How To Protest Safely In A Hostile Environment

Updated: Jun 7, 2020

Starving Artist Creative Forum is a black-owned, veteran-owned entity dedicated to building up local artists and communities. My goals are now and have always been to change this world from the ground up, as a black American and fourth-generation soldier.


There are certain skills I've acquired through my experiences and I'd like to share these skills in order to keep my brothers and sisters safe in the streets as well as any allies who choose to be with us. This is currently focused in my current state of residence, Arizona, but is applicable to the nation at large.


WEAR LOOSE CLOTHING

It's 107 degrees in Phoenix and wearing tight clothes is not the right move in this climate. It's only June and as the summer continues, that temperature will only rise. This isn't necessarily about comfort, but about necessity. As it gets hotter, your body is put at risk in tight clothing as sweat can't escape your pores.

Besides that, as police continue to escalate force with tear gas and rubber bullets, tight clothing will not protect you! I've been gassed with CS gas, as every soldier has, and CS gas sticks to skin and clothes. Mitigating that with looser clothing will ensure you're not experiencing the full extent of the gas. Looser clothing will also slow the rubber bullets as well as giving a larger silhouette that could distract gunmen.


Obstructing the views of your body type to electronic surveillance is extremely important, making sure you protect your identity to avoid prolonged exposure, contact and vulnerability to police. Wearing clothes that make you look like "the average" will go far to protect you.


Important: this does not mean baggy clothes. Baggy clothes can be caught and grabbed, becoming more of a liability than a help. Take off jewelry and tie up hair as well.


WEAR A MASK AND BRING EXTRAS

COVID-19 has not ended, only the coverage of it. Protests are inherently intimate as numbers and groups are important to the cause. Covering your face to slow the spread of disease will not only protect you and your fellow protestors, but also your friends and family supporting the cause in their own homes.


As I mentioned before, CS gas and tear gas is extremely similar. In the army, we had gas masks, but as those are hard to come by for a civilian, so wearing a mask, even a cloth one, will help block out much of the gas. Bring an extra since gas sticks to you, that way once the gas gets airborne, you can still breathe relatively unscathed.


This is probably the best thing to do as far as maintaining security of your identity. Your face is the most important commodity to keep yourself safe. Although a full mask would be more ideal in this case, wearing a half mask and staying mobile should obscure many different types of facial recognition software.


PROTECT YOUR SKIN

CS gas will stick to your skin, causing itching and a painful burning sensation. It's not fun and the easiest way to avoid it is to cover up your skin. Lotion and other creams will cause gas to stick to you, so as important as sunscreen is, be aware of how much you're putting on. As an addendum to this, bring something like a towel, fold it in half or in thirds, roll it over your forearm and duct tape it to lash it to your arm. This will be a sufficient defense against most standard issue police weapons, including batons and rubber bullets.


If you're like most of us, you have tattoos on your body. In some cases, this is even more recognizable than a person's face. Cover these up! Now is not the time to show off your tattoos, especially if fresh. Besides CS gas possibly causing an infection (and definitely ruining the work), your now-absent hair can no longer act as a filter to protect your skin.


EITHER LEAVE YOUR PHONE OR PROTECT IT

In 2020, the internet is god and the smartphone is its holy text. As sacrilegious as it seems to leave a phone any time you go out, now is the time to do it. Besides nearly every app tracking your location, police have set up false cell phone towers to act as honeypots and trick phones into connecting with them in order to track movement.


If you are apprehended by police, your phone is the gateway to your life, and if left unencrypted, anything they can use against you is now evidence. iPhones are already factory-encrypted, but Androids will need to have their disks encrypted through settings.


If you do need your phone, use apps with end-to-end encrypting, such as Signal or Wickr. Setting messages to delete after a certain time will also help to protect yourself.


WATER UP

Again, it's 107 degrees in Phoenix. It's hot outside and the last thing you need is to be dehydrated. Being dehydrated puts you at an instant disadvantage, causing you to be less focused and less durable than someone properly hydrated, The larger you are, the more water you need, but shooting for a gallon is a decent amount. Remember to drink water the night before you go out, but not to the point urine is clear. Urine should be a light shade of yellow, somewhere between water and apple juice for comparison.


Bring a Camelbak if at all possible, this will allow you to move more freely as well as keeping mobility in both your hands. Stay hydrated, but don't overdo it to the point you're uncomfortable and unable to relieve yourself as this is an unnecessary distraction.


MOVE WITH A PURPOSE

Do not park at the protest. Do not start in large groups but NEVER EVER WALK ALONE. Do not wear the same clothes you wore at the protest to and from the protest. The police have tactics and an plan and it's up to us to stay one step ahead. Opportunists and agent provacateurs are here only to create turmoil and we must stay one step ahead. Honor the curfews and move peacefully, avoid as much conflict as you can. Have a plan to get out when things turn for the worse and prepare back-up plans depending on the route. Don't stop anywhere extra on the way. Don't assume you know your city, police will change things in order to maximize arrests and opportunists may be causing chaos on that street. If you choose to bring your phone, there are a number of police scanners on respective app stores. Be aware, be flexible and be adaptable.


PROTECT YOUR EYES

In the army, we had three priorities for care: life, limb and eyesight. That third priority is the easiest to protect here. Glasses are better than nothing, but closed goggles will protect you from CS gas and rubber bullets. Losing an eye is devastating to a person and we need to be protecting ourselves.


WHAT TO BRING

Camelbak-$30

Extra mask-$10

Extra washcloth/dish rag-$3

Extra water-$2

First aid kit-$15

Change of clothes

Goggles

Phone charger (if you bring your phone, solar charger is recommended)


For about $60, you can make sure you and your fellow protestors are protected. Trust me, I wanted to jump into my protest with all of my being, but it took cooler heads to teach me the proper way to do this. We must plot, plan, strategize and mobilize. As they turn more dangerous, we must be more cerebral.


George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Dion Johnson. Tony McDade.


Protect yourselves and protect your community. I love you.





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