Rights and Resources for Students During Protests

Ohio State students who attend, organize, or report on the recent protests have rights that the law protects and resources to uphold those rights.

Know Your Rights

If you are attending a protest...

The law protects your rights of speech and assembly on public property, especially “traditional public forums” such as sidewalks, streets, and parks, but also public spaces such as the plazas of government buildings, as long as you do not interfere with the government’s operations there. In contrast, owners of private property can restrict speech on their property, and can deny others access to their property. The government cannot restrict your speech if it takes place on your own property, or with the consent of the property owner.

Although private property owners can set rules restricting photos and video, when you are lawfully on public property you have the right to photograph or record anything in plain view, including the police, as long as you do not interfere with legitimate law enforcement activities.  In Ohio, a person may record oral communications, including audio, if at least one party to the communication consents to the recording (including the person recording), or if the speakers could not reasonably expect the communication to be private, such as on a street or sidewalk. Unless they have a warrant, you do not have to allow a police officer to confiscate or view your photos or video. The police cannot delete your data under any circumstances.

The law protects the same rights—and imposes the same limits—for protesters and counterprotesters alike. Police are allowed to separate antagonistic groups, but must treat both groups equally and should permit them to be within sight and sound of one another. Protesters and counterprotesters cannot incite, attempt, or commit violence against one another.

In response to the protests, Mayor Andrew Ginther has declared a state of emergency in Columbus and imposed a 10:00 p.m. curfew. The curfew, which is in effect until further notice, prohibits traveling through or gathering in public spaces, including streets and sidewalks, and only exempts a few types of people, such as emergency services, media personnel, and people traveling to and from work. The police can order that protesters disperse after the curfew, or earlier if there is a clear and present danger of an immediate threat to public safety. Before enforcing an order to disperse, police must first inform protesters of how much time they have to disperse, how they can exit, and the consequences of remaining. The police must also provide a reasonable opportunity to comply with the order, including sufficient time and a clear exit path. Police can arrest protestors and file criminal charges for violating the curfew or otherwise breaking the law.

The law protects your right to assemble peaceably. Violence, theft, destruction of property, the obstruction of legitimate law enforcement activities, and other criminal acts are not protected. The legal consequences of these actions can include arrest, fines, imprisonment, and civil liability for damages. Engaging in these actions also increases the risk of forceful intervention by police, who have recently used pepper spray, wooden bullets, physical force, and other similar tactics against protesters.

If you are stopped by the police while protesting...

Do not argue with or resist a police officer, even if you believe that they are acting unlawfully. Keep your hands visible. Remind the officer that the First Amendment protects your actions and your right to peacefully protest.

Ask the officer if you are free to leave. If they say yes, then calmly walk away. If they say no, you may ask whether you are under arrest, and if so, why. You may ask to speak to your lawyer. Otherwise, stay silent—do not say or sign anything without first talking to a lawyer. If placed under arrest, you have the right to make a local phone call, and police cannot listen to a call with your lawyer.

Police may pat down your clothing if they suspect that you have a weapon. Otherwise, police can only search your person if you consent—which you are never required to do—or if they place you under arrest.

Know Your Resources

If you believe that your rights have been violated, or if you have been charged with a crime for participating in a protest, there are resources to help you. These resources include the following:

Student Legal Services:  Ohio State Columbus campus students should schedule an appointment for legal advice and representation.  For more information and to schedule an appointment visit studentlegal.osu.edu.

Regional Campus students: Regional campus students should visit the list of legal resources provided by Student Legal Services.

If you feel that you have been mistreated by the Columbus Division of Police during the protest and do not want to file with the Internal Affairs Bureau, you can email the information to reportCPD@columbus.gov.

Learn more about Rights of Protestors from the ACLU Ohio.