How to protect yourself while protesting

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This entry has been published on June 3, 2020 and may be out of date.

Around the world, Black Lives Matter and other protesters have gathered to demand an end to police violence, specifically the murders of Black Americans at the hands of the police, as well as systemic and interpersonal racism. In the wake of the protests, the executive branch of the United States government has taken alarming measures such as activating the National Guard, deploying military troops, and activating many US government agencies to respond with force to what are largely peaceful protests. One of the latest developments is that the US Attorney General has granted authority to the US Drug Enforcement Administration to conduct surveillance on peaceful protestors. SSDP is deeply concerned by the implications of the DEA’s expanded authority.

The DEA should not be conducting surveillance on people who are exercising their first amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly – and you can tell them that by calling on Congress to take action.

In light of these events and the spirit of harm reduction, we have outlined below measures you can take to protect yourself if you wish to engage in protest. 

  1. Encrypt your communications. Messaging apps such as Signal (preferred among privacy experts) provide end-to-end encryption. Protonmail offers encrypted email. Read How to protest safely during the surveillance age and watch this video about it with Fight for the Future
  2. Strip any photos or videos you take of their metadata. You can do this by taking a screenshot of a photo and destroying the original one or by stripping the metadata. Please blur out protestors’ faces in your photos and videos to protect their privacy.
  3. Wear a mask. This can help prevent the spread of viruses, such as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and help protect your identity. Also, consider bringing hand sanitizer to reduce the spread of germs. 
  4. Bring extra masks. Cops tend to use tear gas to “disperse” crowds. The gas gets caught in the fabric of your masks, causing you to suffocate, rendering the masks useless. Bring extras for yourself and your friends. Here are some guidelines for protesting during the pandemic.
  5. If you get tear gas in your mouth, do not swallow. Cough and spit it out. Because of the virus, try coughing into the mask that you’re discarding. Try to throw masks away in trash bins or otherwise put them in baggies to wash later. Tear gas is acidic and can be neutralized using water and baking soda or water and liquid antacid – here are some more guidelines.
  6. Wear protective clothing and gear. Cops have been using rubber bullets or paintballs to “disperse” crowds. Long sleeve shirts and pants help reduce the damage from getting hit by one of those. Shatterproof goggles are also highly recommended. Here are some other guidelines for personal safety during direct actions.
  7. Take water bottles with you. Water is very good for washing out your eyes when pepper-sprayed or tear-gassed. Others will appreciate it if you have extra too.  It’s also very hot out there, stay hydrated.
  8. Plan on getting arrested. Have someone ready to post bail for you. Find a friend who will not be protesting, and give them the phone numbers for the nearest National Lawyers Guild hotline and your attorney. Write your friend’s number, along with any medical information people should know in case you are detained or incapacitated, on your arms with a permanent marker. Make sure to let your attorney know of your plans ahead of time. If you don’t have an attorney, you can search for one in the National Lawyers Guild database. Turn off facial recognition and fingerprint sign in, because law enforcement can use those to search your phone without your consent. 
  9. Know your rights. Remember, you have the right to remain silent. You do not have to consent to any searches nor answer any questions. If you do get arrested, you may state out loud that you wish to exercise your right to remain silent and wait to speak to your attorney. Read the ACLU’s guide on what to do during police encounters.
  10. Cannabis is still federally illegal, so even if you are in a legal state, the DEA can enforce federal law and, if the Nixon era is any guide, will do so to undermine protests. 

It is also crucial that we don’t forget to take good care of ourselves emotionally and physically during this time. Don’t forget to feed yourself, drink water, get as much sleep as you can, find ways to boost your immune system, and seek emotional and spiritual support from friends, family members, and trained professionals if possible. For more help, Sunrise Movement is having a protest training call tomorrow which could be useful for folks. As always, please be safe and sensible.