What you need to know to safely protest in NYC


New Yorkers are preparing to protest police violence in response to the killing of Tyre Nichols, a Black man brutally beaten by five cops following a traffic stop in Memphis.

The Memphis Police Department will release bodycam footage of his death on Friday night. Already, that city’s police chief has described the Memphis officers’ actions as a “failing of basic humanity.” They have been charged with murder and fired.

Protests are planned for 7 p.m. in Times Square and Union Square. Additional demonstrations are likely.

Here’s what New Yorkers should know as they prepare to demonstrate.

You have the right to demonstrate

It’s your right to be out there protesting. That’s protected by the U.S. Constitution.

But there are limits. While protesters do not need a permit to march on the sidewalks, they may be required to secure one to go into the streets, use “amplified sound” like speakers or a megaphone, or gather in a public park, according to a Know Your Rights guide issued by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“The NYPD can enforce regulations if the demonstrations are in the street blocking traffic without a permit,” said NYCLU senior organizer Isabelle Leyva, who runs the organization’s protest monitoring program.

If police order demonstrators to disperse, they are supposed to provide “clear notice and an opportunity for you to leave the area,” according to another guide from the Legal Aid Society.

That doesn’t always happen. During the 2020 uprising in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, NYPD officers corralled demonstrators and made violent mass arrests — a tactic known as “kettling” — in the Bronx.

Keep in contact

If you’re heading to a demonstration, Leyva urges keeping in contact with someone who isn’t present and has your full name and date of birth.

“Check in every 30 minutes with someone who is not there, and if that person doesn’t hear from you, they can follow up,” she said.

That way, a friend or a loved one can more easily find out if you have been arrested and are awaiting arraignment.

Jennvine Wong, an attorney with Legal Aid’s Cop Accountability Project, also recommended attending demonstrations with a “buddy” and sticking together throughout the demonstration.

Write a phone number on your body

And while you’re at it, Wong says, write the phone number for a friend, family member or legal assistance group somewhere on your body, just in case you get arrested.

“Everyone is so reliant on their cellphones so no one remembers anybody’s number by heart,” she said.

That’s a problem if you get arrested and lose access to your contacts list. She recommends writing the number of a friend or the hotline for the National Lawyers Guild New York City Legal Support Hotline, (212) 679-6018, on your arm.

Protest organizers will often notify the NLG about upcoming demonstrations so they are aware of the potential for arrests and can monitor arraignments, Wong added.

‘Am I being arrested?’

If a police officer stops you, ask them that.

If the answer is “no,” then you can walk away, said Wong.

You also have the right to ask for an officer’s name and badge number and to refuse to consent to a search.

Stay silent

Wong said if you are arrested, your next statement should be: “I want to speak to a lawyer.”

After that, you do not have to talk. But exercising your “right to remain silent” is often easier said than done, said Wong.

“Humans are social beings and we want to offer information, but when it comes to your legal rights, it’s better to stay silent than to try to talk your way out of a situation,” she said.

Do not resist

Demonstrations can be unpredictable, and so can the response from police or even onlookers and counterprotesters.

If you are being arrested, do not give police a chance to accuse you of resisting, Wong said.

“That can and often does lead to more violence from police,” she said.

People of color are at a greater risk of arrest and violence at demonstrations, said Leyva. “In our documentation we’ve seen bias against people of color, particularly at social justice protests,” she said. “The only thing you can control in an interaction with police is your behavior.”

Securing your phone

Unlocking your phone with Face ID or a thumbprint may be convenient, but it also makes it easy for police to access your device.

Wong recommends reverting to a numerical passcode if you’re going to be out protesting.

“Fourth Amendment law is on more solid on that ground [with passwords],” Wong said. “It would be an interrogation if officers try to force you to give up a passcode.”

That’s not necessarily the case with a phone they could hold up to your face to unlock, she added.

And don’t agree to unlock your phone, the Legal Aid guide recommends.


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