How to Stay Safe During a Protest
We consider the right to protest in America as one of our fundamental rights. Our right to make our voices heard is part of the foundation of our country. For that reason, there are protests almost every day somewhere in the United States as groups come together to make their voices heard.
Black Lives Matter is one of the most recent movements that has led to protests nationwide. The Women’s March and The March for Our Lives are two other examples of recent protests. However, protests are as old as our country.
The Boston Tea Party, Women’s Suffrage Parade, and the Civil Rights protests are examples of protests that have changed the direction of our country. There have been protests for equal rights, protests against wars, and protests over monuments and flags.
Regardless of the reason for the protest, staying safe in a protest must be a priority.
How to Prepare for a Protest
Staying safe in a protest begins with preparing for a protest. Situations at a protest can become tense. When you have a large group gathering to protest, you cannot know how some people may react.
You also cannot know whether there will be counter-protestors at the event. Therefore, staying safe in a protest begins with preparing for a variety of situations instead of merely hoping for the best.
Some things to consider as you prepare to protest include:
What to Wear to a Protest
Choose your clothing to help protect yourself against a variety of situations. Clothing for a protest may include:
- Clothing that covers your skin
- Comfortable shoes (closed-in shoes are the best)
- Shatter-resistant goggles
- Face shield or mask
Most of the above articles of clothing are designed to protect you from chemical exposure and chemical weapons, such as tear gas or pepper spray. The hat protects you from the sun and chemical weapons. Clothing that covers your skin hides tattoos (which could interfere with the message of the protest) and protects your skin.
You may also want to wear colors that help you blend into the crowd, such as black or the colors chosen by the protest organizers.
What to Bring to a Protest
Things that can be helpful to bring to a protest include:
- Protest gear, such as signs and markers
- Water in plastic bottles and energy snacks
- Change of clothing
- Identification, such as a driver’s license and emergency contact information
- Just enough money for food and transportation (leave credit cards at home)
- Basic first aid kit, including insulin, EpiPen, inhaler, and any other required medication (label all medication clearly, including the pharmacy name, telephone number, and prescription number)
- Wet wipes and tissues
- A backpack to store your items securely
- Hand sanitizer
- Power bank for cell phone (if you carry one)
You may need other items, depending upon where you are protesting and your needs. Plan to be away from home overnight in case you cannot get back home before dark.
Secure Your Smartphone
Police do not generally need a warrant to search a smartphone if they can use biometrics to open it. If you bring your smartphone to the protest, turn off FaceID and fingerprint identification, as well as the GPS location settings.
You may want to consider carrying an inexpensive burner cell phone with only emergency telephone numbers programmed into the phone.
What to Do During a Protest
There are no “rules” for a protest. Most protests begin with a plan, but the protesters may take the protest in another direction. Things can change quickly during a protest.
However, protest advice to keep in mind includes:
- Ask people for permission before filming them
- Do not enter private property or commercial buildings without permission
- Protest on public property
- Remain peaceful
- Comply with instructions from police officers and law enforcement agents
- Stay calm and focused
- Document with film and notes any interactions with the police, including injuries and incidents of excessive force
- Watch for signs of stress in yourself and others
If the protest begins to take a direction that is dangerous or makes you uncomfortable, go home or to a safe location.
What Not to Do During a Protest
There are several things that you should not do during a protest. Protest advice includes:
- Don’t leave the protest alone
- Don’t go to a protest alone if you can help it
- Don’t use Vaseline or oil-based moisturizers or sunscreen because they trap chemicals
- Don’t wear contact lenses because they also trap chemicals
- Don’t wear anything that can be easily grabbed, such as jewelry
- Don’t refuse to comply with police officers
- Don’t bring valuable items
- Don’t antagonize other people
- Don’t destroy public or private property
Don’t get in the way of police officers doing their job. Interfering with a police officer may result in an arrest, even if you have the right to protest.
Your Legal Rights at a Protest
Part of staying safe in a protest is understanding your legal rights before you go to the protest. Knowing your rights helps you understand what legal action you can take during the protest.
It also helps you understand what the police can do and should not do during a protest. For example, if you are injured during a protest, you can file a lawsuit seeking compensation for damages.
Some important rights to remember during a protest include:
The Right to Freedom of Assembly
Everyone has a right to their own opinion and to express their opinion alone or with others. Law enforcement officers have a duty to facilitate and not restrict the freedom of peaceful public assembly.
However, police officers also have the right to detain and arrest individuals if they commit a crime, or there is probable cause that a crime may have been committed. If the police stop you, keep your hands where the police can see them. Do not argue with the police or resist, even if you believe they are violating your rights.
Always ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says that you may leave, calmly walk away.
The Right to Medical Assistance
If you are injured during a protest, you have the right to medical assistance without delay.
Slip and fall accidents can occur on a sidewalk, parking lot, or other location during a protest. If the property owner was negligent, you might have a personal injury claim for injuries. If you take legal action, a lawsuit can take months or years to settle.
Hiring a personal injury lawyer can be very beneficial. The lawyer handles the investigation and gathers evidence to prove fault. The lawyer also provides legal advice, guidance, and support throughout the case.
Freedom of Expression
You have the right to express your beliefs through freedom of speech. That right is guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Freedom From Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
When you are arrested, you have the right to be informed of why you are being arrested. You also have the right to remain silent and the right to consult with an attorney.
The police may pat you down to check for weapons. You never have to consent to a search of your person or your personal items.
You also have the right to make a phone call. In the event you are arrested, you may want to have the name and telephone number of a local criminal lawyer who accepts calls 24/7.
The Right to Complain
If law enforcement officials violate your legal rights, you have the right to file a complaint. You also have the right to be informed of how to file a complaint for a violation of your rights.
The first duty of law enforcement officers is to serve and protect. They should not interfere with peaceful protests. However, the police do have an obligation to protect the public interest and de-escalate any threat or incident of violence.
If the protest becomes violent or there is a threat of violence or harm to the public, the police have the right to order that the crowd disburse. It is important to remember that protestors must abide by all laws, including curfews and lawful police instructions.