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Right to Peaceful Protest: What to Know at RNC

About 2,500 police officers from other states will be joining Cleveland police in patrolling the city during the RNC. (Elvert Barnes/Flickr)
About 2,500 police officers from other states will be joining Cleveland police in patrolling the city during the RNC. (Elvert Barnes/Flickr)
July 15, 2016

CLEVELAND – Along with the delegates, party supporters and pundits, thousands of protesters also are expected in downtown Cleveland during the Republican National Convention. And given the recent tensions involving police and community relations around the country, experts say it's important that demonstrators know their rights.

Michael Benza, senior instructor of law at Case Western Reserve University, explained all people have a First Amendment right to protest and march.

"Where the problems come in is when their exercise of their rights to protest start to either interfere with other people's ability to go about their daily lives, or start to impede law enforcement's ability to control the situation and keep everybody safe," Benza said.

A 1.7-mile event zone is set up downtown with security restrictions. It includes a designated speaker's area, a parade route for those with a permit, and two parks for protests and displays.

About 2,500 police officers from other states will be joining Cleveland police in patrolling the city during the RNC.

According to Benza, a protester is only obligated to answer a question from a police officer if suspected of a crime, and only needs to show photo identification if driving a vehicle.

He added a search can only be performed if a person gives consent, or there is a search warrant or probable cause. And Benza notes citizens have a right to record police interactions.

"They cannot tell you, 'Turn off your recording,'" Benza stated. "They can't ask you, 'Why are you recording?' They can't ask who you are to do the recording. They are simply to allow you to do that recording."

Jacquelyn Green with the Ohio chapter of the National Lawyers Guild said her group has worked with other organizations to establish legal and jail support for the RNC demonstrations. It includes a hotline where protesters can call for help: 216-5050-NLG.

"So, we would hopefully be able to get someone into jail to visit if there are any concerns about injuries or safety, or other things that needed to be relayed; try to get someone to visit them," Green said. "And then also, in an ongoing capacity, we try to provide pro bono representation to folks who have been arrested in protest situations."

Cleveland officials have developed plans to respond to the possibility of mass arrests, including designated jail facilities and extended court hours.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH