We are horrified and heartbroken by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many others. Their lives are among the most recent stolen in the long history of police brutality against Black people in the United States. At this extraordinary moment, we join in solidarity with the millions of protesters who have taken to the streets and to the internet to call for justice and an end to systemic racism.

Political leaders around our country, Democrats and Republicans alike, have failed time and again to end police violence against Black men, women, and children. This shameful failure is at the heart of the protests we see now, and it is perpetuated by the escalating use of force by police against protesters in the street.

We condemn and reject President Trump’s characterization of these historic protests as a threat to the country. The protests are part of a long American tradition of demanding change to ensure that the nation meets its most basic promise to treat all equally. Those demands have not yet been met. The excessive and unnecessary force exercised at the direction of the president and his closest advisers – from tear gassing protesters so the president could pose in front of a church, to deploying heavily armed troops in the nation’s capital – are the kinds of tactics one would ordinarily associate with authoritarian regimes. We must stop the country’s creep towards authoritarianism.

We support and are deeply grateful to the numerous organizations and activists who have been fighting for many years to end systemic racism and police violence and to reform our criminal justice system. We are mindful of the need for change in so many areas, from addressing the overpolicing of Black communities, to better police training in de-escalation and implicit bias, to legal changes that would allow victims to hold police officers accountable for brutality, to improved tracking and reporting on police uses of force to permit much-needed oversight, to the redistribution of taxpayer funds reserved for police forces, and much more.

Safeguarding First Amendment freedoms is also imperative to holding the police to account and to empowering victims and protesters to demand change. For that reason, we are calling for reforms that would strengthen public access to information about police misconduct; protect those who expose that misconduct; and guarantee the rights of those who are protesting now. Specifically, local, state, and federal officials, as appropriate, should:

  • Immediately end excessive use of force against people exercising their right to protest. Across the country, media coverage and documentation by protesters and bystanders has shown police cars ramming into protesters, police pointing guns at and using weapons, tear gas, and pepper spray against peaceful demonstrators and journalists, police firing less-lethal weapons at crowds with no warning and no apparent provocation, and other efforts to provoke and harm protesters. These uses of excessive force are shocking and unlawful, and often escalate already-tense situations.

  • End shows of overwhelming force, including the deployment of military forces, against protesters.

  • Establish clear legal protections for citizens who exercise their right to record police activity in public places, train officers to respect the right to record, and sanction officers who violate it or who retaliate against those who have exercised that right. The right to record police activity is essential to ensuring accountability and transparency in police conduct.

  • Protect the right of the news media to document protests and police activity. Hold accountable police officers who interfere with newsgathering or who deliberately target members of the media with violence.

  • Enable the transparency necessary to expose and prevent police misconduct:

    • Repeal laws and policies that hide reports of police misconduct from the public.

    • Require all law enforcement officers interacting with the public to wear badges with clearly visible and individualized identifiers, and sanction officers who attempt to conceal those identifiers.

    • Establish mandatory data collection procedures for all uses of force by police.

    • Establish a nationwide, centralized database of the names of police officers who have had their certifications revoked due to misconduct, as well as records of disciplinary actions against officers and termination records.

  • Remove legal barriers to holding officers accountable for violations of First Amendment and other civil rights:

    • Congress should reform the qualified immunity doctrine, which too often shields law enforcement officers from accountability for civil rights violations including acts of police brutality.

    • Congress should protect citizens from retaliatory arrests for exercising their First Amendment rights by overturning the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Nieves v. Bartlett.

    • Congress should create a statutory cause of action to allow people to hold federal law enforcement officers liable in federal court for violations of the Constitution.

  • Strictly limit curfew orders to situations of absolute necessity, and allow individuals who are on the street after curfew an opportunity to disperse. Property damage by small groups of individuals should not be used as a pretext for denying tens of thousands of people the right to protest peacefully. Overbroad curfew orders invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, and have led to even more police brutality.

  • Enact and enforce clear limitations on the surveillance of protests and protesters, by permitting it in only narrow circumstances and, even then, limiting what information may be collected, how it may be used, and how long it may be kept.


For information about protecting data, technology, and First Amendment rights at a protest, see Protest Resources for Journalists and Protesters.