A Message from Committee Executive Director Jonathan Smith about Demonstrating in DC

Downtown DC should be an interesting place tomorrow. While attendance for the inauguration is expected to be smaller than past years, there are many people in town and significant resistance actions and protests are planned.

A significant amount of legal support has been organized to ensure that people have a right to protest and to assist persons who are arrested. A couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. Both DC and the Park Police have new regulations and have been trained on new procedures to avoid the worst practices of the past. In recent actions, they have been much more protective of the rights of protesters. Hopefully that will hold, but there are many other police agencies in DC, the Capital Police being the biggest, plus there are 3000 officers from departments around the country detailed for the inauguration. The MPD Standard Operating Procedure is available here and applies to all non-federal police operating in DC, but I strongly urge that you let organizers deal with issues. Line officers are not going to argue about regulations.

  2. If you are going to be at the demonstration, especially tomorrow, I urge you to familiarize yourself with the regulations so you can recognize when they are being violated. If you see a violation, it might be actionable. Document it. Either the Committee or one of the other lawyers involved in organizing might want to bring an action or a complaint. If you need immediate assistance, call the National Lawyers Guild  inauguration jail support line: (202) 670-6866.

  3. You have a First Amendment right to video police conducting an official act in a public place so long as you do not interfere with them. The MPD General Order is attached, but the same rules apply to all police as a matter of constitutional law. Taking pictures or filming is often the best way to document the action. You can narrate as you go. One caution, film the police, NOT the demonstrators. There are cases across the country in which the police are attempting to get bystander video of police misconduct to develop evidence to prosecute protestors. Given this risk, different advocates take different views on the value of videotaping. If you are an official legal observer, follow your training.

  4. Provocateurs have already been identified. The same outfit that released the damaging (and highly and deceptively edited video) of Planned Parenthood was caught trying to convince demonstrators to create smoke bombs to disrupt a ball. They were filming the conversation in an effort to discredit the demonstrators and create a pretext for oppressive police action. Organizers caught on. Be careful and talk to the legal team/organizers if something does not seem right.

As we enter this time of threat to so many things we hold dear – equity, opportunity, justice, the environment – it is an honor to be standing with each of you. Tomorrow is one day in which we will resist. But we will resist each and every other day through our work and through our example.

Have a safe weekend.

Jonathan Smith
Executive Director

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