While my boyfriend and I were talking about my posts and all of the comments, one thing that seemed clear was that no one really knew exactly what the rally participants could or couldn’t do, nor what the police could or couldn’t do. While everything I’ve posted had some research behind it, I decided today to reach out and make sure I was on the money with the things I was saying about what the rally participants could and couldn’t do or expect from the police. I first called the Thomas Merton Center, and while they appreciated the question, their suggestion was to call the ACLU. I’ve been in touch with the ACLU since the evening of the rally last week, and have passed their info to individuals who have contacted me about how to to get help for at least 1 of the people who was arrested. But I had never put this question out there as directly, so today I did.

The issue is critically important. Everyone deserves to give voice to their opinions and we can all speak out publicly, but what are the rules and the limits? Better to know before you go off protesting, and if it is too late for that, be prepared for the next time. The link below is to a PDF of a brochure/ instruction sheet that the ACLU has to pass out.

There are a few things I knew from working with the city on some other protests. You do not need a permit if you have less than 250 people, however a permit gives you a number of advantages.  Here is how I put it to the ACLU:

For example, the police claimed that the group, while on Liberty Ave could not block the sidewalk. The group of rally participants opened a pathway about 3ft wide through the middle, but this wasn’t sufficient to the police. They also claimed that the crowd had to keep moving and turn the rally into a march, or move to the park where they wouldn’t be blocking traffic in any way.

The ACLU’s reply was to send me the PDF and added:

And no, you cannot block the sidewalk or impede pedestrian or vehicle traffic without a permit. And you have to keep moving.

Know Your Rights: Protesting

Also, if you feel you were mistreated by the police, file a complaint and the ACLU can assist you with that if needed.

  • Guest

    Since no one seemed to want to actually look it up here is the relevant statute.

    18 Pa. Const. Stat. § 5507. Obstructing highways and other public passages.
    (a) Obstructing.–A person, who, having no legal privilege to do so, intentionally or recklessly obstructs any highway, railroad track or public utility right-of-way, sidewalk, navigable waters, other public passage, whether alone or with others, commits a summary offense, or, in case he persists after warning by a law officer, a misdemeanor of the third degree. […]
    (b) […]
    (c) Definition.–As used in this section the word “obstructs” means renders impassable without unreasonable inconvenience or hazard.

    So it seems the basic is, as with so much of the law, that context matters. Perhaps TCW and others are arguing that this gathering “renders [the sidewalk] impassable without unreasonable inconvenience or hazard.” I would highly disagree. An argument could be made when the whole crowd was on Liberty it was “obstructed” but I would question any sane person believing it was so at the point at which TCW and others left. If someone has any legal basis for continuing to claim that protesters are required to “keep moving” either put up or shut up, and this includes the ACLU who should know better. Spreading this unsubstantiated stuff about what the law is without posting the law is what gets people into trouble in the first place.

    • (a)esq

      There is no strict blanket requirement that protesters must keep moving.

      • Are you a Civil Rights attorney? The info presented here came from an attorney who specializes in Civil Rights.

      • (a)esq

        It appears that someone replied to this comment but it does not show up on my screen. Not sure if the problem is on my end or the website’s end.

  • Guest

    You are on video being in the street while the police are arresting people on the sidewalk. I’m curious how you would feel if an arrest warrant was issued for you and you were prosecuted for the same things (obstructing public passageways) that others are being charged with. Would you see this as reasonable?

    • Anonymous

      I don’t believe I ever called any of the arrests that happened “reasonable.” I think you are putting words in my mouth. I have no idea if any of the arrests made were reasonable, it isn’t my decision to make such a judgement. The 1 arrests I witnessed I believe was not reasonable and I’m hoping the person has a case against the officer. Additionally, When I was told to move by an officer I did so.

      I want to be clear I do not know under what charges anyone was arrested or if any of these arrests were reasonable.  I believe, and have written at length, if you feel you were treated wrongly by the police, file a complaint. The police should be held responsible for any actions that we out of line.

  • Guest

    Sigh. This is not my understanding of the law nor that of a lawyer I JUST asked about it. They should not be telling people they have to “keep moving.” You are allowed to picked in a stationary fashion. Always have been, always will be. Just ask the anti-abortion protesters down at Planned Parenthood.

  • Anonymous

    Also a friend on Facebook added these comments. I do not know how valid/true they are, but I believe the source is a pretty reliable source for information:

     FYI: The ACLU and Soul Force (a LGBT equality group) are excellent sources for training in exercising your rights in a public forum. Soul Force was founded by Rev Mel White and practices the non-violent methods of Gahndi and MLK (Mrs King and members of her personal staff were in fact key supporters and advisors in developing the Soul Force method). Both offer excellent workshops and materials and it was through them I received most of my training.

    Also remember you can hide your face with a mask, hood, or glasses if you like. In other words you can legally be Anonymous. Unless being detained by police you do not have to reveal your identity or remove anything hiding your identity. Further, and in light of the escalating violence towards LGBT persons, you may openly carry a fire arm in a public place (except in places posted as restricted areas or those listed in statue) or in private places that the owners give permission. If you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon you may more discretely carry a firearm in the same places. Having been arrested many many many times for civil disobedience I have become well versed in how to legally and illegally protest and am more than willing to offer any advice to any interested parties. 

    Important note: Some municipalities may have different laws than another. All these must fall into line with commonwealth and federal law though. Knowing these laws and your rights is the first step to any action you may decide to take part in.

  • Gordon

    do not work with the nambla supporting aclu

  • LGBT

    Judging from the PDF posted here and the known fact that the rally had an anarchist bent to it, seems like the police were well within their authority to break up the rally and arrest those who did not obey.

    • Strigiform

      Whether or not police are within their authority isn’t the point. Question that authority. Why can’t we walk down the street in our own neighborhood without fear of assault and arrest by police? Whether or not their “authority” allows them to arrest us (and their authority allows them to do pretty much ANYTHING they want), it doesn’t make their arresting us ok. Think outside the box.

      • Lgbt

        Because your rights end where others begin. Blocking the sidewalk and the street violates my right to walk down the sidewalk. If the police tell you to move so my rights aren’t violated and you disobey you should be arrested. Rights are two way thing. You can’t just do whatever the hell you want and infringe on my rights.

        You are the one thinking inside a box when you think that you have a right to do whatever you want with disregard to others’ rights. You give the LGBT community a bad name.

      • Gordon

        here’s a trick I learned a long time ago in elementary school that has helped me avoid arrest whilest I walk down the street.

        Don’t break the law, and the cops will not arrest you.

      • (a)esq

        unfortunately, that’s not true. nor does an arrest mean you’re guilty of anything. all the law requires for an arrest is probable cause, not guilt.

      • Gordon

        No, it’s completely true. It’s been 27 years since I was born and I’ve never been arrested not once!

      • Strigiform

        I know someone who knows someone who smoked 2 packs a day and lived to be 90. I guess that means smoking prolongs life.

      • Gordon

        only one way to find out bro!

      • (a)esq

        I’ve been alive longer than that (and a lawyer for some of those) and I’m pretty confident that I am correct.

      • Gordon

        well I’ve been alive for 27 years and I’m pretty confident that I am correct.I can prove this by the fact I’ve never been arrested mr internet “lawyer”.

      • (a)esq

        I’m not sure why lawyer is in quotes nor why you gendered me as male.

        I’m more interested in why you believe that an arrest equals guilt and no arrest equals innocence however.

      • Gordon

        oh jeeze I wrongly gendered you! I’m so sorry “lawyer” sir! Better chase a wahhbulance buddy.

        You are taking what I said out of context and picking it apart. I said I’ve not broken law and that is why I was never arrested.

      • (a)esq

        Did someone else post this then? “Don’t break the law, and the cops will not arrest you.”

      • Gordon

        I duuno, lets ask Joe.

      • Anonymous

        I agree with the notion of questioning authority, but I am not sure that questioning means confronting it in an adversarial way. I think the biggest issue I have with the case you have tried to make throughout all of my posts, is that you treat the police  (and me and others???) in an all or nothing kind of way. The police are all bad, is the image I perceive that you have tried to make. Rational people know this isn’t the case. All people in authority need to be questioned and held accountable  for when they overstep their authority. This includes the police. It is also NOT true to say they can do pretty much anything they want. In very few circumstances they can, but in most they can not.

        You have steadfastly supported a Queer and/or anarchist viewpoint which by definition is in opposition to those parts of the LGBT community that seeks to build relatioships and improve those relationships withg others and the police. I am making no value judgement on your position, only that it is different and falls in tension/opposition to the work of others. So, of course there will not be agreement on agendas or actions.

        You have misrepresented me throughout all of your rants as being pro-police as if the police can do anything they want. That isn’t a real expression of my position. I believe the police need to protect members of the LGBTQ community equally as they would protect members of any other community. When they fail to do that, they should be held accountable. I do not believe they do this perfectly, although I think it is the general oveririding desire to treat every citizen equally. I want to see where problems exist, and  that these are vocalized and fixed. However, I also believe that the police have city laws and rules and guidelines that they are to work within. I expect them to do that.

        If you feel that the laws are unjust and do not allow you your rights, then work to change the law as opposed to simply calling the police homophobic pigs for doing their jobs. Now, I really don’t expect you to do that. For trying to work within the system isn’t Queer, although it could be productive.

        Personally, I believe the police have a relationship problem, not only with Queers, but with other minority groups here in Pittsburgh. I think there is a lot of work to do to repair and improve these relationships so that everyone benefits. Some of this work is for the police to do, and some of it is the work of the communities.

      • Strigiform

        Yes, I saw one person’s back attacked the cop’s hands in a very adversarial way as he was pushing them. I also saw a person asking “Why is he being arrested?” as being very adversarial, especially when their wrists started attacking the handcuffs so aggressively. People should never ask questions or resist authoritarian oppression in any way shape or form. Damned protesters. Who do they think they are?

      • Gordon

        sounds like the cops should have shot them in the face for being difficult for the sake of being difficult.

      • Strigiform
      • Gordon
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