The small community of Roanoke is joining larger cities across the nation to condemn the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis one week ago. Protests over the past few days, largely organized by Black Lives Matter – Roanoke and numbering in the hundreds have marched through downtown Roanoke, Valley View, Hershberger Road, the Berglund Center, and ended outside the Roanoke police department.
While the demonstrations have been mainly peaceful, clashes with officers have resulted in several arrests, the Police declaring Saturday’s protest an unlawful assembly, and city officials issuing a state of emergency.
Like those who have taken to the streets, at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico, we are appalled by the actions of the Minneapolis police officers involved in the death of George Floyd and the systemic problems in our legal system that work against people of color. While bringing attention to these injustices is critical and long overdue, as attorneys we cannot stress enough that you should do so in a peaceful manner.
With more demonstrations anticipated and tensions reaching new limits, we want people to be aware of their legal rights during a protest and what to expect if they are stopped or arrested.
No one should have to live with a criminal conviction or possible jail time for peacefully exercising their rights and speaking out against injustice. If you or a loved one are charged with a crime at a Roanoke-area protest, our experienced and local defense lawyers are available to help.
We offer free initial consults and free or reduced rates for our services. Let us get you out of custody and protect your rights to be heard. Call Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico 24/7: (540) 343-9349.
Know Your Rights as a Protester
Protests and demonstrations are often large and chaotic environments. It can be hard to know what to expect, but even in the most frenzied setting, the First Amendment protects your right to assemble and speak freely.
Protests on Private vs Public Property
Protests are generally allowed in most public spaces, like city streets, sidewalks, and parks. You can also protest safely in front of government buildings, like police departments and courthouses as long as you don’t obstruct access or interfere with normal operations.
However, private property is an exception because property owns have a say in what is done or said on their property. If a protest moves onto private property, you are exposed to arrest for trespassing.
Do Protests Need Permits?
In most cases, permits are not required for a demonstration as long as protesters don’t obstruct traffic. If you don’t have a permit, police officers can ask you to move to the side of a street or sidewalk to let others pass.
You Have the Right to Take Photos & Video
When you are lawfully in any public space – even at a protest, you have the right to photograph or record anything in plain view. This includes the police.
Officers should not prohibit you from recording interactions at a protest, but it is known to happen, especially when their behavior can be called into question. Therefore, it’s best to peacefully assert your right to record so long as you are not on private property or creating a hazard to others.
Your Rights at a Protest if You’re Stopped By Police
When it comes to speaking with officers at a protest, it is best to keep your emotions in check. This is challenging in a heated climate where you specifically want to express your frustrations, but try to remain calm and respectful, Also, avoid making threats against officers or comments that may be interpreted as eliciting violence.
In the event you are stopped or suspect that you’ll be placed under arrest, you have the right to ask why. If the officer can’t or won’t provide a reason, ask clearly if you are free to go. If the officer says no or applies force, do not resist or become combative.
Just follow the officer’s commands because at this point it’s likely that you’ll be arrested. It’s always best to avoid further obstruction or resisting arrest charges and to have a qualified lawyer handle the situation from that point forward.
What if the Police Order Crowds to Disperse?
According to police, no rubber bullets or tear gas have been used by the Roanoke Police thus far to disperse crowds. They do acknowledge cases of police using pepper spray and pepper ball rounds, directed at the ground to back up a crowd. However, some protesters have alleged rubber bullets were shot at people rather than at the ground.
These dispersal measures should be a police department’s last recourse and should not be used in a lawful protest unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, or other immediate threat.
In fact, when the police issue an order for a crowd to disperse, they must provide protesters enough time to comply and a clear exit. For example, they cannot order you to leave, keep the street blocked, and begin firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
The police must also explain that failure to comply with the dispersal order will result in arrest. Being subjected to these tactics without warning is a violation of your rights and can result in serious injuries.
Tips for Arrested Protesters
If you are arrested at a protest, you will be restrained and taken to a nearby facility for processing. This location can vary based on the circumstances and capacity of local police departments. Things may be hectic and sometimes protesters are not immediately made aware of the charges against them, read their rights, or treated particularly well.
These tips may help you understand what to expect and speed up your release.
Remember Details and Document Injuries
Try to remember the officer’s name, badge number, or other identifying information. If you suffered injuries, request medical attention immediately and take photos as soon as possible. Also make sure to keep any documents relating to your arrest, charges, or when you need to appear in court.
Have a Plan & A Lawyer’s Number Ready
Prior to going to a protest, tell your friends and family. Let them know where you plan on being and what to do if you are arrested. Roanoke Inmate Search may not be up-to-date after a protest, but some specifics will make it easier to get you released.
Finally, it is always a good idea to have the number of a trusted lawyer ready. While your phone or wallet may be taken while in custody, you could write the number on your arm or memorize it.
Some organizations partner with legal groups like the Virginia ACLU, but you should think about having your own attorney, who will make your rights their top priority.
When you contact an attorney for assistance, try to provide the following information if possible:
- The Protester’s Full Name
- Date of Birth
- Location of Arrest
- Jail or Precinct the Protester is Being Held
- Bail Amount if Applicable
- A Family/Contact Number
Arrested at a Roanoke Protest? Call Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico
These protests should drive us to improve our legal system, but sadly we will likely see more protests, clashes with police, and people being arrested for speaking out. Our defense attorneys believe in your rights and want to be part of the solution to police misconduct and brutality. Let us ensure your rights are respected and you are protected.
If you were arrested in a protest or plan to attend a demonstration and want legal help, an experienced lawyer is ready.
Call Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico at (540) 343-9349 24/7. Initial consults are always free and confidential, with free or reduced rates available to Roanoke protesters.