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Public Demonstrations Gone Awry


Let’s say you are sympathetic to a particular cause and decide to attend a public rally. Or perhaps you had no idea a rally was planned, but happened to be in the area when crowds surged. If you are in the vicinity of a rally that turns into a dangerous riot, and you or your property experiences harm, what recourse do you have? What if you are part of indiscriminate arrests?

Modern American Protest

This country has a long history of public demonstration, and modern times are no different. America is alive with protest these days. Florida has seen its share of these gatherings at airports, on college campuses, and at government offices.

While peaceful protest is a constitutional right in our country, sometimes these events become violent, resulting in serious property damage, injury to protesters, bystanders, and law enforcement officers, and multiple arrests.

  • Punches were thrown between protesters and supporters in an Orlando rally;
  • Fort Lauderdale saw protesters pouring drinks on their opposition, along with pushing and shoving;
  • Inauguration protests in Washington D.C. resulted in multiple injuries to protesters, bystanders, and officers, leading to 217 arrests;
  • NYC has seen multiple protests, some of which involved fires, store front attacks, and other violence, including the use of pepper spray and other defensive tactics;
  • Oakland saw violent protests erupt in fires, bottle throwing, graffiti, and the use of tear gas;
  • Molotov cocktail-throwing agitators disrupted speaking plans for a visiting presenter in Berkeley, after fires, property damage and multiple injuries exploded on the campus.

Legal Consequences for Rioting Charges

Public demonstration is one thing: rioting is something else. Although you may attend a protest with a particular non-violent outcome in mind, things can become chaotic and ferocious with a shift in the wind. And that can mean arrests for rioting, which can result in years of prison time or fines in the thousands of dollars.

Legal Remedies for Injuries and Damage Following Rioting

Personal injury is generally compensable through the courts, if a defendant can be named. That can be a challenge in situations involving large demonstrations. But legal action is not unprecedented:

  • A Baton Rouge law enforcement officer filed suit against the Black Lives Matter organization in November of 2016, naming organization co-founder DeRay McKesson in the matter.
  • Prior to that November incident, McKesson and several individuals who who’d been arrested during protests filed a class action lawsuit seeking to clear their criminal arrest records.
  • Lawyers, journalists and others were arrested following DC riots, and are now involved in a civil suit charging indiscriminate arrests.

Public protests can be empowering events. But innocent people can become embroiled in tumultuous events rather quickly, resulting in damage to property, personal injury, or arrest.

If you have suffered these consequences as a result of being involved with a public gathering that turned violent, the experienced Florida personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Robert W. Elton can help. Let us examine the circumstances of your situation and guide you to a favorable outcome. Contact our aggressive legal team today for a free, confidential consultation.