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ACLU reminds protesters of their rights

3 months 2 weeks 2 days ago Wednesday, June 03 2020 Jun 3, 2020 June 03, 2020 10:15 PM June 03, 2020 in News - Local

Demonstrations in the Rio Grande Valley following the death of George Floyd have been peaceful this week. Participants are encouraged to know their rights to stay safe.

Under an overcast sky and the threat of looming rain, a group of over 20 mask-clad protesters stood along the sidewalk near a busy road in downtown Harlingen.

Ruben, 17, stood with them leading a chant, "Hands up," he said. "Don't shoot," the others responded loudly as cars passed by. Some drivers honked in support.

"Me being as bi-racial I feel mainly targeted," Ruben said. He's protesting to express his views on the recent murder that claimed the life of a Minneapolis black man.

Originally from Chicago but now in the Valley, Ruben says he continues to witness injustice against people of color. "One of our chants is 'black lives matter'. But we also have 'all lives don't matter until black lives matter,'" he said.

His right to protest is protected. "I just know it’s freedom of speech," Ruben said.

There are other rights extended to protesters, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Adriana Piñon, senior staff attorney, explained permits are required in some places.

"Generally, a permit is needed if there are going to be protesters that either block rights of way, or are over a certain size. There may be some permits required for noise amplification, for example," Piñon said.

Other public places are more accessible. Piñon said, "So, if you’re on a sidewalk for example, that is when your first amendment rights are most protected to speak. When you’re on public government property, but not all government property has been opened up for speech purposes."

Private property requires permission from the owner.

In some situations, police can be dispatched to the demonstration. Interacting with officers is allowed.

"So, one absolutely has the right to ask police questions to draw their attention to something. But, in doing so, we would recommend that one stays calm. If police are giving orders about the protest asking people to move to certain areas that they would comply with those orders," Piñon said.

Police can ask a crowd to disperse but must give the crowd time to comply.

Misunderstandings or acts of aggression can lead to violent confrontations. Piñon said they've received complaints from peaceful protesters wrongly targeted by police. If this happens participants can use their phones to record police activity as long as it doesn't interfere with them.

She advises to note the officer's name, photograph injuries, and record any details of the incident. That will help when filing a malfeasance report with the law enforcement agency's internal investigations division or with the ACLU. 

In the Valley, they advise is precautionary as protesters hope to share their message peacefully. "Just be a good human being and know what's right," Ruben said.

For more information on protesters' rights, there are helpful sheets provided by the ACLU.

View information for organizing or participating in a protest here.

View information on what to do when encountering law enforcement here.

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