Occupy Wall Street Protestor's 1st Amendment Rights

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on October 07, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Why are the Wall Street protestors out on the street? And what is the overall point of the Occupy Wall Street protests?

No one seems entirely sure, and in the grand scheme the legality of the protests spreading the country, it doesn't actually matter. Participants have a Constitutional right to be out there day after day, even if their message gets lost in the crowd.

Indeed, the First Amendment guarantees both the freedom of speech and the right to "peaceably assemble."

Even so, New York police arrested 700 Wall Street protestors crossing the Brooklyn Bridge last week. And law enforcement in Sacramento and Los Angeles have since cited dozens more. You can expect the arrest tally to mount as the protests pop up around the country.

This is because constitutional rights are not unconditional.

The Occupy Wall Street protests may legally be limited by reasonable time, place and manner restrictions. Protestors generally can't stay in parks after hours, nor can they block roadways and streets. They may also be subject to permit conditions for safety purposes.

Which brings us to the second point. The Constitution only guarantees a right to peaceable assembly. To be peaceable, a protest needs to respect public safety and not disturb the peace. Protestors cannot act in a dangerous or disruptive manner.

Some of the arrested Occupy Wall Street protestors clearly violated these rules. Other protestors may have been violated themselves.

With a large protest, it's often difficult to decide whether an individual has disturbed the peace. Ordinary conduct may become dangerous when done en masse. And sometimes numbers simply cause police to fear for their safety.

So if you decide to join your city's Occupy Wall Street protesters, remember to follow the rules. You can be out there, but if you don't listen to law enforcement, you have a greater chance of being arrested.

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