — know the law, know your rights
Are you finding yourself donning your pussy hat and your wittiest protest sign more often than you thought you would be a couple of months ago? Keep protests peaceful and keep yourself out of trouble.
THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. I am not a lawyer. But a lawyer told me these things, and she ALSO said that this does not constitute legal advice, so consult a lawyer if you want real legal advice. Nonetheless, here are some guidelines about protesting in North Carolina.
Be aware that engaging in a peaceful protest does not mean that you will not be arrested. Different people will get arrested differently — something we are all painfully aware of.
The five to laws that could get you arrested for protesting in North Carolina
- Obstructing traffic: If you are standing in a street that has not been shut down for a protest, you can be obstructing traffic by standing or lying down in a ways that interferes with traffic flow. Stay on the sidewalk.
- Disorderly Conduct: This a misdemeanor that usually comes with a side of resisting arrest or resisting an officer. This is a broad law that, in North Carolina, is defined as intentionally causing any public disturbance by fighting, engaging in violent conduct, or engaging in any conduct that creates a risk of fighting or violence — i.e. using “fighting words”. Stating thins like “Protect our healthcare” should not be considered fighting words, but rather saying something that will get someone so mad that they will fight you can be considered fighting words. Don’t use fighting words, don’t fight people.
- Trespassing: This applies when you are on private property and the owner asks you to leave. This only applies to the homeowner, though. For example, if you are protesting in a courtyard, and someone from an opposing protest insists that you leave, they do not have the authority. However, if the owner of the property asks you to leave, you should immediately leave.
- Staying at the airport after you have been asked to leave (NC-specific law): it is a special crime to remain at the airport after you have been asked to leave. You should leave the airport immediately upon being asked by an authority.
- Wearing a mask: An anti-clan law in North Carolina forbids you from wearing a mask while protesting.
You have the right to film police officers and it is not considered obstruction. Try to stand 10–15 feet away. Do not under any circumstances yell at the police — this will get you arrested. You can use the ACLU app which automatically opens to record video. http://acluofnc.org/app
If you are arrested:
- DO NOT TALK TO THE POLICE. Say nothing. You don’t need to say anything, so don’t.
- Ask for a lawyer.
- The police are allowed to lie to you. They are completely within their right to lie to you in order to unearth names of other individuals who were involved or to gain other information. Ask for a lawyer.
- Memorize someone’s number who will pick up when you call them from jail. If this is a lawyer — even better. When you call them, do not talk about what you did. Your call from jail is recorded and whatever is said on the call can be used against you.
- Call someone who will post bail for you. Your loved ones can check your bail amount online or can use a bondsman.
Learn more at the ACLU — https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/what-do-if-your-rights-are-violated-demonstration-or-protest