Protests & Public Safety: A Guide for Cities & Citizens


The past few years have witnessed a rise in violence at far-right protests and rallies nationwide. In places as diverse as Berkeley, California, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, white supremacist and white nationalist groups have organized rallies with the self-avowed goal of provoking a response from counter-protesters, including anti-fascists. More recently, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, heavily armed far-right militias have shown up at protests for racial justice, sometimes purporting to “protect” property and statues and sometimes openly seeking to stoke riots. The result is too often the same: physical violence among warring groups of protesters, property damage to local businesses, sky-high costs for localities seeking to protect public safety, and loss of public trust in government’s ability to keep residents secure.

After the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) used litigation to prevent similar violence at future demonstrations and rallies. Following that successful litigation effort, ICAP has been contacted regularly by localities facing upcoming protest events they fear could turn violent. ICAP has worked with them to develop legal tools to preempt unlawful, violent activity.

Every state has a legal basis to restrict private militia and paramilitary activity at public rallies. For information about these state-specific prohibitions, see ICAP’s 50 State Catalog that identifies each state’s constitutional and statutory provisions that can prevent the kind of private militia and paramilitary activity that has led to intimidation, violence, and chaos at rallies and demonstrations around the country.

In the present moment, it is more important than ever that local jurisdictions understand their role in fostering First Amendment activity while protecting the safety of protesters and the public. Having developed a body of knowledge and proven results, ICAP seeks to scale what it has learned by providing a new toolkit, Protests and Public Safety: A Guide for Cities and Citizens. In it you will find legal principles, best practices, and creative solutions upon which local jurisdictions may draw to protect public safety while respecting constitutional rights during rallies, protests, and other public events. The toolkit offers detailed legal analysis suitable for municipal and state attorneys, as well as more general legal guardrails, best practices, and frequently asked questions intended to be more easily accessible to non-lawyer elected and appointed officials, concerned residents, and activists.

Download PDF Toolkit


Download Frequently Asked Questions


Launch Event

On July 29, ICAP launched Protests and Public Safety: A Guide for Cities and Citizens with a virtual event featuring ICAP’s legal director Mary McCord, Bernalillo County, NM District Attorney Raúl Torrez, Akin Gump pro bono partner Steven Schulman, the Anti-Defamation League’s Senior Vice President of Programs George Selim, and former Mayor of Charlottesville Mike Signer. The event was hosted by NPR’s Michel Martin.