Protest Tips and Resources

The right to protest is a fundamental right protected by the US Constitution and the First Amendment, but there are risks in participating in these events, especially for Black and Brown people. This page compiles information on what people should keep in mind in order to protect themselves and others while protesting, especially in light of the pandemic. Much of this information is compiled from the ACLU's and DSA's tips for protesting safely. 

Best Practices for Protesting Safely

How to protect yourself and others while protesting

  • Avoid direct police contact. Whenever possible, avoid contact with police, military, or counter-protestors. Follow instructions from event organizers about where to protest and when to move.
  • Maintain physical distancing and do not have close physical contact with others. This means do not shake hands, hug, or have extended face-to-face conversations with others. 
  • Do not run. Avoid running to close a gap or move away unless absolutely necessary. Move slowly as a group.
  • Use ONLY water to treat pepper spray.
  • Protect your cell phone privacy. Lock your phone, turn off thumb and/or face unlock, disable location services on all your apps, turn off notifications on your home screen, disable Siri/Alexa, and leave your phone locked when taking photos and videos. 
  • Protect your identity and the identity of others. Do not post pictures of people’s faces on social media. If you do post pictures, make sure faces are covered or obscured and you do not post until you are home.
  • Use white privilege to protect others. These are protests opposed to police violence against Black people. 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.
  • Be aware that undercover police may be in the crowd. Be wary of individuals who forcefully advocate for violence, especially when the crowd or organizers seem peaceful, or try to encourage others to join them in violent action. Don’t engage with them unless absolutely necessary. Undercover officers often wear colored armbands to identify themselves to their colleagues (the color varies from day to day).
  • If you are protesting after curfew, there is an increased risk of arrest or bodily injury. There is also safety in numbers. If you are protesting past curfew in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or the Bronx and have no way to get home, you can call 914-732-1656 for rides or safe havens. The NYPD has been using “kettling” tactics to surround protesters at intersections or in parks shortly before or during curfew, then charging at the crowd and arresting demonstrators en masse once the curfew is in effect. If you are in a “kettle,” stay calm. If police let you through, avoid running and walk to safety, ideally in a group.

Interacting with the police

  • You have a constitutional right to demonstrate. If curfew is in effect, police can issue an order to “disperse” (go home) and may give you time to comply. Failing to comply with a dispersal order is a Class B misdemeanor in New York, which can carry a maximum penalty of up to three months’ imprisonment or one year’s probation.
  • If you are stopped, ask if you are free to go. If the police say yes, calmly walk away. 
  • You have the right to record as part of your right to protest. However, the police can order people to stop interfering with legitimate police operations. Video recording from a safe distance is not interfering. 
  • If you are stopped, police cannot take or confiscate any videos or photos without a warrant. In some states, audio is treated differently than images, but images and video images are always protected by the First Amendment. 
  • If you are arrested, do not say anything. Ask for a lawyer immediately. Do not sign anything and do not agree to anything without an attorney present. Demand your right to a local phone call to call a lawyer or your local National Lawyer's Guild (NLG) chapter, and give them the date, time and location of your arrest. If you call a lawyer for legal advice, law enforcement is not allowed to listen.
  • If you are taken for processing or detention, give only your name and ID with current address. Police can take your fingerprints, but you are not required to submit to an iris scan. Do not consent to searches, including searches of devices, or a DNA swab. Don’t accept cigarettes, gum, or a drink as they can easily be swabbed for DNA later. If you are a noncitizen, do not disclose your immigration or visa status to anyone except your attorney. If you are trans or gender nonconforming, you have a right to be held in the cell of your choice.
  • Police are never allowed to delete data from your device.
  • If you witness someone being arrested, ask their name and date of birth and write it down as soon as possible. Call GoodCall NYC or a local defender service or NLG chapter to contact a lawyer. If you can, record or photograph the arrest as it occurs. Connect with the NLG, jail support, or protest organizers so you can get the evidence to the person arrested.

Minimizing COVID-19 risk after protesting

  • Quarantine. You should assume you came into contact with the virus and self-isolate for two weeks after attending the protests. If you make an exception to your social distancing to take part in the protests, don’t make other exceptions for a couple weeks. Especially stay away from vulnerable people. 
  • Get tested. Many cities are now offering COVID-19 tests to everyone. Aim to get tested about five days after exposure to minimize the risk of false negatives. New Yorkers can find testing sites at the NYC COVID-19 Citywide Information Portal.

Other reminders

  • Do not attend any gatherings if you feel ill
  • Have a trusted friend who is not at the protest who can make sure you left the protest safely. Make sure they know  your full legal name and date of birth. 
  • Be mindful of press interactions. Do not talk to the media. If a member of the press approaches you, direct them to an event organizer first.
  • Mental health resources are available. Events at protests and mass mobilizations can lead to critical incident stress on top of the pandemic and economic insecurities. Groups have compiled mental health and well-being resources: Mashable has a list of mental health resources for Black people. Well Williamsburg is also offering a free session to Black people in NYC and compiling resources on Instagram
  • Additional information on your right to protest is available on the ACLU Know Your Rights page or @whataremyrights on Instagram.
What to wear and bring
  • Wear a mask. Wear one that is as secure-fitting as possible. Your mask not only protects you, but those around you. So keep it on.
  • Wear nondescript clothing and comfortable shoes. And cover identifying tattoos. Tie up long hair.
  • Bring a friend. Make sure you arrive together and leave together.
  • Bring water. At least two bottles per person. Make sure you are hydrated and bring or conserve enough to flush the affected area if you are targeted with pepper spray or pepper bullets.
  • If possible, do not wear eye makeup or contacts, in case you are targeted with pepper spray or pepper bullets. Contacts especially pose a very high risk of permanent eye damage if you are pepper sprayed while wearing them.
  • Bring hand sanitizer. Wash your hands when possible and especially after touching surfaces.
  • Bring a hat and/or sunscreen. Avoid oil-based creams that can trap chemicals.
  • Bring a pocket Know Your Rights guide. If you have access to a printer, you can put a guide like this one from Legal Aid NYC in your pocket, or download it onto your phone. 
  • Bring your state ID, some cash (up to $100 in small bills, if possible), and an “In Case of Emergency” card that has the name and contact information for two friends and special medical notifications. You might also want to include a number for a service that provides access to legal help for people who are arrested, such as Good Call NYC (1-833-3-GOODCALL or 1-833-346-6322) or your local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NYC: 212-679-6018). Alternatively, you can use a permanent marker to write these names and contact information on your arm in case you are separated from your belongings when you are arrested. Leave IDs from other countries or ones that show your nationality/visa status (if you are not a citizen) at home.
  • Don’t bring anything you wouldn’t want to get arrested with (e.g., weapons, illegal substances, valuables, etc.).
  • Small snacks. But avoid sharing them (same goes for drinks).
  • A sign.
  • Any medications you need in case of arrest.
Sources and additional resources