What To Wear To A Protest To Keep Yourself Safe

As police use excessive force and agents like tear gas on protesters, here are some things you can do to stay safe while speaking out.

All over the country, protests against police brutality and racism are escalating as the president threatens military action and police use agents like flash grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse crowds and show excessive force. Just this week, thousands of peaceful protesters were hit with tear gas while they gathered across the street from the White House ― so that the president could walk across the street and take a photo with a bible in his hand.

Oh, right, and we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic. In addition to your coronavirus face mask, there are plenty of things to consider when preparing for a protest.

“Even though we’re going into a hot season, you should still be doing a long sleeve so your body is covered as much as possible for protection from both the sun and tear gas,” Ernest Coverson, campaign manager for Amnesty International’s End Gun Violence, told HuffPost. “You want long pants, comfortable shoes ― something with a tie-up versus a slip-in ― and nothing loose that can get snagged on things, yanked or pulled.”

In a graphic Amnesty International recently shared that outlines safe protest practices, the organization also recommends refraining from using any oils or lotions on your skin before protesting, because they can, according to Coverston, “intensify the lingering effect” of something like tear gas or pepper spray.

Amnesty International

Tear gas has been banned as a chemical weapon for use in warfare since 1993, but it is still used as a “riot control agent.” If it gets on your skin or any facial orifices, it can have a laundry list of irritations, including blurred, burning and tearing eyes, runny nose, tightening of the chest, coughing, skin burn and rash and more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s why being as covered as possible, from head to toe, is so important.

To that end, Amnesty International also recommends wearing a bandana soaked in water, lemon juice or vinegar (the acidity helps break down some of the effects of tear gas), to bring a change of clothing in case yours get contaminated, and to opt for glasses instead of contact lenses if you usually wear them.

“If you get gassed or maced in contacts, the irritant can get trapped underneath and can mess up the lens itself,” Coverson said. “If you’re able to bring goggles (swim goggles are fine), that would also offer added security.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has been attending protests in the New York City area, also recently shared some information on safe protesting practices. An Instagram she posted on Sunday offered helpful tips, including things to bring, not bring and wear.

Included on that list are heat resistant gloves, which can be useful in the event that you need to pick up and dispose of something hot, like, say, a tear gas canister. A helpful Google doc written and shared by Twitter user @taxicablivee explains:

“Heavy duty gloves will protect your hands if you need to get out of a building through a broken window and can protect against burns from teargas canisters,” she wrote. “Oven mitts can also be used in cases of picking up canisters.”

Ocasio-Cortez, as well as Amnesty International, both recommend bringing water, snacks, identification, emergency contact information and first aid supplies, and Coverson recommends carrying those things in a backpack as opposed to a shoulder bag. “You want to still have your hands and arms free and mobile,” he said.

One more helpful thing to have on hand? Antacid. When mixed with water, something like Maalox can negate the effect of tear gas as well. Though Coverson added: “Straight water works, too.”

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