As we wait to hear the decision from a grand jury in Missouri about whether or not charges will be brought against Officer Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, ACLU staff is in Ferguson to support the work of our local affiliate there, to educate protesters about their rights, and to react immediately should there be any civil liberties violations.
Even before a decision is reached the tension in Ferguson has started to rise, which raises fears about the rights of both protesters and anyone attempting to document the demonstrations. Just yesterday the ACLU of Missouri spoke out about the weekend arrest of a journalist who appeared to have been doing nothing more than standing on a sidewalk while exercising his First Amendment right to record police.
This is not an isolated incident, either, as all around the country we have seen people being arrested simply for recording police. Here in Maine, we filed a lawsuit in September on behalf of a couple who were arrested for simply observing and attempting to film an interaction between several police officers and a woman in downtown Portland.
In addition to being able to record police officers, protesters and journalists have many other rights guaranteed by the Constitution. To learn more, check out the ACLU’s “Know Your Rights” guide for demonstrations and protests. You’ll find information about obtaining permits, handing out literature, and what to do if you have an encounter with police.
In Missouri, the ACLU has already been handing out these guides, in addition to t-shirts with the slogan “I know my rights.” No matter where you live, we hope you embrace that message and exercise your rights to their fullest extent when necessary. Protesting is a linchpin of democracy and no matter what side of an issue you fall on, your right to peaceably assemble and express yourself should be non-negotiable.
In the coming days the ACLU will surely have more coverage of the decision in Ferguson and the fallout on the ground. Stay tuned for further updates here and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for breaking news and immediate reaction.