Protest 101: Know Your Rights

DSC_0383In response to recent events across the country, many members of the Pace University community have chosen to participate in the numerous demonstrations, rallies, and protests occurring in New York City and beyond. For students, staff, and faculty who do choose to participate in these events, it is important to be aware of the right to protest and peacefully assemble, as well as how to stay safe. In collaboration with Dr. Emily Welty of the Peace and Justice Studies Program, the Center for Community Action and Research has compiled the following list of resources intended to keep the Pace community as safe and informed as possible.

Know Your Rights

  • Know Your Rights: Demonstrations and Protests [ACLU] – Standing up for your right to protest can be challenging. This article contains critical information about free speech rights, encountering police, photography during demonstrations, and more.
  • Know Your Rights When Encountering Law Enforcement [ACLU] – “This booklet addresses what rights you have when you are stopped, questioned, arrested, or searched by law enforcement officers. This booklet is for both citizens and non-citizens of the U.S.”
  • Pocket Guide: Know Your Rights [National Lawyers Guild] – A pocket guide with the phone number to the National Lawyers Guild with important information about the legal rights of protesters, including those who are not U.S. citizens.

Staying Safe

  • How to Protest Safely and Legally [LifeHacker] – “Whether you’re headed out in support or dissent, you should know what you’re getting into before you go. Even if you think the event is purely peaceful, someone else, another protest group, or the police may all have different ideas. Here are some tips to prepare before you go out to have your voice heard.”
  • Cell Phone Guide for US Protestors [Electronic Frontier Foundation] – “Protesters want to be able to communicate, to document the protests, and to share photos and video with the world. So they’ll be carrying phones, and they’ll face a complex set of considerations about the privacy of the data those phones hold. We hope this guide can help answer some questions about how to best protect that data, and what rights protesters have in the face of police demands.”
  • Seven Things to Avoid [Occupy Peace] – Seven actions protesters should NOT take if they wish to avoid arrest.

In Case of Emergency

  • Staying Safe During a Riot [WikiHow] – It is important not to equate protests with riots, but if a riot does emerge during a peaceful protest, this article contains some measures you can take to protect yourself.
  • Guide to ‘Kettling’ [NetPol] – “Sometimes on a protest, police surround demonstrators to keep them in a particular place. This is called a ‘kettle’, or in official police language, ‘containment.’” This guide introduces kettling and how to stay safe. More information can be found here.
  • Tear Gas and Pepper Spray [War Resisters League] – This article contains important information about tear gas, pepper spray, and what to do if either have been used on you.

Additional Considerations

  • Do not participate in any sort of property destruction, unless it is your own property that you are symbolically destroying.
  • Keep in mind the importance of the media – you want the visuals of the protest to reaffirm the peaceful nature of the protest rather than photographs that will make you look violent
  • Do not run from the police.
  • Generally do not run at all.
  • Do not engage in angry confrontations one-on-one with police officers. Remember that it is the system that you are challenging, not the particular individuals who happen to be assigned to police you at any given moment.
  • Another important way to participate but to avoid arrest is to keep a close eye on what legal observers are doing – here in NYC, they are usually wearing bright green hats and they work for NYCLU or the National Lawyers Guild.
  • It can often be most effective for protesters to take a pledge of nonviolence to one another before attending a protest. As an example, a copy of the pledge used by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can be found here.

If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact Dr. Welty at, or the Center for Community Action and Research at