Protests have been in full force since the summer and show little sign of slowing down. From Philly to Poland, protests are a vital part of the global democratic process and ensuring your voice is heard, but considering we're battling fascists, a pandemic, police brutality, and more, it's extremely important that you stay safe.
With the tragic death of Walter Wallace, America has reminded us again that her ugly history of racist police brutality is far from over – and that it is more important than ever to demand a change. Wallace, a 27-year-old Black man suffering from bipolar disorder, was fatally shot by two officers in his own home while he reportedly suffered a mental breakdown.
This tragedy has spiraled Philadelphia into unrest and protests have gripped the city. This action arrives in the wake of recent killings by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Tony McDade in Florida, all this year.
If you're thinking about joining a protest near you, the threat of police brutality is a reality, as is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. If you don't feel safe protesting or are otherwise unable to physically do so, there are other ways you can contribute. You can donate money, drop off supplies, or contact local legislators.
That being said, protesting is a right of all Americans under the First Amendment and one of the most effective forms of resistance for many — but being prepared is vital. So before heading out, we've gathered up some advice for protesting safely below.
What to wear
- Wear a mask - We are in the midst of a global pandemic of an airborne virus. Needless to say, you should never leave the house without a mask and a protest is no different. This is also important for concealing your identity. The police have been known to use photographs from demonstrations to identify and track protesters.
- Wear nondescript clothing - This is a further step to protect yourself from surveillance. Opt for solid color clothing, preferably all-black, it helps you blend in with a crowd. Also, make sure your clothing covers any tattoos or identifying marks. Amnesty International also suggests avoiding wearing anything that’s loose and could easily be grabbed.
- Wear goggles - In addition to a mask covering your mouth and nose to protect against tear gas and other chemical exposure, it is of utmost importance to protect your eyes with goggles. Furthermore, refrain from wearing contacts as irritants could severely damage your eyes. If that is not an option carry saline fluid with you so you can flush your eyes out and remove contacts in case you're exposed.
- Good walking shoes - This is non-negotiable. Wear closed-toe shoes that are broken in and good for walking long distances – or running.
What to bring
- Water - It's important to stay hydrated, however, water could also help in case of chemical exposure to cleanse the skin and eyes. Experts also advise making a tear gas solution. The most affordable and accessible solution is a mixture of water and baking soda.
- Snacks - You are likely in for a long day. Pack lightweight, nutritious, energy-rich snacks.
- Carry your ID, health insurance, and cash - If you do get exposed to tear gas and either need to go to the hospital, talk with police officers, or face any other exposure side-effect, it's very important that you have the necessary documentation and money.
- Write down your emergency contacts' information - Write down the number of emergency legal counsel or family members you can call when you're in a bind. As a redundancy, you can also write them somewhere on your body (like your forearms), preferably in a permanent marker.
- Hand sanitizer - You might find yourself holding hands with strangers and grabbing onto signs. All these scenarios coupled with Covid-19 make hand sanitizer an essential thing to carry.
- Bandages and first-aid supplies - In case you or someone else get hurt, having bandages, tissues, and disinfectant could make a huge difference before seeking medical treatment.
- Protest signs - This is, of course, optional. If you decide to carry a sign, there are some things to consider. Ensure that your slogan is in big, bold letters that can be easily read from far away – keep things short and punchy. And remember: don't litter. Once you're done with your sign, dispose of it properly, or donate it to another protester.
- Prescription medications and menstrual pads - Take at least two days worth of prescription medication and women should make sure to carry menstrual hygiene products – if you’re arrested, you might not be allowed to or be given the chance to change your tampon.
- Power bank: If you or members of your group will have a phone, you need to make sure that you have a way to charge devices. Other protesters may need to charge their gear as well.
- Backpack - Obviously, you'll need to carry all of this somehow. The best option is a small and durable backpack. Make sure it's not to make it too heavy.
What not to do/bring
- Avoid wearing makeup - For the same reason, you shouldn't wear contacts, makeup could also further irritation when exposed to chemicals as these can adhere to the cosmetics on your skin.
- Avoid wearing jewelry - This is for several reasons; visible jewelry could help identify you, and you don't want unnecessary chains, earrings, or bracelets to get caught on anything while you're protesting.
- Anything illegal - Make sure you don't have anything on you that could get you into extra trouble. We're talking drugs or weapons of any kind.
- Don't keep your data on - As for your cell phone, you might want to leave it at home unless you’re going to first turn off Face/Touch ID, go on airplane mode, and disable your data. This will help avoid the police from tracking you or confiscating it and using what's on it to link you to any "illegal" activities.
- Don't go alone - for your safety, try to form a group. Look out for each other. Remember, solidarity can start small, holding someone's stuff while they tie their shoelaces, studying your surroundings, or sharing water when you've got extra can make a big difference.
- Don't post photos - Of course, social media is important for galvanizing protest and showing solidarity but a protest is not a social media photo op. Consider the ethics of a photo before you post it. You should avoid taking photos of protesters that clearly show identifying information like their faces or tattoos since those photos could make them vulnerable to abuse or retaliation. Law enforcement may also respond with force if you point your camera at them – even though it is well within your rights to film their actions.
Know your rights
- Invoke your right to remain silent - You can provide your name and address, but don’t answer any other questions. Instead, ask to speak to your lawyer.
- The police can't legally search your phone - Although police are allowed to confiscate your phone, they can't actually search your personal devices unless you give consent. They need a warrant for that. Don't succumb to pressure or intimidation tactics to unlock your phone. Preferably disable Face and fingerprint ID altogether.
- Don't consent to a DNA sample - An officer may try to make it seem like it is a standard procedure to take a DNA swab from your cheek. It's not. Do not consent to give a DNA sample. Try not to accept anything from police that can be used to extract a sample, including water bottles, cigarettes, or gum.
Stay safe. And Vote. Protesting makes little difference if you don't bring the same energy to the polls.