How to gear up
for a protest
This week marks four years since the Occupy Wall Street protests began in New York's Zuccotti park and echoed in cities across the country, becoming one of the most visible large-scale demonstrations in the United States in recent years. Since then, average citizens have faced riot squads and militarized police forces when protesting—from the anti-austerity movements in Greece and "For Fair Election" protests in Russia, to the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, the Umbrella Uprising in China and the anti-police brutality protests in Ferguson, Baltimore and across the US. We spoke to lawyer and activist Sue Basko for advice on what you can do (and wear) to best protect yourself if threatened with arrest or violence while demonstrating.
We spoke to lawyer and activist SUE BASKO for advice on how to best protect yourself if threatened with arrest or violence while demonstrating.
AN INSULATED HAT WITHOUT DISTINCTIVE LOGO: To preserve a degree of privacy and prevent photographic invasion. In colder months, insulation will preserve body heat. In every month, insulation will add a layer of protection from less-lethal projectiles.
SHATTERPROOF GOGGLES that can go over glasses if necessary, to protect eyes from crowd control chemicals. Do not wear contacts, as they can trap irritants and you won't be able to change them if arrested.
HELMET (optional): If you believe the protest will escalate to violence—either by the police or by unruly protesters—this will add protection from rocks, batons and other possible head injuries.
Don't wear any makeup or oil/mineral-based moisturizers as they will bind with chemicals. Don't wear any jewelry, as it can be grabbed or snagged, leading to serious injury.
FUME MASK: Will not protect as well as a full gas mask, but will buy time to escape an area contaminated by crowd control chemicals. Caveat: a mask can make you a target for the police. Carry it and practice putting it on quickly.
LONG SCARF: A multi-purpose accessory that can be used to keep warm, protect identity, support injuries and sprains, and protect from less-lethal projectiles by wrapping around the head.
MULTIPLE LAYERS, EITHER WORN OR PREPARED TO BE WORN: For dealing with changing elements, insulation from impact, and change of identity. Long sleeves to protect from chemicals.
A PACKABLE LIQUID-REPELLENT OUTER LAYER: To resist rain and to keep chemicals away from the skin (cotton will absorb chemicals). Packable so you can throw it over clothes to change identifying colors.
YOUR LAWYER'S NUMBER, or the number of a trusted friend who will expect your call upon arrest.
A HEAT RESISTANT GLOVE: to discard gas canisters if they are thrown into the protest as they are extremely hot when discharged.
A CHEAP WATCH that you will be willing to lose if arrested, for properly timestamping documented events such as police brutality, injuries and arrests.
Wash yourself with pH-neutral soap, as detergent soaps will bind with chemicals.
Pants and pockets
Full-length jeans that don’t require a belt: To protect your legs from scrapes and chemicals; ankles should be cinched or tucked in off to prevent chemicals from entering bottoms. A belt will be taken from you if arrested.
Knee pads: Personal protection from falls and to facilitate treating injuries on fallen demonstrators
A zip-lock bag with: ID, necessary keys and enough cash (no credit cards) to get you home if arrested, a letter from your doctor advising on any medical needs and necessary medications
A zip-lock with bandana soaking in vinegar: This does not offer long-term protection from tear gas, but will afford you the precious seconds needed to get out of the contaminated area if tightly wrapped over nose and mouth. Also will help obscure identity.
Notepad and pen: To document events such as police brutality, injuries and arrests.
Small first aid kit with latex-free gloves, bandages, antibacterial ointment, a nylon wrap bandage and ibuprofen, without anything that can be considered a weapon such as metal scissors.
Zip-lock with an extra long-sleeved shirt and jeans to change into if your clothes become contaminated with crowd control chemicals.
Canola oil & rubbing alcohol: to be used in that order to wipe clean skin exposed to riot control chemicals.
Spray bottle with equal parts Maalox and water: to rinse eyes/nose/mouth to neutralize reaction to chemicals
Water and energy snacks: Sustain yourself!
STURDY BUT COMFORTABLE BOOTS: Should withstand stomping but be light enough to run in. Tuck your laces in to avoid tripping, unlike this guy right here.
Basko notes that police violence occurs more commonly in street confrontations between an officer and an individual, and not at a protest. "The bigger problem at protests seems to be that police arrest people for no good reason and those people must spend months battling off false charges," Basko tells Hopes&Fears. It's an issue that stems from police departments not recognizing that people have a right to protest. "If the people are peaceful, such arrests violate international standards of how peaceful assemblies are to be handled," she notes, especially in the United States, where protesting is a Constitutional right—even without a permit. "This is the true violence worked upon protesters," Basko explains. "When a person is arrested at a protest, the person will miss whatever medicine or health care they need. They will likely miss work or school. Their children may be without someone to care for them."
The materials available in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.
How do you avoid being physically injured by police violence at a protest? Basko says that a lot depends on the location of the protest: "The conduct of the police comes from the innate system in place in a location." Cities that only employ local police forces at protests are going to be safer than cities that use officers from other cities or agencies (an occurrence at a number of high-profile protests in the last few years). A city using local forces will have standards on what weapons can be used by its officers and what procedures will be followed. "If a variety of agencies have officers present at a protest, the individuals are likely to bring whatever weapons are allowed in their agency," Basko says. "Just by my observation, I would say that multi-agency police forces at a protest can lead to dangerous situations and injuries. There is less local accountability and this can lead to a lot of trouble."
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Many organizations such as the ACLU provide information on your Constitutional protections while demonstrating and interacting with police officers before, during and after arrest.
Basko says that you should choose your fellow protesters wisely. "Is the protest being run by responsible groups? Or is it being run by people who want to start a fight and cause damage?" Do some background checking before you show up to a protest. If you encounter troublemakers at the demonstration, do your best to avoid them. "Anyone advocating violence—that urges you to make a bomb, throw a bomb, throw any item, break a window, or damage a vehicle—is highly likely to be an undercover cop," Basko warns. "They will urge you on and then when you are arrested, they will be the witness against you." If you do encounter a provocateur, it's best to make a clear oral statement that you will not be involved, and immediately leave. Don't worry about seeming rude or unfriendly, Basko says, as "provocateurs often play upon this fear, urging you to be part of the crowd or to not disappoint them."
Finally, know when to leave. "As a protest wears on in hours, violence is more likely to occur. And of course, if police are shooting less lethal weapons and you do not want to be hit by a rubber bullet or bean bag, it is time to leave."
Come to a protest prepared for violence. "Police departments nationally must have received some sort of horrible training telling them to force people to lie on the ground to be arrested," Basko observes, a relatively new tactic that seems to be becoming a standard procedure. "Forcing anyone to the ground is dirty, dangerous, degrading, and harmful," and is often a result of an already abusive situation in which an officer has tackled, shoved, or tripped a protester to get them down. "The people of the United States have the right to be treated in a dignified, decent way by the police."
Charge your phone
The ultimately-prepared protester will have a prepaid "burner" phone containing nothing but contact information for a lawyer and a trusted friend who knows you are at the protest. But if you're bringing your regular phone, lock all contacts and photos, and get these apps whether you're rocking burner or not:
FireChat: lets users communicate off-grid without an internet connection or cell service.
Zello: turns your phone into a mesh network walkie talkie and allows messages to be broadcast to large groups of people.
Hands Up: Discreetly records video and audio, and will automatically save recordings to your dropbox.
I'm Getting Arrested: One-click blasts the message to preset contacts.
ObscuraCam: Allows pixelation or redaction of faces in photos so you can document without revealing the identity of bystanders
Editor: Gabriella Garcia