Resources for Protesters
If you’re out there protesting right now in the U.S., please keep the following tips in mind to improve your chances of staying safe. If you need individual advice, please reach out to our mentors.
Avoid Violence/Destroying things.
This is exactly what the police want to see. The more dangerous the protests are, the more force they get to use in response. Here’s a video of Boston cops unloading bricks hoping protesters will throw them.
Stay Safe from Tear Gas and Pepper Spray.
Even secondary exposure to tear gas and pepper spray can be dangerous.
If you are worried about tear gas, wear shatter-resistant goggles and an N95 mask. Do not wear contact lenses—they will trap chemicals in your eyes. Amnesty International recommended masks as tear gas protection even before the pandemic. Right now, you need all the breathing protection you can get. If you don’t have a mask, improvise with a bandana soaked in water, lemon juice, or vinegar. Wear clothes with full skin coverage— the eyes are most vulnerable, but not the only vulnerable part.
Bring bottled water. Partly for drinking, partly in case you need to wash chemicals off your skin or eyes. Squirt water into the inside corner, with the eye open and the head tilted slightly back. Opening your eyes will hurt in the short term, and if you are doing this for someone else who got attached you may need to force them.
After you are not immediately in danger, you’re still contaminated. Walk with your arms stretched out, not touching anything else. Take off any layers of clothes you can spare. Shower as soon as you can, with the coldest water you can stand. This is to keep your pores from opening and letting the irritants in. Wash your clothes with strong detergents.
Protect Yourself from Rubber Bullets.
Rubber bullets are not made of rubber. They’re metal, covered in rubber. People have lost eyes and even limbs. Police are being less than careful about only shooting at dangerous people.
Like with tear gas/ pepper spray, avoid exposed skin. Denim or leather can be enough to turn an injury into a less serious one. Rubber bullets are supposed to be aimed at the lower body, so think thick jeans. But as this journalist shot in the throat shows, you cannot count on how it is supposed to be aimed. Cover up and wear layers. Protective padding made for athletes will protect you, and men may want to wear an athletic cup.
Your face is the biggest risk of permanent injury. Ski goggles might be able to take a hit from a rubber bullet. Most glasses won’t, and if they shatter it can be even more dangerous. If you have a minor abrasion, wash it with soap and water. Rubbing alcohol would be even better. Use a layer of Neosporin and wrap it in gauze.
If you have an injury that deeply penetrates the skin, or if it might have caused a fracture or left particles inside, you need emergency care. The longer you delay the worse it gets.
If you know first aid, bring a kit. Hopefully you do not end up needing it.
Your goal with first aid is to keep injuries from getting worse. Wash them, disinfect them, cover them in gauze. Bring milk of magnesia mixed with water to wash out tear gas or mace.
If you need to reapply bandages, use a second layer instead of replacing it. Otherwise you risk breaking blood clots.
Do not use tourniquets. There are reports that some protestors have tried this thinking they needed to. Tourniquets are a last-ditch effort to save a life. For injuries short of bleeding out, a tourniquet will make it worse and possibly cost the victim their limb.
Stay Safe from COVID-19.
Try to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.
You will be outdoors, which is good. Still, protesting is a large gathering of people and those are dangerous.
Stick to a small group, and stay six feet away from other groups. Wear face coverings. Stay hydrated. Use hand sanitizer. Wave signs instead of yelling. (Yelling means inhaling deeper and putting yourself at more risk, plus projecting droplets farther and putting others at more risk.)
If you get pepper sprayed, do not rub your face with your hands. If you feel sick or have a fever, reconsider protesting at all. Experts and protestors say not to go, that it’s not worth giving your fellow protestors that kind of risk. If you insist on doing it anyway, make very sure to wear a mask and avoid yelling.
Stay Safe while Getting Arrested.
If you get arrested, you have the right not to talk to the police. The ACLU recommends you use it. To use it, you have to specifically say “I do not want to talk without a lawyer.” If it’s just “I do not want to talk,” and then you say something later (or they say you said something later), they’re allowed to say you must have changed your mind. If you ask for a lawyer, they can’t do that.
There are reports that police have been arresting people without warning them that they have the right not to talk. If this happens to you, make a note of it and save it for when you talk to a lawyer.
You can ask what crime you are being detained for. But it probably won’t help. The only time you might want to do this is if you are not actually arrested— you ask if you are free to leave, they say no, and this is how you ask why not. But at a protest, it might just prompt them to go all the way and make it very clear that you’re under arrest.
If you’re already arrested, in theory asking this could help. If they say it’s for blocking the street and they later charge you with assault, that contradiction might be useful in your defense later. But they can always deny having said it and it would be your word against theirs.
Even if you are arrested, you do not have to show the police any videos you took at the protest or anything else stored on your phone. Make sure you have a password and do not tell them.
When preparing for a protest, wear pads instead of tampons. If you get arrested you might not get a chance to change.
Protect Others Getting Arrested.
If you see someone else getting arrested, film it. Any time you see police doing anything at all, you should film it. Arrests are especially important because you never know when someone might need to prove they weren’t “resisting arrest.”
Intervening is dangerous. It will probably fail and just get you arrested too. You can try to ask what this person is being arrested for, why him instead of you when neither of you was doing anything. If you take that risk, make very sure that at least one third party is recording everything you say and knows how to get you the video afterward.
You should be a little less unwilling to do this if you are a Caucasian woman— it’s dangerous for anyone, but statistically at least a bit less for you.
The National Lawyers’ Guild has a Mass Defense Program offering legal support to protesters. They have volunteer hotlines in many areas. Find yours here. They recommend writing the phone number on your body so it can’t get lost or confiscated.
ACLU: Know Your Rights. You are on public property. You have a right to protest. It is illegal to block traffic, which means that you are safer on the sidewalk than in the streets. You do have a right to photograph and take video in public places. You should use that right— it is one of the few where using it might reduce the risk that police will retaliate against you.
There are apps specifically for recording police! They upload video automatically, so even if the police confiscate your phone they can’t delete it. Cop Watch does this. They recommend you set it to upload when you have wifi access, to avoid the cellular data costs of uploading video. You do also have the option of doing it instantly. The Mobile Justice app that sends the video to your local ACLU chapter for review. It’s sorted by state partly so they know which chapter and partly to help them inform you of your rights.
If you have money and want to help support protesters, bail funds are an effective way of helping reform the system. They pay people’s bail. When people are out of jail, they are a lot less likely to plead guilty and have more of a chance to defend themselves at trial. Many of these bail funds are prioritizing protesters. They also advocate to stop cash bail requirements in the first place.
Pick one that is not the Minnesota Freedom Fund. For one bit of good news, they’ve received more donations than they know what to do with!
You can also find a list of petitions to sign and funds to donate to here.