Here’s Everything You Need to Know to Protest Safely

Have a game plan, and know your rights.

As people across the country take to the streets to protest systemic racism and police brutality amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the conversation around demonstrating safely has never been more important.

Below, find a guide to keeping yourself—and your fellow activists—out of harm’s way while exercising your First Amendment rights.

What should I bring to a protest?

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1. A face mask, hand sanitizer, and any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you have—we are still in the middle of a pandemic after all.
2. Suitable, nondescript clothing, preferably long-sleeved shirts, weather-appropriate gear, and running shoes.
3. A cellphone, although you should disable your Face ID or thumbprint passcode, turn off location data services, and communicate with other protestors via encrypted messaging and calling apps like Signal.
4. Water and a snack.
5. Cash to pay for any transit to and from an action.
6. An emergency contact number.

What shouldn’t I bring to a protest?

1. Cameras—this isn’t a photo-op.
2. Any illegal drugs or substances.
3. Your ego.

What should I do?

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1. Listen to organizers, especially if you’re a non-Black person attending an anti-racism protest in solidarity.
2. Have a game plan, and know why you’re attending.
3. Stay with a group, and protest with a buddy if possible.
4. Help your fellow protestors.
5. Know your rights—you’re allowed to peacefully assemble and film any acts of police brutality; however, any unlawful activity, like destroying property, is not protected.
6. Prepare for the worst.

What shouldn’t I do?

1. Don’t run—this draws unnecessary attention to you.
2. Don’t police others’ behavior.
3. Don’t rely on public transit, especially if your city has implemented an emergency curfew.

What do I do if…

…I’m teargassed? Move away from the exposed area. Quickly remove as much of your clothing as possible, cutting off any clothes that cannot be unbuttoned or unzipped. Wash yourself, blow your nose, and rinse your mouth. If your eyes are burning or your vision is blurred, rinse your eyes with plain water for 10–15 minutes. Seek medical attention if you experience severe symptoms.

…I’m approached by police? Keep your hands visible and to yourself. Maintain distance and ask questions like, “Am I under arrest?” (if yes, “For what crime?”). Note any badge numbers or license plate numbers of police vehicles. If questioned, say, “I wish to remain silent.” If arrested, say, “I wish to remain silent. I want a lawyer.”

…I’m arrested or detained by police? You have the right to know the reason for your arrest, and you have the right to remain silent. You are guaranteed legal counsel and to not be subjected to cruel punishment in every state in the U.S. You also have a right to complain if you are treated unfairly.

Where can I go for more information?

If you’re a young LGBTQ person looking to attend a protest or vigil, visit The Trevor Project’s blog for resources and personal safety tips.

For in-depth medical information about what to do if you encounter teargas or any other riot agents, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website or consult a medical professional.

For further information on what to do if you’re approached, arrested, detained, or unfairly treated by police, visit the ACLU’s website.

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.
@_sammanzella