Protester safety info

This page shares some tips on how to keep yourself safe at a protest. Please note that some of these things are not likely at many protests, but the info is there just in case. This information is being provided to keep you safe, not to initiate violence or break laws. Once again in bold caps, PLEASE DO NOT INITIATE VIOLENCE.

These tips are courtesy of a training by Kitty Stryker.

 

Crowds gather in front of the Washington Monument during the “March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom” in 1963.

General goals

  • Nobody gets hurt
  • Have protesters outnumber fascists
  • Discourage fascists from holding future events
  • Inspire other anti-fascists

 

Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic Games.

 

General safety tips

  • DO NOT INITIATE VIOLENCE.
  • Pair up and use the buddy system.
  • Go at the pace of slowest person in your group–be sure to leave no one behind. If you are a slower person, don’t say you can go faster if you cannot go faster.
  • Groups of 6 – 8 to look out for are great even if you’re within a larger group
  • If you have a specific vulnerability especially if not easily identified, let the others in your group know so they can look out for you
  • Set up an emergency contact who does not go to coordinate communications with the outside world and initiate emergency procedures if something happens. Make sure your emergency contact knows what to do.
  • Check in with your emergency contact before and after protest minimally, but more often if possible (e.g. I am going, I am leaving, I am home safe).
  • DO NOT GO WITHOUT TELLING SOMEONE
  • Write national lawyers guild number on you in sharpie. Check it often bc it can sweat off. For the SF Bay Area, the number is (415) 285-1011
  • Do not display any private numbers to prevent doxing if they are photographed.
  • Assign one person in your group to be a police liaison case you need to interact with them. Be sure the person who will serve in this capacity is comfortable talking to cops and knows how to talk to cops. This helps others in your group know they don’t have to talk to cops and cops will feel you’re more organized and treat you better. If approached, anyone in your group can refer the cop to your group’s police liaison.
  • Don’t talk to cops if you can help it. Cops often side with fascists and some fascists at events are off duty cops.
  • Check in with allies before taking photos or video to make sure they’re okay with being in photos esp if they’re on your side. Fascists and cops often look through protest pics and incidents like doxing and arrests can happen well after a protest. Make sure whoever you photograph is okay being photographed.
  • If you are photographed unmasked, cops may approach you after to get you as a witness or fascists may attempt to dox you even if you didn’t do anything.
  • Lots of reps from national lawyers guild are present at larger protests. They wear florescent green hats.
  • Police sometimes kettle people (grab large groups) and it can take a while (hours) to be let go. They do this even for folks who have done nothing wrong.
  • Good visuals are often more impactful than chants, so crowd numbers are important.
  • Everything is shared on social media and sometimes edited for bias. Always consider optics if possible.
  • Leaving protests is one of most dangerous times because you are no longer with a large group and may be targeted.
  • If panic breaks out, know your group members and take care of them. You are only as fast as slowest person in your group.
  • Cops often make statements about trying to keep weapons and other stuff out, but things get in regardless and sometimes by the cops themselves. Do not take cop statements as a guarantee that there will be no weapons.
  • In at least one case, confiscated weapons were seen unattended by the cops, making them easy to grab by fascists.

 

 

First aid kit

 

What to take/not take:

  • DO NOT BRING ANYTHING YOU’RE NOT WILLING TO LOSE.
  • Bring a first aid kit. A hard case in a backpack can also help protect your spine and kidneys if there’s violence.
  • Bring gum or toothbrush/toothpaste or mints. They’re good to have in general and specifically if you are kettled. They will feel luxurious.
  • Bringing phones have benefits and risks. Biggest benefit is that you will have communication. Risk is that they will be broken, confiscated, etc.
  • Menstrual pads are good to bring even if you don’t need them for their intended purpose. They are good for other things such as absorbing blood from wounds.
  • Wipes are good.
  • Bring 3 days of meds with you just in case or a printout of your meds in the event that you are detained. Cops don’t want to risk a lawsuit so they will be more likely to give you your meds if you know what they are.
  • Turn off fingerprint unlock on your phone (see above about risk/benefit of bringing a phone).
  • Some folks bring a pocket constitution. It both annoys fascists and, if you are detained, ups your chances of being treated better because it will make cops wonder if you know more about this than maybe you do.
  • Generally try to look non threatening. Both fascists and cops are less likely to target you if you look non threatening at the protest. Afterwards it may be different (see Going Home).
  • Latex gloves are good to have
  • Bring extra of everything if you can to share with allies.
  • If you live close to a protest and have room, offer places to stay for ppl since they may not be able to get there or home easily.
  • Pepper spray and tear gas treament supplies
    • Chances of tear gas or pepper spray being used against you will vary depending on the action. Realistically assess the risk to see if treatment supplies are necessary.
    • A 50/50 antacid and water for pepper spray (LAW–liquid antacid water) is good for pepper spray or tear gas (more on that later)
    • If a protest bans most liquids, you can still sometimes get LAW through if you label it. To increase your chances of bringing it in, bring a sealed bottle of water and a sealed bottle of unflavored Maalox and mix the two if needed.
    • If you bring a face mask for pepper spray/tear gas, make sure it’s n-95 rated. Also note that bringing a face mask may make you look more likeBloc, not block. I would maybe say wearing black puts you in solidarity with black bloc and increases your anonymity, but also can make you a target especially if in a smaller group or on your own. You can ameliorate this by using a face mask in a bright, cheerful color.
    • If you need to use a face mask, soak it in either just water or a mixture of water and lemon/vinegar before using to make it more effective.
    • Unscented gentle soap can be used to wash off pepper spray/tear gas particles that may get on your skin.
    • Tear gas and pepper spray particles can stick to oil based lubricants, moisturizers, sunscreen, and makeup. You can either use powdered versions of these things or powder your skin with cornstarch after applying oil based stuff. Corn starch will absorb the oils. (last is not foolproof)

 

Ieshia Evans, a young woman in a dress standing calmly in front of two police officers wearing layers of armour, and appearing to approach her in a hurry.

 

What to wear/not wear (many of these have benefits/risks):

  • Be willing to lose anything you bring or wear.
  • Sunglasses are good because they protect your eyes, but they can also limit visibility.
  • Do not wear contacts if possible. Tear gas and pepper spray particles can get caught between them and your eye.
  • If you want eye protection, swim goggles are a good option.
  • Do not wear anything that can identify you in a photo to prevent doxing.
  • It’s debatable whether you should bring your regular ID or not. If you are detained, it will slow your processing and will take longer for you to get free. However, if you’re with a group of people and none have ID, cops may just be willing to let you go to avoid dealing with the extra paperwork.
  • Cops hate paperwork. The more doing something to you will force them to fill out more, the more likely they are to just let you go to avoid the hassle.
  • Bring a small amount of cash just in case, but leave the credit cards at home.
  • Do not wear jewelry if you can avoid it
  • A hoodie with string tie is a good way to obscure yourself from photos without your consent and protect your head
  • Zip hoodies are preferable to pullover hoodies in case you get pepper sprayed/tear gassed so you don’t have to pull it over your head to take it off.
  • Cover any visible tattoos to lower your chances of being doxed
  • The more black you wear, the more likely you’ll be mistaken for black block. If you do wear black, counter it with bright colors or something else that says “I am not black block and I am not threatening”
  • If you wear something that makes your politics clear, it will make you more easily identifiable both to your allies and the fascists. You can do something more subtle if you want something identifiable but not obvious from a distance.
  • Do not wear something that looks like a trump maga hat even if it says something else. It’s too easy to mistake and someone will likely grab it or worse, possibly even someone from your own side.
  • All clothing should be easy to remove in case of tear gas/pepper spray or you need medical attention
  • Do not wear anything culturally appropriative
  • A scarf can make you look like black block. Police and fascists will both react to it.
  • Bandannas are good to have to prevent doxing. They are also useful for holding gauze on limbs, staunching blood, etc. If they’re in bright colors , they’ll be less likely to be considered black block.
  • Baiting by fascists happens probably more often than anything else. This means they will say nasty things in order to get a reaction that they can get on video. They will later edit the video for their purposes.
  • Often the more feminine you look, the less likely fascists will target you because of fear of optics at the event. Afterwards, it’s different (see Going Home).

 

Silence = Death Keith Haring illustration

 

Interpersonal violence defense and personal safety

  • Generally, you are safer the more harmless you look because of fear of optics (at event, not after–see below for after).
  • If attacked: 
    • Facing someone who is confronting you directly is one of the most dangerous positions you can be in because they have access to lots of vulnerable parts. A better position is to only have one side facing them.
    • Face to face also feels more threatening
    • If someone tries to strike/kick you, block their attack and move out of way in different direction
    • If someone grabs your wrist, first ask them to let go in case they are amenable. If they do not, you can grab their wrist and pull the arm they’re grabbing away at the same time to make it hard for them to hold on. You can also attempt to twist their wrist with your free arm.
    • If they grab your clothing, twist their wrists so their fingers are facing up (like they’re holding onto a ledge) and shift back or twist your body to get free. It’s much harder to grip fingers up than fingers angled.
    • If they grab your hair, hold their hand and twist their wrist to break free. Do not pull away because they may end up tearing out your hair and/or scalp. Better is to have short hair or cover your head.
    • If they try to strike you with a stick, move in, not away and try to move past them. This both surprises them as it’s unexpected and makes it harder for them to hit you.
    • In general, try to use element of surprise if attacked
    • If they try to choke, move your arms between theirs and use your arms to break their grip. Possibly move away at same time.
    • Make a lot of noise if attacked. It will startle them and alert others you need help.
    • If someone bites you, push your body part in toward their mouth instead of pulling away. This makes it harder for them to bite down.
    • Human bites are nasty. If bitten, get treated as soon as you can.
  • Fascists with weapons often target others with weapons than who are unarmed bc of optics aren’t good targeting folks without weapons.
  •  If there is tear gas or pepper spray, it’s better to walk away instead of run. Running will make you breathe in more.
  • If there is a stampede, do not run.
  • In general, do not run.
  • Watch out for your people and assist them if something happens.
  • If you have a more vulnerable or wounded person, take especial care of them. Others in your group can link arms to create a barrier.
  • If you know a firework or flash bang has been set off, shout out what it is so it’s mistaken for gunshot
  • If you see a weapon, shout what it is and point at it so people know it’s there
  • Set up meeting places with your group in event of emergency or if you lose group members. Also have a backup in case your first location is inaccessible.
  • Ask someone before trying to help them. They may not understand your intentions otherwise or may not want your help. Exception is in an emergency like a car coming at you (do apologize for touching them without consent after).
  •  If you need to apply LAW, spray the person’s eyebrow area rather than directly in their eyes directly and let water drip down
  • Keep checking In with people to make sure they are okay if you are treating them. It will help keep them calm and let you know their state.
  • Try not to panic. Panic will trigger fight or flight response and potentially make things worse.
  • In general, try to remain calm.
  • You may feel like you’re going to die from tear has/pepper spray, there will likely be no lasting damage. Keep repeating that to yourself in the moment to calm yourself. True for other injuries as well.
  • Eat before you go and have snacks on you for the day. It’s important to keep your energy/blood sugar up.
  • Emergen C is good for electrolytes. If you have a packet but no water, people can do it like a shot.
  • Off duty cops are often among fascists and bring police grade weapons with them.
  • If there is a vehicular attack, try to move laterally and try to get object between you and vehicle. There isn’t as much knowledge of best practices for this scenario, but we are unfortunately learning.
  • If in an emergency that requires immediate response like a vehicular attack, you will need to evaluate if you have to save yourself or if you will be able to help someone else.
  • In a stampede
    • Generally, the safest thing is to walk away holding up your hands calmly asserting “Don’t run” to people around you. People in a panic are looking for someone who seems to know what they are doing and listen well in those situations if you seem calm and authoritative.
    • People will be likely to not run over you if you are facing them and saying stop rather than if you have your back towards them. Once you start, others may start calming down and help you.
    • A doorway is often a safe spot in a stampede because most people are just trying to run away. Do put your most vulnerable person there.
  • Wear good, closed toe shoes.
  • If someone goes down and you want to help, point at specific people and look at them in face and ask them to hold a perimeter. If you say “can somebody help,” folks will be more likely to think someone else will do it. People you point to can be stranger allies, not just your friends.
  • A medic will generally shout out orders if they need help.
  • If you are injured, tell people and let people help you.
  • If someone tries to take pictures of someone who is injured, try to block camera to prevent doxing and say “don’t take pictures of this person.” Protest signs are good blockers.
  • If there is someone shooting, drop and crawl to safety. Your chances are better if you are low to the ground. Again, take care of your group.
  • If you get stabbed, you may not realize it until someone else points it out.
  • if someone is stabbed, apply pressure to the wound. If you have something like a menstrual pad or bandanna or clothing, use it as a barrier between your hands and the wound (gloves also good), but hands applied directly are better than nothing. Do not apply a tourniquet unless you know what you are doing. Shout medic and let them take over.
  • If you are injured or see someone injured, shout medic. Others will amplify your voice and a medic will come to you.

 

Homobiles queer ride service logo

 

Going home

  • Going home is one of the more dangerous parts of a protest.
  • Go home with at least one person and preferably more. Folks who are alone or even in pairs are often targeted by fascists afterwards.
  • Have multiple ideas for how to leave safely in case one route is inaccessible. For example, if you cannot get to your car, know where you can get public transportation.
  • Take public streets
  • If you are traumatized by things you saw/experienced, you will likely want to be with someone right after
  • Avoid specifics in conversation in public spaces afterwards, especially names
  • Debrief at least a little after with someone if traumatized. It may help prevent long term PTSD symptoms. Telling a story repeatedly to folks who don’t care may re-traumatize (e.g. rape victims), but going over events with folks who care can help.
  • Don’t attract attention afterwards if possible.
  • Fascists will target folks they see as weak or vulnerable, so all the work you did to look non-threatening at the protest now works against you. Counter this by traveling in groups, traveling on very public streets, checking up on others and getting each member of your group home safe (consider starting with the most vulnerable).
  • If traumatized, a person generally doesn’t respond well to someone telling them to calm down if they’re being too loud or whatever. Instead, calmly point out that they might consider how loud their voice is, how much they’re cussing, etc.
  • Lollipops or candy or chocolate can help calm people down by replenishing blood sugar in cases of trauma
  • Hydration, food, safe space, and asking for consent before talking to someone about something traumatic can help ease them
  • Talk with people in person afterwards if you can. If you cannot, use encrypted texting like signal so you can don’t have to worry about being spied upon.
  • Use your personal coping mechanisms after
  • Reconnect with your group for an emotional debrief afterwards. Focus on their resilience (e.g. “this was hard, but we did it”) rather than the trauma. Also go over lessons learned because we’ll unfortunately need to do this again many times.
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