Safety Planning for Protests

A safety plan is a way to think through what you need to keep yourself and others safe, connect with people and resources to keep yourself and others safe, and it helps to prepare you for action if confronted with violence or attempted acts of violence. In the context of protests, safety planning is about thinking through potential risks, making a communication plan, and connecting with peers. While a safety plan cannot prevent all acts of violence and it is never your fault if someone chooses to cause harm, creating a plan ahead of time and thinking about ways to protect yourself is one way to stay safe. 

Before attending a protest, it is important to think through a safety plan and assess your personal risk. Creating a safety plan is simply a way to increase safety for yourself and others when entering into a situation where harm is possible, and to prepare for various potential scenarios.  No plan is perfect, and if you experience violence, including by police, it is not your fault. 

For AVP staff: If you’re planning on going to a protest, connect with anyone in COPA to get support.

More resources:
Protest Safety Zine
Coronavirus Risk Reduction During Protests

Current Situation 

The situation as of early June 2020 is highly volatile, with law enforcement and other agents of the state using tactics that escalate violence against community members. Even peaceful protests have been met by state violence in recent days, often without warning, so we want everyone to consider their options and their safety planning carefully in this moment. 

Evaluating Risk 

Before you commit to attending a protest or action, do an honest assessment of your personal risk. You can think about the following questions: 

  • How might my perceived race, gender, sexuality and other identity factors impact the ways that police and community members interact with me or target me?
  • Are there factors that increase risks to my safety if I am arrested, surveilled by police or documented by media or fellow protestors, including around immigration, outstanding warrants, mental or physical health needs, or other risks? 
  • How well have I slept and how is my mental health today? Will either of these factors negatively impact my ability to make clear, fast decisions in a scary moment?
  • How is my body feeling today? Am I able to get away quickly if a situation escalates?
  • Do I need glasses or contacts? If my glasses break or I get tear gassed and need to remove my contacts, will I be able to navigate? 
  • Do I have friends or organizing colleagues I can attend the protest with and create a buddy system with?
  • Do I have a safety contact who is not going who I can check in with and can support my plan in what to do if I am missing after the protest?
  • Could I get home or to a safe place if I lost my phone and/or wallet?
  • Can I walk or move for long periods of time, potentially without rest? If not, is there a way for me to plan for rest and/or map out how long before I should head home if possible?

What to Bring and Wear

  • Wear nondescript clothing – plain colors, especially black, can help reduce the likelihood of being surveilled and identified by law enforcement
  • If possible, cover your hair and identifying marks like scars and tattoos
  • Wear a mask or other face covering to help keep you safe from the spread of COVID-19, chemical agents, and to conceal your identity
  • Wear clothing and footwear you can move quickly in 
  • Bring water and snacks (protein bars are a good option for quick energy and don’t melt like candy bars)
  • Bring medication that has been prescribed for you that maintains your health. If you can, bring a one or two day supply of medication (in case you are detained) in the original prescription bottle to help prevent it being flagged as a controlled substance.
  • Avoid bringing or wearing bulky backpacks or tote bags, and don’t bring any prohibited substances, in case of arrest
  • Bring a portable phone charger if you have one, as well as cables.

Digital Safety Protocol

  • One way to stay safe and in touch with your people is to share your location data using your phone’s capability to do this. That way your designated contacts can view your location without having to text and ask where you are.
  • Conversely, having data shared can make you very traceable by law enforcement, and you might instead consider turning your phone off, putting it on airplane mode, or leaving it at home.
  • Use an emergency location sharing app like Circle of 6 – which was created as a sexual violence support and prevention tool. You can enter the contact information for up to six people who will be alerted with your location and other information you choose to share if you press one simple button in the app during a moment of crisis. Let your contact people know beforehand what you want them to do in case of arrest, detainment, or injury.
  • Documenting police violence can be helpful, but instead of posting it immediately try, if possible, to check in with the community members in the video. Ideally, you should share the video or photos with the people you filmed and let them decide what to do with the video. Some people will choose to share videos of police violence on social media immediately without the consent of impacted people – think ahead of time about the potential harms and benefits of doing so.
  • If you use your phone to take pictures, make an effort to ask for consent of the people you are photographing. If this is not possible in a fast moving moment, use a face blurring app to conceal individual identities. There are many available face blurring apps – search, download, and practice with them ahead of time.
  • Disable face-recognition sign-in to unlock a smart phone and also disable thumb-print sign-in. In the situation someone is detained, it makes it harder for police to unlock your phone if we are not consenting. As an alternative, set up a 6 digit code to unlock the phone.

Planning for Arrest

  • Write the phone number for the National Lawyers’ Guild on your body in sharpie: (212) 679-6018. You may also add other phone numbers to your body of your personal contacts. You might not be able to access your phone or it might run out of battery. Keep in mind that NLG can reach out to your emergency contacts and can support you in ensuring your rights are protected. people should also share their A-number (alien-number for immigrants/non green-card holders) with their emergency contact, whether buddy in protest or remote support person
  • If you are an immigrant or non-green card holder, you should share your A-number with your emergency contact, whether that person is a buddy in the protest or remote support person.
  • Carry at least four quarters – jails still have pay phones and calls are not free.
  • If you get arrested, you can yell your name and birthdate to witnesses either during arrest or once you are at the jail and being transferred inside – this can help your people to find you in the system faster. Keep in mind that you will get booked under the name on your ID, and for TGNC people yelling this name to strangers may not feel ok and that may be a reason not to do this.
  • If you use social media, plan with your contacts in advance about whether or not you want people to tag you on social media with references to your arrest.

General info on arrests:

  • In general folks are being released after a few hours, given desk tickets, no bail set. Not being charged or arraigned. But now with curfew, things might change.
  • If you get arraigned (and not dismissed with desk ticket), you have to call the National Lawyers Guild (when allotted your one phone call). They will connect you to Neighborhood Defender Services or Legal Aid. You will get assigned a lawyer. The lawyers are connected to the bail fund. 

***Most important thing is having an NLG number on your body because they will take your phone. (Make sure ink dries so it is not smudged.) Another resource: 1‑833‑3‑GOODCALL, https://goodcall.nyc/.

Communication Safety Planning

  • Use an encrypted texting app like Signal to communicate with fellow organizers when you are planning for an action and communicating during the protest. You can create a group on Signal so that multiple people can be in the loop. Signal can also be used to make encrypted phone calls.
  • Talk to someone who will not be at a protest about what your plan for the event is. Establish a check in time by which you expect to be heading home and let your check in person know when you’re leaving the protest and when you are home. 
  • Communicate with your check in person about what you want them to do if they have not heard from you by the time you agreed on. Do you want them to try to establish if you’ve been arrested and booked (booking could take place much later)? Do you want them to try and find out if you’re injured or at a hospital? Do you want them to amplify the fact that you are missing on social media?
  • Make a plan for a meet up spot with people you are attending the protest with, in case you get separated or you are unable to use your phone to connect. For a march, you might select several different locations along the route. You might also select a spot that is further away from the site of the action to put a buffer between yourselves and the action.

Aftercare

  • Even without arrest or violence, protests and actions can mean wear and tear on your body and your spirit–make sure you have adequate time and a safe space to rest, eat, and recharge afterwards, if possible. Drink lots of water.
  • Be mindful of what you’ll need to meet your responsibilities in the hours and days after an action, including getting to work, engaging with family, etc.
  • Caring for yourself and your community will look different for everyone, but plan to check in with your people in the days after an action, for mutual support.

Other Ways to Support Actions

These tips focus on ways to increase safety while physically attending protests and actions, but there are many folks for whom it may not be physically or emotionally safe to do so, for many reasons. Here is a list of ways to support actions and protests, beyond attending:

  • Be a check in person for someone who is going to protests. Help them talk through a safety plan.
  • Offer safe space for bathroom and safety breaks, or food and water to folks who are participating, particularly if you live near the route and can offer these things. Evaluate your risk with respect to your health if you are sick with COVID-19 or immunocompromised.  Consider having food delivered if someone is supporting protests from home. 
  • Cover someone’s shift at work or watch their kids, if that is something you can and want to do. 
  • Contribute financially to resources supporting protests and the fight for equity
  • Spread the word on social media and to your networks, being careful not to reveal protesters’ identity or locations that could be tracked by police; 
  • Support efforts to defund the police and invest in social services. In New York, follow the Communities United for Police Reform #NYCBudgetJustice campaign

IMPORTANT NUMBERS & RESOURCES

  • New York City Anti-Violence Project (24 hour Hotline in English/Spanish): 212-714-1141
  • National Lawyers Guild hotline for arrest support 212-679-6018