Tips to Staying Safe During a Public Demonstration
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
Before attending a demonstration or march, prepare a safety plan. The following information will help you create a safety plan, but it is not all inclusive. Demonstrations can last for several hours, so planning ahead is vital.
Covid-19, Flu Season, and Public Health
Please follow local and CDC guidance. Just because you aren't ill or showing signs of illness doesn't mean you're not and doesn't mean the other around you aren't. Masks, hand sanitizer, and maintaining distance between you and others is a great place to start.
The Buddy System
When attending demonstrations, bring a friend or make a new one when you get there. Watch each other's back and have a plan if you get separated or if the demonstration does not go as planned.
Where are you going to meet up if you get separated? Where are you going to meet if you need to leave quickly?
Share your GPS location. There may be a built in feature in your phone as well as other apps that you can use.
What is your plan if you cannot use your phone? The network could be overloaded, your phone's battery could die, you lose your phone.
Do you have someone not attending that you can check in with regularly?
If you have a medical condition that requires monitoring throughout the day, have your medication, testing supplies, mobility aids with you. If you are in a large crowd there is a risk of you being separated from your Buddy, so please carry something that indicates medical needs, a patch, bracelet, ID, etc. Have your medical supplies in a place where they are easy to find if someone needs to assist you during a medical emergency. It can be difficult for emergency responders to get to you in a timely manner during a large demonstration or march, so those around you will be responsible for the initial first aid.
If you need a mobility aid, reach out to the organizers ahead of time to see if there are any restrictions or alternate routes.
Items to Bring
You want to be prepared for several situations. Items that should be brought:
Weather appropriate clothing. Layer in the winter and don't overdress in the summer.
Snacks and water; opt for snacks that will help keep your energy up and require little cleanup. A Camelbak is a great option for hands-free water and can be worn comfortably.
A hardcopy of an emergency contact list.
Small first aid kit
Personal hygiene products.
Fully charged cell phone and a charger/battery pack.
Keep your ID, transit cards, etc. in a place that they are safe. A fanny back tucked under your clothes, an inside pocket of a jacket, etc. Keep them close to your body in something that will not be easily removed.
Safety During the Demonstration
Upon arrival and throughout the demonstration/march, take note of where you are, know the march route, find counter-protesters, take note of any vulnerable population around you.
Follow the instructions of the organizers.
Move with the crowd. Do not attempt to slow it down or stop in the middle of the crowd. Do not move against the flow of traffic.
If someone is having a medical emergency, draw attention to the situation and ask attendees to support you. Point at them and give them specific jobs- "You in the green jacket, I need you to help me move this person to the side." "You four people need to help direct traffic around this person." "You in the purple hat, I need you to get medical help."
Keep a wide, open stance to keep your balance and give you space to maneuver.
Warn those around you of obstacles like pot holes and uneven side walks. Draw attention to anyone who has fallen- be loud. Ask to assist anyone with mobility aids or who potentially need help over/around obstacles.
If you feel unsafe, remain focused and alert. Move to the edges of the march or demonstration or get to your meet-up location.
Know Your Rights
This section is copied from the ACLU:
Your rights are strongest in what are known as “traditional public forums,” such as streets, sidewalks, and parks. You also likely have the right to speak out on other public property, like plazas in front of government buildings, as long as you are not blocking access to the government building or interfering with other purposes the property was designed for.
Private property owners can set rules for speech on their property. The government may not restrict your speech if it is taking place on your own property or with the consent of the property owner.
Counterprotesters also have free speech rights. Police must treat protesters and counterprotesters equally. Police are permitted to keep antagonistic groups separated but should allow them to be within sight and sound of one another.
When you are lawfully present in any public space, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view, including federal buildings and the police. On private property, the owner may set rules related to photography or video.
You don’t need a permit to march in the streets or on sidewalks, as long as marchers don’t obstruct car or pedestrian traffic. If you don’t have a permit, police officers can ask you to move to the side of a street or sidewalk to let others pass or for safety reasons.
What to do if you believe your rights have been violated
When you can, write down everything you remember, including the officers’ badge and patrol car numbers and the agency they work for.
Get contact information for witnesses.
Take photographs of any injuries.
Once you have all of this information, you can file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.
What happens if the police issues an order to disperse the protest?
Shutting down a protest through a dispersal order must be law enforcement’s last resort. Police may not break up a gathering unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, interference with traffic, or other immediate threat to public safety.
If officers issue a dispersal order, they must provide a reasonable opportunity to comply, including sufficient time and a clear, unobstructed exit path.
Individuals must receive clear and detailed notice of a dispersal order, including how much time they have to disperse, the consequences of failing to disperse, and what clear exit route they can follow, before they may be arrested or charged with any crime.
Again this is not an all inclusive list, but it will help you plan your participation in a way that keeps you and those around you as safe as possible.
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