Protestors, Here’s How to Protect Yourselves from the Police and Coronavirus

Mass protests calling for police reform are continuing across the country in response to the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Dozens of states have experienced days-long protests, with videos emerging of law enforcement officers aggressively arresting, firing tear gas, and pepper spraying peaceful protestors. And this is all happening in the middle of a public health pandemic, making safety all the more important.

Here, experts share advice on keeping yourself and others safe.

Wear a mask

You will be in a crowd, so it’s important to wear PPE. Even if your plan is to social distance, in a protest setting it’s often not possible, as groups can grow quickly and law enforcement may corral protestors together if things start to escalate.

Protect your body

Coronavirus concerns aside, you should always wear “clothing that covers your skin,” says Justin Mazzola, deputy director of research for Amnesty International. “This will not only protect you from the sun, but also from pepper spray exposure.”

Wear glasses, not contacts, in case there’s tear gas in the air. Another suggestion: soak a bandana in water, which can help protect you in case of chemical exposure.

If you do get exposed to either pepper spray or tear gas, don’t bother washing your eyes out with baking soda, as experts say there’s no proof it actually works. Your best bet is just water or saline solution.

Leave your phone at home

Many protest organizing groups advise against bringing phones to protests due to privacy concerns. If you do take one, consider turning off location services and using an encrypted messaging app like Signal.

“Lock your phone with at least a six-digit passcode, not just the touch ID or Face ID,” says Palika Makam, a senior program coordinator for the human rights organization WITNESS. A cell phone passcode is protected by the Fifth Amendment, but those protections don’t apply to touch and face ID, she says.

You should also be careful about recording or photographing, as posting photos of protestors makes it easier to identify them.

Have a plan if you get arrested

It’s important not to protest alone in the event that something happens to you, Mazzola says. You also want to make sure to write down emergency contact numbers—a legal hotline, a trusted friend—on your arm with a permanent marker.

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