The D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has released a guide for protesters to ensure that the masses of people expected to descend on the nation’s capital to demonstrate on inauguration weekend are aware of their rights and the local and federal laws in the city.
The two-page pamphlet encourages demonstrators to record their interactions with police on their phones, and lays out the various police departments in D.C., illustrating what each of their badges looks like. It also explains that while the Mall and downtown parks are federal land, for example, many of the surrounding streets can be local property.
“It’s something that we think about in the District, but it’s something that folks who are visiting do not,” said Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, president of the ACLU’s D.C. chapter.
In 2015, the ACLU launched an app in the region that allow users to record police actions and instantly transfer the video to the organization’s attorneys for review. The Mobile Justice smartphone has been available in states like New York and California for years, and the organization hopes it becomes a citizens’ version of officer-worn body cameras.
This latest pamphlet tells people what to do and not to do when they are interacting with police, and what to do if they are arrested and arraigned. It gives brief rundowns of the National Park Service’s permitting process and local marijuana laws in anticipation that activists will be demonstrating with marijuana on Jan. 20.
The guide is a partnership between a handful of local organizations, including Law 4 Black Lives and Black Lives Matter D.C.
ACLU officials acknowledge that D.C. police typically respect people’s right to protest, but they say it’s important that people are aware of the pertinent local and federal laws.
“Demonstrations in D.C. generally proceed without incident, but we want people to be prepared in case something goes awry or if they choose to risk arrest,” said Arthur B. Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia. “During this time of political heightened tension, it’s important protesters have a thorough understanding of their rights.”