Protests are happening all over the globe, demanding justice for the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and numerous other black individuals who have been unjustly murdered by police. However, it is important to remember to take necessary measures to ensure the safety of yourself and your fellow protesters. Here are several precautionary actions and safety procedures you should know before attending a protest.
1. Protective Equipment
It is important to remember that even in the midst of societal unrest, the amount of people affected with the coronavirus has continued to rise. In the United States, the number of coronavirus cases has risen to a staggering 2 million cases. Therefore, for the safety of other protesters around you, absolutely DO NOT attend any protests if you feel remotely ill. It is your responsibility as a citizen to follow the necessary measures and continue practicing social distancing, especially if you believe you may be infected with COVID-19. While it may be extremely difficult, you are still encouraged to maintain the recommended 6 feet apart while protesting, and even if this isn’t feasible, try to keep as much distance from others as possible.
There are some supplies you should remember to bring when attending a protest. First, it is recommended that you have some hand sanitizer with you that has at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. This minimum is necessary to kill the virus and ensure your hands are thoroughly disinfected. Even with hand sanitizer, remember to avoid shaking hands with others and be aware of what your hands come in contact with. Do not touch your face, eyes, or mouth.
Additionally, all protesters should wear masks and heat-resistant gloves. The CDC recommends wearing “cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” Heat-resistant gloves are also important to avoid the spread of infectious diseases while preventing any form of melting when in contact with heated objects.
You might also consider buying ballistic eyewear or another form of eye protection to shield yourself from rubber bullets. Though not as fatal as a real bullet, they can still cause serious damage. A reporter covering a protest in Minneapolis was shot in the face by a rubber bullet and is now permanently blind in her left eye.
Other materials to bring include megaphones, voice enhancers, signs, or drums to make noise. It is crucial that you DO NOT YELL during protests. Yelling can cause respiratory droplets to spread further than they would have otherwise. We are still in the midst of a global health pandemic and are required to abide by the protective measures given to us. Again, these precautions are to ensure the safety of you and your fellow protesters and it’s your responsibility to perform them.
Now that we have discussed what extra protective equipment you should bring to a protest, it is also important to know how to dress appropriately for maximum safety. Wear generic, common clothing and bring a face mask to conceal your identity. Cover any tattoos you might have and consider wearing a hat. Additionally, try to avoid wearing a hairstyle that is easy to grab. Ponytails or braids are not ideal since an attacker could easily get a hold of your hair. Also remove any dangling accessories such as scarves, necklaces, and earrings.
Try not to wear any makeup. Skin creams, lotions, and makeup can trap tear gas near or on your face. This same rule applies for contact lenses. DO NOT WEAR CONTACTS as they can trap pepper spray and tear gas near or on your eye and cause severe, permanent eye damage. If you happen to get pepper sprayed, remember NOT to rub your eyes. Blink as much as possible to flush some of the pepper spray out with your tears and wash your eyes with baby shampoo and water.
In cases where you do get hit with one of these deadly chemical weapons, you should have a spare set of clothes to change into. In order to ensure your own safety, bring this change of clothes in a tightly sealed plastic bag that is protected from contaminants.
After arriving home, immediately dispose of your mask (preferably in an outdoor trash can) and contaminated clothing immediately. Take a long shower, making sure to scrub your face and the area near your eyes thoroughly. Wipe your phone and other supplies, including water bottles and bags with an alcoholic disinfectant. These measures should always be performed after attending public gatherings to ensure that you and your family members are protected from COVID-19.
Before attending a protest, it is important that you educate yourself about your rights as a protester. First and foremost, before you arrive at the protest, disable Touch ID/Face ID. While passwords and pins are deemed by the court to be protected by the 5th amendment (one’s right to protect themselves from self-incrimination), the court does not always view Touch ID and Face ID in the same way. Therefore, remember to disable these features in order to prevent yourself from being forced to open your phone with your face or fingerprint.
Additionally, regarding IDs/driver’s licenses, you should check the laws for your specific state. In some areas, not having your ID when arrested could keep you detained for longer, so make sure to educate yourself on your state’s laws before you attend a protest.
Also, do not take any pictures or upload any pictures to social media without censoring the faces and bodies of the protesters around you. Without blocking the appearance of other protesters from view, you could be placing them in danger of being arrested.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! As a protester, you are guaranteed a number of personal rights that you could potentially use to your advantage. Here is a comprehensive list:
Freedom of Expression and Assembly: You have the right to carry your opinion to the streets
Protection of the Right to Freedom of Assembly: Law enforcement cannot restrict a peaceful public assembly
Freedom from excessive use of force: The police must avoid using force in non-violent protests
Right to Medical Assistance: You have the right to get medical assistance without a delay
Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Detention: If you are arrested, you have the right to be told why, and you have the right to access a lawyer and your family after arrest. (Say: I will not speak to you without a lawyer)
Right to Complain: If your rights have been violated in any way, you can file a complaint and receive information on how to do so
I hope these tips will help you and your fellow protesters stay as safe as possible. This is a fight that must be won, and we WILL grow stronger from it.