Being from Birmingham, Ala., I know all too well the civil rights struggle. As a young child, I was taught about the marches, protests, dogs, water hoses, police in riot gear, and the lack of trust with police. Watching my TV it was a 1963 history lesson film all over again, and I was amazed, shocked, and appalled at the things that were happening. The death of Michael Brown has caused fear, panic, frustration, anger, and disappointment, but in addition, those who have sworn to serve and protect us are stepping on our rights as citizens. As an attorney, here is what you should know about your rights as a protestor.
Protestors have the right to demonstrate peacefully. For the Ferguson police to tell protesters that they are not allowed to provide a peaceful protest threw kerosene on the flame. Peaceful protests are the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement. Yet these officers were telling people they could not organize and protest. The police were wrong.
Citizens can record police activity. I actually advise you to do so. History repeats itself, but this time everyone has cameras. Everyone has cell phones that can take pictures and upload to the Internet faster than an officer can say, “Don’t send that,” or, “Cut that camera off,” quicker than the police can shoot tear gas at a news crew then confiscate their camera equipment, and swifter than police can arrest a reporter for simply doing his job.
Police officers cannot go through your cell phone! The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that a police officer cannot go through your cell phone without a search warrant. They must have permission from a judge to do that. Therefore, an officer telling you to flip through your phone and delete images and video is against the law. An officer cannot arrest you or search your belongings without a good reason. Therefore, those officers who told someone that they could go through their phone actually violated the law. But some did it anyway.
There is freedom of the press. The thought of police officers arresting seasoned journalists such as Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post while he was simply doing his job is scary. Wesley’s recording of police actions is 100 percent legal. A citizen can record the activities of police officers. Remember, it is illegal for the police officer to confiscate the phone and delete anything on it.
The streets of Ferguson were a military war zone earlier this week. Police were the aggressors and the people of Ferguson were the victims. Luckily, the federal government took over crowd control, so now the situation in Ferguson should be more organized, protestors can march, police can arrest the small number of people doing wrong, and we can wait for the wheels of justice to turn for Michael Brown.
The world is watching.
Eric Guster is an attorney and NewsOne legal analyst. He provides legal commentary regularly on HLN, MSNBC & FOX. He can be followed on twitter @EricGuster.