How To Stay Safe During A Protest
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Politics and Activism

How To Stay Safe During A Protest

To everyone protesting for a good cause, here's what to do and what not to do to stay safe during a protest.

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How To Stay Safe During A Protest
Ciara McCaskil

Many people are protesting all over America right now for justice in the cases of those who have died due to racism and police brutality. I stand with you and I'm praying that all of your protests are peaceful. Here are some ways to stay safe during a peaceful protest and a protest that has gotten out of hand.

Wear a face mask

With everything going on in the world right now, I honestly tend to forget about the necessary precautions we must take in order to avoid COVID-19. It's very real and is still very prevalent so please, wear a face mask. And if you're able, try to follow the CDC guidelines by standing six feet apart.

Have the right attire

As hot as it may be outside, be sure to think about the "what-ifs" in a protest situation.

Always wear close-toed, comfortable shoes in case you have to suddenly take off.

Wearing long pants protects you from tear gas. When you get too close to the gas, it not only affects your sinuses, it can start to burn and sting your skin.

Goggles can protect your eyes from tear gas but please note that if you inhale the gas it can still affect your eyes. Another point on eye wear. Do NOT wear contact lenses. When tear gas interacts with the solution of the contacts, it can cause it to melt while in your eyes.

Be sure to bring an extra jacket, sweatshirt, or flannel to tie around your waist. If you're staying out late, it might get a little chilly. But the jacket or shirt can also be used in emergency situations.

This one may seem obvious, but try to avoid wearing jewelry or bringing a purse/wallet.

Try to keep every essential thing (car keys, ID, cell phone) on your person, like in your pockets, shoes, or bra.

If you do bring a bag, make sure it's one that can easily be worn on your back. In the bag, I would recommend you pack water bottles (staying hydrated is always important), a few granola bars to keep your nutrients up, mini first aid kit, phone charger, and small bottles of milk (I'll explain more of this later).

I would also recommend wearing your hair up. It can get crowded and there's a possibility that it can get hectic so don't let your hair get in the way.

Lastly, if you can, whatever you bring for yourself, try and bring extra to help others around you.

Wear all black

If you can try to wear all black. I know many protest leaders are encouraging this in order to look more uniform as we stand in solidarity. However, I have talked to a few people who are saying wearing another color underneath is good in case you need to blend into the general population after leaving the protest.

Bring milk.

Milk can help neutralize tear gas. Do not pour the milk into your eyes as it can cause an infection. Simply pouring the milk over your face with your eyes closed can be effective. If the gas is causing you to cough, drink the milk. If the gas is affecting your skin, rub the milk into your skin. If you're not able to bring milk, water can help as well. If you're able to bring some for others and you know the protest will be pretty large, I'd recommend two to three gallons.

Make sure all electronics are charged

Make sure your phone is fully charged when you get to the protest area. This will be helpful just in case you need to find the people you came with but it also helps in checking in with those who did not come to the protest and want to ensure your safety. Also, using your phone to document the protest is great too!

Make sure your camera battery is fully charged too. Sometimes standing in one spot to switch out batteries can be dangerous so it's best to just go on a full battery and keep it moving.

At the protest I attended, there were people that rented e-scooters. Make sure those are fully charged as well. They're great for needing to get out of an area fast but if the battery is low, they're really no use and could put you in a dangerous spot.

Map it out

Make sure you know where EVERYTHING is. Make sure you remember where you parked your car. Make sure you're meeting at the right spot for the protest. And make sure that everywhere you go, you have an exit strategy. At the protest I attended, police were blocking off a lot of streets and we were nearly blocked in. If you're going somewhere new, feel free to check your map frequently for nearby streets. If the protest turns into a march, you'll want to make sure you know where to go just in case following the crowd isn't the safest option.

Don't go alone

Traveling in groups is almost always a good idea. Before you arrive at the protest, make sure you and your group discuss a rendezvous point in case you get split up. Always have location sharing on and share your location with each other. It'll be so much easier to find each other this way and to make sure everyone is accounted for. If you want to stick together (which I highly recommend), make sure you link arms when the crowd is rapidly moving.

It's beneficial to have your location on during the protest but once your group is back together and leaving the protest, promptly turn off your location. Police can use your location tracking to easily find you even after the protest is over to arrest you.

Follow the leaders

Every protest should have a few leaders or hosts. Typically, they'll be the ones holding the megaphone. When they say to move, I recommend you follow their lead because it's typically for the best.

Wear gloves

At the protest I attended, police intervened by throwing a lot of tear gas. Once they throw them, they take a few seconds to deploy. I do NOT recommend this at all, but if you're brave enough, you can pick up the tear gas canister and throw it away from the crowd. Keep in mind that these canisters are hot to the touch so wearing gloves will definitely help. Tear gas canisters can also be covered by a traffic cone to keep the gas from widely spreading.

Pad your dominant arm

If you plan on getting up close and personal to the police, please come prepared. If something happens and they begin to use brute force to control the crowds, padding your dominant arm underneath the sleeve can help absorb the blows of a baton. But please note that if they begin using brute force, I do not recommend sticking around. Getting out of that area is the safest thing you can do.

Do NOT instigate

All of these protests should be peaceful. But some are escalated due to undercover police, blatant unjust acts, or instigators. Whatever you do, please always keep in the mind the reason for the protest and your purpose in participating in that protest. It's a peaceful protest that should not turn into a riot. It's best that you avoid touching the police and throwing things at them.

Protect each other!

If you see someone is down while the protest is calm (heat stroke, dehydration), call for a medic or dial 911. If you see someone is down while the protest is hectic, try and protect them by shielding their body. This reduces the risk that they get attacked or trampled while they're down. Leave no one behind. Also, if something is happening at one end of the protest, relay the message to the end to keep everyone on their toes.

Stay vigilant

If you can help it, do not sit down. If anything happens, you have to be ready to run. Never turn your back to an attacker and try to avoid running when it's not necessary. If it's the police, simply back away slowly with your hands in the air. Try to anticipate the way the crowd will move. Once tear gas is thrown or rubber bullets are shot, the crowd will quickly move. Try to anticipate which direction that will be in and head the opposite direction.

Spare identities

If you're a photographer (freelance) documenting the protest, try to take photos from an angle where you don't really get anyone's face. If you do, consider blurring faces before posting online or social media. Some people are getting detained and questioned. Which leads me to my next point. If you do get arrested, don't tell the cops anything. "Everybody walks when nobody talks." Every single person at that protest is there in solidarity for the same cause. Stand by those who came out stood by you and demanded the same peace you demanded by not revealing identities. Granted, if the police are questioning you about something you saw that was really illegal, then please choose what you feel is right.

Know your rights

This is very important to know in order to avoid getting arrested. You should know that the First Amendment protects our right of speech, assembly, and protest. Here are some basics rights you have as a protester according to Now This News.

You have the right to protest on public sidewalks, streets, and in parks. You have the freedom to picket, march, and hand out printed materials. If the rally is going to draw large crowds and the hosts want to ample space with parking and a marching route, a permit would be required so that the city can shut down certain roads and reserve the space needed. However, a protest cannot be shut down just because there's no permit. If there isn't a permit, police can ask you to move out of the streets to allow traffic flow.

You have the right to take pictures and video. If you're recording police interactions with civilians from a distance, the police cannot ask you to move or step away. Just make sure you're not interfering with what they're doing. You should keep in mind that police cannot make your delete photos or videos. They are also not allowed to search through your camera roll or gallery without a warrant. If you are taking pictures that you plan to post on social media or anywhere the mass public can see, I'd like to reiterate to spare identities. Blur faces, cross out eyes, and/or use face masks to your advantage.

It's important that you also know your rights of speech. Categories of speech that are NOT protected by the First Amendment include incitement to violence and incitement to unlawful activity. But simply expressing your viewpoints is perfectly legal. Authorities can place "time, place, and manner" restrictions on speech, though. This means that they can limit noise levels and enact curfews on the protest. The restrictions that they place should be non-discriminatory and not based on the content of the speech.

Police can only tell the crowd to disperse as a last resort and if their previous attempts to de-escalate the crowd have failed. They can also do this is there's a threat to safety. They should announce clear instructions (like which direction they want the crowd to move) and give ample time for everyone to leave.

Leave if you feel it's time to leave

When something doesn't seem right to you or you feel unsafe, please leave. Don't feel as though you have to stay for the ENTIRE protest. Physical and mental health, as well as overall safety, are more important. Besides there are plenty of other ways to support the cause like signing petitions, donating to leading organizations, and calling authorities (such the mayor or DA) to demand justice.

To those that are taking a stand for what's right and against racism, thank you. I wish all protesters a safe and peaceful protest.

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