How to Peacefully Assemble in Florida
As the nation experiences waves of protests and marches, it's wise to know exactly what our laws say about one's right to peacefully assemble. There are often misconstrued notions about what rights protesters do and don't have but, when all else fails, look to what the laws say for clarity.
Am I Allowed to Protest in Florida?
Yes, you have the right to protest in Florida as long as it is peaceful and you are not breaking any Florida laws while doing so. You have the right to peacefully assemble and use your freedom of speech. As long as things are peaceful, the most that will happen is that authorities ask you to move to a safer area or take the volume down. If protesters comply with those requests, authorities cannot prevent the protest from continuing peacefully.
How Can I Avoid Getting Arrested During a Protest?
Follow the implied behaviors of peaceful assembly. For example, if you're marching with a group of people and you're on the sidewalk, then this is not a problem at all. But, if you're marching with a group of people in the middle of a street or highway and you are blocking traffic, then you run the risk of being arrested for violating traffic laws. Another example would be participating in a protest without touching or threatening anyone. This is totally fine and acceptable. However, once you start touching, fighting, or threatening someone, you run the risk of being arrested for those specific actions. The big thing to remember here is that your participation in a peaceful protest does not excuse you from the consequences of breaking other existing laws.
What Are My Rights?
The Constitution of the State of Florida states:
- SECTION 4. Freedom of speech and press.—Every person may speak, write and publish sentiments on all subjects but shall be responsible for the abuse of that right. No law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press. In all criminal prosecutions and civil actions for defamation the truth may be given in evidence. If the matter charged as defamatory is true and was published with good motives, the party shall be acquitted or exonerated.
- SECTION 5. Right to assemble.—The people shall have the right peaceably to assemble, to instruct their representatives, and to petition for redress of grievances.
What Are the Laws Against Rioting?
The 2019 Florida Statutes states:
- 870.01 Affrays and riots.—
- (1) All persons guilty of an affray shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
- (2) All persons guilty of a riot, or of inciting or encouraging a riot, shall be guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
- 870.02 Unlawful assemblies.—If three or more persons meet together to commit a breach of the peace, or to do any other unlawful act, each of them shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
- 870.03 Riots and routs.—If any persons unlawfully assembled demolish, pull down or destroy, or begin to demolish, pull down or destroy, any dwelling house or other building, or any ship or vessel, each of them shall be guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
In a time where people have endless online platforms to voice their opinions, it is crucial that you see our laws as they are written. These are the facts. Take time to read them and understand them so that you can use them in the way they were intended: for your own protection and safety.
Tips for Peaceful Assembly
If you find yourself in an opportunity to peacefully protest, for whatever cause or reason, there are a few things you can do to make sure the experience is as positive as possible:
- Do not touch anyone. Touching can lead to hitting, and hitting can lead to fighting. In a large group setting, fights can easily escalate and everyone involved will be held accountable. Simply bypass this by not touching anyone at all.
- Do not wear a disguise. Wearing a face mask for safety reasons is acceptable. Any other kind of disguise may be seen as a means to intimidate. The threat of intimidation is a main reason why peaceful protests can quickly turn aggressive.
- Do not disturb anyone else's assembly. If someone is in an opposing protest group, let them be. Keep your focus on yourself.
- Do not damage anyone's property. This is clearly breaking a law and you will be punished.
- Do not resist lawful arrest. This will complicate things in an already tense situation. For a peaceful assembly, do what you can to keep the peace in the assembly.
For any further questions or concerns on peaceful assembly in Florida, contact a trusted lawyer today at Keller, Melchiorre and Walsh.