As we watch the news coverage of protests, people wonder, if speech is protected by the first amendment, just why are these protestors being arrested? There is one simple answer to this question…..criminal law.
Even the most well organized, valid permit holding protests can lead to people being lawfully arrested. These lawful arrests are typically based on disorderly conduct, resisting/delaying/obstructing a public officer, obstructing traffic, etc. Law enforcement can have a multitude of charges to try and keep the peace during a protest.
For example, while protesting, John Q. Public decided he is going to sit down in the middle of the road to ensure that everyone can read his sign. He isn’t hurting anyone, threatening anyone, he is just minding his own business peacefully protesting for his cause. The next thing John knows an officer is threatening to arrest him if he doesn’t move. John doesn’t understand what he did wrong, but he is in fact guilty to obstructing traffic and a lawful arrest could be made.
A recent real life example of the intersection of criminal law in a protest is what occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. One issue that occurred at this particular protest was that protestors wore masks to obstruct their faces. This caused a problem in Virginia because that was not allowed. In North Carolina, wearing masks at a protest is illegal because there are laws that state you can’t wear masks while protesting. As you can see the list goes on and on of how criminal law can have an impact at protests.
It is important to know the rules and regulations set forth in criminal law as well as your constitutional rights. If you are going to protest or be involved in something similar make sure that you are aware of the laws that govern your conduct too. All different areas of the law intersect with each other. If you are going to exercise your rights make sure that you do so in a responsible manner.
Knowledge is power, be informed for your safety, the safety of others, and law enforcement.