Protecting public safety has become a challenge for local communities as ideologically opposed groups have increasingly clashed openly during protest events across the country. Cities large and small have struggled to prevent violence during white nationalist rallies where the tactic of the protesters often has been to provoke confrontations with counter-protesters. Peaceful racial justice protests have been marred by violent interlopers and have been unlawfully “policed” by heavily armed vigilante militia groups, inhibiting free expression and heightening the risk of serious injury and death.
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 successfully litigated against violent white supremacists and unlawful private paramilitaries after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) created this guide to help with those efforts. 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 ICAP’s fact sheets for all 50 states explaining the laws barring unauthorized private militia groups and what to do if groups of armed individuals are near a polling place or voter registration drive. Learn more, and download the state-by-state fact sheets, here.
Download ICAP’s fact sheet on voter intimidation laws, what kinds of conduct could constitute voter intimidation, and what to do if a person experiences voter intimidation, here.
ICAP was launched in August 2017 to use the power of the courts to defend American constitutional rights and values. Based at Georgetown University Law Center, ICAP litigates in federal and state courts across the country to defend vulnerable communities, support free speech and religion, reform the criminal justice system, seek court transparency, and combat the rise of unlawful private militia activity. Learn more about our work here.
ICAP is joined in the effort to support constitutionally sound public safety measures during protests and rallies by a coalition of the nation’s leading law firms whose lawyers have offered to provide pro bono assistance to communities facing threats of political violence at public events. These include Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, O’Melveny & Myers, Jones Day, WilmerHale, Hogan Lovells, Stoel Rives, Gibson Dunn, and Dykema.
Protests & Public Safety: A Guide for Cities & CitizensDownload
Explore Protests & Public Safety: A Guide for Cities & Citizens
Relevant Constitutional Principles
Explore First and Second Amendment principles as applied to limitations on speech and assembly, including restrictions on gun possession and unlawful paramilitary activity, in the interest of public safety.View Section
Relevant Federal & State Laws
Learn about the laws that apply to local jurisdictions’ efforts to prepare for, prevent, and respond to violence at public protests and rallies.View Section
Learn about permitting systems and other legal authorities that local jurisdictions can use to require prior approval for, and impose conditions on, public events in public spaces.View Section
Explore best practices gleaned from the experiences of communities across the country that have faced political violence at public protest and rallies.View Section
Protesting During A Pandemic
Consider the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on protest activity and options available to local jurisdictions to keep their communities safe.View Section
Policing At Protests: Best Practices
Identify important factors that law enforcement should consider when planning for, and responding to, mass gatherings and public demonstrations.View Section
Frequently Asked QuestionsDownload
ICAP's 50-State Catalog of Laws Prohibiting Private Armies at Public RalliesDownload
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.