Protesting is a valued right. If you are unhappy with your government, you have the right to protest. However, there are risks involved with protesting, especially if things get violent or unruly. Always dress in comfortable clothing for a protest and pack only the essentials. Stay safe during a protest by sticking with a group and staying away from illegal activities. If you end up interacting with the police, make sure to stay safe. Remember your right to remain silent. In the event you are arrested, do not resist arrest. This can cause you physical injury and land you in more legal trouble.
EditDressing and Packing for a Protest
- Wear the right clothes. You want to make sure you don’t wear anything that could put you at an increased risk for slipping or falling during a protest. You want to wear sensible clothes. Wear shoes you can easily walk in and nothing too tight or otherwise constrictive. You should also check the weather and plan accordingly. If it’s going to be very cold, dress in layers and pack a hat.
- Pack only the essentials. Unfortunately, when protests get chaotic things can get lost or stolen. You do not want to pack too much or bring anything too expensive to a protest.
- Pack only the things you will absolutely need, such as your phone, keys, and wallet.
- Avoid carrying big, cumbersome bags.
- Do not bring or wear expensive items. For example, leave your iPod behind and do not wear expensive jewelry.
- Bring essential medication. On certain occasions, protests get unruly and people end up arrested. On the off chance you have to spend a night in jail, bring any medications you need each day. You do not want to end up without necessary pills if you end up stuck in jail.
- It may be a good idea to only bring a small amount of your medication. If it gets lost, you do not want to be out of your medication when you get home.
- Prepare your phone. It’s a good idea to bring your cell phone to a protest in the event you need to contact someone. However, you should prepare your cell phone before the big day. Bring a charger, preferably a portable one, in case your phone runs out of battery power. You should also completely charge your phone before you leave.
- Turn off text preview. If your phone is locked, police officers will not be able to read the context of your texts.
- Download the app FireChat. This allows you to use your cell phone like a walkie talkie, so you can talk with your friends even if you don’t have service.
- Lock your phone with a passcode. In some areas, police can legally demand that you unlock your phone using your fingerprint. If you do not want police officers rifling through your phone, you cannot legally be requested to give out a passcode. Before leaving for a protest, lock your phone with a passcode instead of your fingerprint. This will keep your information safe from police officers.
- However, be sure to check regulations in your state or area. In some areas, police may be able to ask you for your passcode.
EditStaying Safe at a Protest
- Know your rights. Knowing what you can and cannot do is important if you are confronted or arrested. These laws vary by region around the world, so it’s important to do your homework and know your rights before you attend a protest.
- In the US and many other countries, your free speech is protected, even if your ideas are controversial or unpopular.
- In the US, you are allowed to demonstrate freely on public venues (streets, sidewalks, and parks) without prior permission in most cases. You generally need written permission from the owner if you wish to protest on private property.
- Do prior research on the event. Make sure you know who’s organizing it, what cause they are defending, and what they plan to do during the protest. Consider the risks and legal implications of participating. Make sure that the organizers have acquired any necessary permits for large rallies.
- Stick with a group. Try to attend a protest with a group of friends or likeminded people. Have at least one close, trusted friend with you at a protest. You can keep an eye on one another. In the event one of you is arrested, you will have someone to notify friends and family members of your whereabouts.
- Use social media wisely. Social media can be used to help you stay safe during a protest. People may use a hashtag on Twitter or Facebook regarding a protest, letting people know if arrests are being made or if tear gas is being used. This can help you know which areas to avoid while protesting. However, be careful. Rumors can be spread on social media, so do not believe everything you read.
- If you only see a single tweet or post about arrests being made or tear gas being used, this may be a false report. Authorities sometimes use social media to falsely spread rumors to deter people from coming.
- You should also watch what you post. Do not post about anything illegal you see and do not post anything that could be interpreted as a call to action for illegal activities. This could be used against you in a court of law.
- If you are photographing/filming an event, respect the privacy of others. Some people may not want to have pictures or videos taken of them, so ask permission first. However, this does not apply to police working in publicly visible areas.
- Back away from violence safely. You do not want to get involved in any illegal activities during a protest. This can put your safety at risk, and may land you in legal trouble. If you notice illegal activities, back away carefully.
- Stay away from side streets. Remaining in the open will prevent you from getting caught in violence, which often occurs on the sidelines during protests.
- If a large amount of police suddenly arrive a scene, this may quickly escalate to violence. Leave the area quickly in this event.
- Keep your distance from the black bloc. If you see a group of people wearing all black and with their faces covered, try to march further away from them. They occasionally vandalize symbols of wealth (banks, limousines) and police often respond violently to their tactics.
- Do not get in the way of others. Try to move if people are trying to pass you. If the crowd is moving in one direction, go with the crowd if they’re not engaging in anything risky or illegal. If you get in anyone’s way, you may get knocked over. This can lead to major injuries if a lot of people step on you. Try to stay out of the way as much as possible during protests.
EditDealing with Police Interactions
- Keep your distance from police officers. Police officers occasionally use violence on protestors. They also sometimes begin arresting protestors quickly, sometimes even peaceful protestors. As a general rule, keep an arm’s length away from police officers at all times.
- Ask a police officer for specifics if you’re stopped. If a police officer stops you, it is within your legal rights to ask certain questions. Ask if you’re being detained and if you’re free to go. If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” you should walk away. You do not want to speak to police officers longer than necessary, especially if the protest is very politically charged and arrests are likely.
- If a police offer does say you’re being detained, do not give up too much information. However, you should cooperate with the officer to avoid unnecessary legal charges.
- If your are arrested, stay calm and cooperate with the police. Don’t argue, resist arrest, or attempt to flee. If you believe you have been unfairly prosecuted, discuss your case with a lawyer later.
- Do not consent to unauthorized searches. If a police officer searches you, say, “I do not consent to this search.” Police officers are not allowed to search people without a warrant or an arrest, and any evidence obtained illegally cannot be used against you in court.
- Part of the reason it’s good to stay with a buddy is you will have a witness in the event the unauthorized search comes up in a court of law.
- If possible, have someone use a cell phone to record this. This way, you will have evidence you did not authorize the search.
- Remember you have the right to remain silent. In the event you are arrested, use your right to remain silent. Under stress, you may accidentally say something to incriminate yourself. Therefore, it’s a good idea to decline police questions without a lawyer present. You do not have to answer anything after you’ve been arrested.
- Do not resist arrest. Resisting arrest can contribute to police becoming violent. It can also result in you getting into further legal trouble. In the event you are arrested, remain calm. Allow yourself to be handcuffed and do not try to fight back.
- Protect yourself against tear gas. Tear gas is sometimes used during protests. The best way to protect yourself is to back away when tear gas is being used. Maintain your distance from police and from the black bloc. If you anticipate tear gas, or if you plan on getting involved in social disobedience, wear masks and hoods to protect yourself.
- See if you can use a gas mask. They are not cheap, but if you’re protesting with an organization they may provide gas masks.
- In some areas, gas masks may be banned. Instead, buy a builder’s respirator online or at a hardware store. This is fitted over your nose and mouth. You can also use a small dust mask and airtight goggles.
- Watch out for pepper spray. Police occasionally use pepper spray against protestors. It’s important you stay vigilant and protect yourself against pepper spray. Usually, the best means to avoid pepper spray is to remain away from anyone you see carrying pepper spray, including both police officers and other protestors. If you’re unable to escape, cover your eyes with your hands or arm.
- It is safer to leave the event in groups to avoid arbitrary arrests
- For some organized protests, police may shut down roads to protect demonstrators from traffic. Be sure you have an alternate way home.
- Have alternate methods of communication, as cell phone signals may be jammed, monitored, or slowed by heavy traffic from other users.
- Have a list of contacts in case something goes wrong
- Water cannons can change direction very quickly and unexpectedly, and rubber bullets can cause injury at close range.
- Tear gas can cause serious injury or death in those with respiratory conditions.
- If someone near you is hurt, move them away from the crowd if possible and get medical attention.
- Be prepared for counter-protesters. While their views will naturally be opposed to yours, they have the same right to demonstrate as you do. Do not harass, insult, or argue with them. This applies even if they are rude to you.