Know Your Protest Rights

DO I have the right to photograph or Videotape during protests?

  • Yes. When you are lawfully present in any public space, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view, including federal buildings and the police. On private property, the owner may set rules about photography or video.
  • Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant, nor may they delete data under any circumstances. However, they may order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.


  • Shutting down a protest through a dispersal order must be the last resort. Police may not break up a gathering unless there is a clear and present danger of a riot, disorder, interference with traffic, or other
  • immediate threat to public safety.
  • If officers issue a dispersal order, they must provide a reasonable opportunity to comply, including sufficient time and a clear, unobstructed exit path, along with instructions on consequences of failing to disperse before any arrests can be made.
  • If you want to avoid being arrested, follow directions to disperse or leave the area.

What do I do if I get stopped by the police?

  • Stay calm. Don’t argue, resist, or obstruct the police, even if you believe they are violating your rights. Alabama law states you must give your name and address if asked to identify yourself, but you do not have to provide an ID or other paperwork.
  • Make sure to keep your hands visible. Point out that you are not disrupting anyone else’s activity and that the First Amendment protects your actions. Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly walk away. If you are under arrest, you have a right to ask why.
  • Otherwise, say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t say anything or sign anything without a lawyer. You have the right to make a local phone call, and if you’re calling your lawyer, police are not allowed to listen.

Can I be searched?

  • Police may “pat down” your clothing if they suspect you have a weapon and may search you after an arrest.
  • You never have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings.
  • If you do explicitly consent, it can affect you later in court.

What do I do if my rights have been violated?

  • When you can, write down as much as you can about the events that occurred, especially regarding violence or law enforcement misconduct. Note any potential violations of your rights, such as if police did not give you a reasonable time to disperse. Try to write down the officers’ badge and patrol car numbers and the agency they work for.
  • Consider telling another person what happened as soon as you can to corroborate your experience. Get contact information for witnesses. Take photos and/or videos of any violence, police misconduct, and any injuries.
  • Although police officers may not confiscate or view your photos or videos without a warrant, nor may they delete data under any circumstances, you may consider sending photos or videos to a friend. Once you have all of this information, you can file a written complaint with the agency in question’s internal affairs.
  • Huntsville PD Internal Affairs Division is located at 820 North Memorial Parkway. More information on how to make a complaint is available here.
  • Madison Co Sherriff’s Office has an online employee complaint process here.