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Protest Tips: What to Bring & What To Know About How to Protest Safely

and What to Do if Stopped by the Police

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 14: Protestors march down Willis Street during a protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on June 14, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. The event in Wellington was organised in solidarity with protests in the United States following the killing of an unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Protesting is a fundamental right in America, but that doesn’t mean it comes without risk, especially when protesting matters of life and death, like the police murdering Black citizens in this country. With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide on how to protest safely, what to bring, how to act, and what to do if stopped by the police. This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list, or serve as legal advice, so please use common sense when following this guide.

How to protest safely

First and foremost, if you’re going to a protest, you need to communicate to a trusted circle of people where you will be and what time you expect to be back. You should also contact them when you are back. Additionally, you should go with other people if possible. There is safety in numbers, and it’s always better to go with at least one other person who can watch out for you and vice versa.

What to bring

I’m going to sound like your parent here, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so before you head out, I’m begging you to check the weather report and dress appropriately. Wear sensible shoes that you can easily move around in, and potentially be on your feet for a long time in. If you wear contacts, don’t! Wear your spare pair of glasses so if you get pepper sprayed/tear gassed, it’s easier on your eyes. (If you do get pepper sprayed/tear gassed, flush your eyes out with bottled water as soon as you can.)

Should you bring your phone and ID? That’s up to you. I strongly suggest you look up ID laws in your state to help you make your decision. Same goes for your cell phone. It’s helpful for staying in communication with people, but also, it has a lot of information about you and can be used to track you. Additionally, it could get confiscated by the authorities. If you’re going to bring it, this article suggests turning off biometric data, and turning on a PIN in order to unlock your phone, as a PIN is protected under the Fifth Amendment.

Other advice from the article:

Adjust your settings so that you can’t see message content in notifications when your phone is locked. At the protest, try not to unlock your phone unless you absolutely have to. If you are taking photos and videos, try to access your camera without unlocking your phone. (On an Android phone, this varies depending on your model; for example, on a Pixel, you just press the Power key twice. On an iPhone, you can open the camera from the lock screen by long pressing on the camera icon in the lower right corner or swiping to the side of your lock screen.)

Back to the packing: bring a backpack with water (hopefully it’s not freezing where you are), a physical map of your city, a written list of emergency numbers, and cash, preferably in small bills (remember: your debit and credit cards can be used to track you, too, if that’s a concern). If your phone gets taken, or if the cell signals get jammed, the cash can help you leave the area, get food, or help someone else.

Other things to consider bringing: first aid kit, pens, flashlight, masks, face coverings, signs, blister pads and/or liquid bandages for blisters, snacks, and possibly a medical bracelet if you have a medical condition and you’re incapacitated and/or unable to communicate it.

How to act

Once at a protest, avoid the police. Do not get in their face, do not engage them, do not taunt them, regardless of what they are doing, saying, or wearing. If you’re forced to be near a cop, keep your hands where they can see them, give a wide berth, stay calm, and don’t run. If they are doing something aggressive or illegal, and you brought your phone, feel free to film them at a reasonable distance. Police do not have the right to privacy when working.

If you’re a white person, please for the love of all that is good and holy, do not center yourself in a protest that is about racial injustice. I am begging you. Your role in the protest is to show up and literally be a person in the crowd. That’s it. And, if the situation calls for it, use your white privilege if the police are really kicking off. The NYU School of Law agrees here:

If you are white, put yourself between police and Black and Brown people if they are exposed to police repression. You can also film arrests and police activity.

What to do if stopped by the police

First and foremost, understand that just because the police stopped you, that doesn’t mean you’re arrested. Fundamentally, you have the right to remain silent. That means you don’t have to answer any questions they ask you, except, perhaps, your name. So, again, I encourage you to Google whether you live in a state that requires you to tell the cops your name if they ask. If you are stopped by the cops, tell them you invoke the right to remain silent, and then remain silent. Law & Order reruns have taught us that the cops are allowed to lie if you’re an adult, so even after you tell them you invoke your right to remain silent, they may try to lie to get you to talk. Don’t fall for that!

Additionally, they may try to search you, you don’t have to consent to that. Per the ACLU:

You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may pat down your clothing if they suspect a weapon. Note that refusing consent may not stop the officer from carrying out the search against your will, but making a timely objection before or during the search can help preserve your rights in any later legal proceeding.

There are other resources online that encourage you to ask the following question to an officer: “Am I free to leave?” This means that you are not being detained and thus there is no legal basis to keep you. I can only stress again that this is not legal advice, and I am not an attorney. The ACLU is a good resource on this if you’d like to read more.

(featured image: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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