How to stay safe during a protest: What to bring, what to wear and what to leave at home


From Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Americans have taken to the streets of nearly every major city to protest the killing of George Floyd and systemic racism in police departments nationwide.

The 46-year-old’s death sparked a wave of demonstrations against racial inequality, police brutality and violence against marginalized communities — some of which have ended with mass arrests, tear gas or, in at least one case, a death.

It’s important to come to any protest prepared, because having the right supplies could make all the difference if things get tense. No matter when and where you’re demonstrating, here’s what you should pack, what you should wear and, just as importantly, what you should avoid bringing.

What to bring

First and foremost: Pack water. You could be outside in the summer heat for hours, and bringing several bottles of water — preferably with an easy-to-use squirt top — will make a massive difference. Additionally, if you are exposed to tear gas, you can use the water to flush out your eyes and rinse exposed parts of your skin.

Also, bring a sensible amount of money and some form of personal identification. In addition to ID, Amnesty International recommends packing a notecard with the names and numbers of your preferred emergency contacts. And while you’re writing things down, you should also consider keeping a notecard that lists out your rights, in case you’re stopped by police and can’t remember what to say or do.

General emergency supplies, such as a first aid kit, high-energy snacks, electronics chargers and simple cleaning tools (like wet wipes or a washcloth), will go a long way. A good tip: Don’t just think about what you’ll need but also what those around you could benefit from having on hand.

What to wear

During a protest, your outfit can be just as important as your supplies. Clothing is going to be your last — and only — line of defense against anything you could face, so it’s crucial to plan accordingly.

Amnesty International suggests wearing clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible, as this will protect you from sunburn and, if necessary, pepper spray. Also, be sure to wear a sun-blocking hat and sturdy, protective shoes that you feel comfortable running in.

If you do encounter chemical weapons such as pepper spray or tear gas, it helps to have goggles for covering your eyes, a bandana for your mouth and an extra pair of clothing in case your first outfit gets contaminated. Lastly, consider bringing a lightweight backpack to store your supplies. You want something convenient, comfortable and preferably see-through in case you’re stopped by police.

And last but not least: a face mask. Protesting during a pandemic is new territory for nearly everyone, so be sure to equip yourself with the tools to social distance effectively.

What not to bring

There are some obvious items — like jewelry, sharp objects and anything that could get you arrested — that you should definitely leave at home. Also, avoid contact lenses, as they could possibly trap contaminated chemicals in your eyes (use glasses, or better yet, goggles, instead).

Then there’s the big one: your phone. Many experts suggest either not bringing your phone at all or at the very least disabling several features to help protect your own identity and privacy. That includes turning off your data, disabling the fingerprint ID feature and turning your phone on airplane mode.

With limited or no phone access, it’s even more important that you know who to call if you get into trouble. The ACLU and National Lawyers Guild are both great resources if you think your rights have been violated or have questions about protesting.

Maintaining social distancing

Again, it’s crucial to remember that we’re still in the midst of a global health crisis. Wear a mask and clothes that cover your face and body — thankfully, you should be doing most of those things for other reasons too.

It might not be possible to stay six feet away in a crowd, but try to remain cognizant of those around you and keep as much distance as humanly possible. Treat the demonstrations like you would any other public outing in the current state of affairs: Stick to a small group, bring your own water bottle, and pack plenty of hand sanitizer.

Finally, always have an action plan. Talk with your group beforehand about where you’ll meet if something goes wrong — using easily identifiable markers and specific locations will help here.

For more information on the current demonstrations, check out In The Know’s article on how you can support Black Lives Matter and other protestors.

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Originally published