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Want to protest to make your voice heard? Before you organize a protest, it is important to know what rights you have and how to use them. It’s also helpful to know what can and won’t get you in trouble with the law.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees people the right of peaceful assembly and to seek a redress of grievances. However, there are limits on where and when you can assemble so that you don’t infringe on other people’s rights. State, county and local laws apply to protests.
Noise ordinances, event licensing and other common local laws can all influence what is and isn’t allowed.
Where can I protest in Wichita?
Protests may happen on public land or private land. The rules can be very different depending on which one you’re on.
If your protest is set to occur on private land, you must have explicit permission of the property owner to be there. Otherwise, you risk being arrested for trespassing. If you do have permission, organizing on private land can have a few benefits. It is harder for government entities to restrict speech that happens on private property and any counterprotesters must have permission of the property owner, too.
Organizing on public land offers different benefits. Public spaces include government buildings, sidewalks, streets and parks. Public protests may offer greater visibility.
In either situation, you must not overly obstruct others, according to local laws in Wichita. This means if you are protesting near a government building, you cannot interrupt workers or obstruct people entering the building. If you are on a street, you cannot obstruct traffic.
Do I need a permit to protest in Wichita?
Not necessarily. If you are planning a protest, you can get an event permit from the city. An event permit will allow you more rights such as sectioning off streets and inviting food vendors; however, event permits can be very expensive. Events held in public parks are responsible for insurance, damage fees based on estimated attendance and more.
The application itself is $25 and is to be submitted 30 days before the event. You can submit the application up to 10 days before the event for an extra $75. Event costs include a street closure fee of $25, a park rental cost of $50 (for a single day) and a deposit of $100 to $1,500 depending on the estimated crowd size.
But a permit is not required to hold a protest. Wichita’s event ordinance sections out protests as exempt as long as they occur “on public property, which consist solely of the displaying of signs or banners, singing and the delivering of speeches.”
If your event is held on private property you do not need a permit as long as “no extraordinary police services are required.” You can contact the police department to make prior arrangements if you feel they are needed.
If your protest will include over 250 people, include food vendors or excessively block traffic, you may be required to get a permit. Your application for a permit cannot be denied based on what your protest is about, and police cannot use the permit process to block a protest that is caused by breaking news, according to ACLU Kansas. If you cannot afford an event permit, ask for fee waivers, the ACLU recommends.
Can I film a protest?
Yes, if it is in public. If you are on public property, an officer cannot stop you from filming them or others during the protest.
If you are on private property, you need permission from the property owner to film.
Protesters often find filming helpful to have a record of what occurred in case there are disputes about it later.
What else should I know?
The explicit definition of a lawful protest in Wichita city ordinances is as follows:
“Social or political protests, rallies, gatherings, assemblies or vigils occurring on public property, which consist solely of the displaying of signs or banners, singing and the delivering of speeches.”
If your protest falls outside of this definition, it can be classified as an unlawful assembly.
While protesting in a public place, counterprotesters may come. They are afforded the same rights as you, and it is important that interactions between your protest and theirs do not become aggressive or violent.
Additionally, Wichita has a noise ordinance. Any noise classified as excessive, unruly or unnecessary is prohibited under the ordinance. This was used against protesters in 2020 during a Black Lives Matter protest to make arrests.
What if my rights are violated?
If you believe that a government official or police officer has infringed on your First Amendment rights, make sure to write down as many details as you can.
If it is a government official, make sure you get their name, get a photo and take note of what department they work for. For police officers, write down badge numbers and police car license plates as well. Then contact a lawyer, or an organization that can help you get legal representation like the ACLU, with all of the details. If you filmed, this can help disprove any misconduct allegations.
Do not speak to the police until you have your lawyer and have informed them of the situation.
Finally, if you were arrested and you did violate a city ordinance, you can potentially challenge the ordinance in court. Some cities’ ordinances have been found unlawful in higher courts.