Another protest over Houston native George Floyd's death in Minneapolis last week is slated to be held tomorrow, with marchers joining Floyd's family at Discovery Green at 3 p.m. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and HPD Chief Art Acevedo have worked hard to keep the demonstrations safe and peaceful, with a good amount of success so far. But considering what's happening across the country, it's good to know what your rights as a protestor are. So here's what you need to remember if you plan on marching tomorrow or anytime soon:
1. Freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly are basic constitutional rights, so long as you are on public property, such as public streets, sidewalks, and parks. However, if you are in a street and blocking traffic without a permit, police can ask you to move to the sidewalk.
2. In some places, you can also speak out on public property, such as plazas in front of government buildings, according to the ACLU, but you cannot block access to the building. However, First Amendment rights do not apply to private property, where the property owner can prevent protests on their land.
3. Free speech is not an absolute guarantee at universities, like University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and Rice. Different public and private colleges have different rules, so you should check the university policies before you participate in any demonstration.
4. Police cannot restrict the content of what you are saying at a protest, according to the ACLU of Texas. Meaning, restrictions on ideas or subject matter are not legal. However, there can be some restrictions on obscenity, defamatory language meant to harm someone’s reputation, and “fighting words,” or “speech that incites imminent lawless action,” as these types of speech are considered outside of First Amendment protections, the ACLU continues.
5. If you are stopped by police, you do not have to consent to a search, however police may do a “pat down” if they suspect you might be concealing a weapon. Police can order people to cease activities that interfere with “legitimate law enforcement operations,” according to the ALCU, but they cannot confiscate or delete any photos or data you may recorded on the scene.
6. If you feel as though your rights have been violated, write down everything you can remember about what happened when as soon as you can do so. Get badge information and patrol car numbers, ask contact info from witnesses, and take photos of any injuries you might have received.