Five things to know if you’re going out to protest in New York City

How to prepare before you exercise your First Amendment rights.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
Editor, Time Out New York
NYC protest
Photograph: Time Out/Delia Barth

As states across America continue to determine who they want as the next president, New Yorkers are out protesting in the streets to demand every vote is counted and every voice is heard.

Our diverse and passionate community hasn't stopped pushing for equal rights and systematic change since the summer, when it began protesting after the police-involved death of George Floyd. And while these marches are a necessary step in facilitating change, they pose a lot of risks, including catching and spreading the coronavirus and potential injury and arrest.

While most marches have been peaceful, there have been some reports of violence, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

So before you join in, you should prepare. Here are five things to know before you go:

Go with a small group

Go out to rally in a group. Watch out for and stick close to them and make sure you all agree on a spot to meet up if you get separated. Let someone not attending a march know where you'll be. 

Protect your body

Don't leave home without a mask—we are still in a global pandemic so be smart and cover your nose and mouth, whether it be with a mask or bandana. Governor Andrew Cuomo made it a requirement to wear a mask or face covering in public when it's not possible to distance yourself from others. By having everyone wear a mask, it keeps asymptomatic people (those without symptoms) from spreading it to others through speaking, coughing or sneezing, according to the CDC. Remember to keep six feet apart, too. And before you go out, think about your risk and the risk of getting someone else sick. Don't go if you feel sick.

After your protest, quarantine yourself for 14 days and get tested for Covid-19 afterward.

Amnesty USA recommends bringing water in a plastic bottle with a squirt top to drink, wash off your skin or eyes, wet wipes, several days of any prescription medication, and energy snacks.

The New York City Health Department has a few suggestions as well:

If there is tear gas, Amnesty says to stay calm, blow your nose, rinse your mouth and don't swallow. Don't wear contacts because they trap what gets in your eyes. Prepare for this possibility by wearing shatter-resistant swimming goggles and a face mask.

Wear running shoes, clothing that covers your skin to protect it from the sun and pepper spray and a hat.

Protect your privacy

Wired says that a smartphone broadcasts identifying information — that law enforcement can make your carrier give up data about what cell towers your phone connected to and when. Police have also been using devices that mimic cell towers and trick phones in certain areas to connect to them, that way cops can find out who was where and when.

That being said, you may want to leave your cellphone at home or stay off your phone as much as possible. You may also want to invest in a Faraday bag, which blocks radio communications. You can read more about how to protect your privacy here.

Know your rights

The ability to protest and assemble is the core of our First Amendment rights, but amid the chaos, there are situations that can arise that challenge that.

According to the NYCLU, you have freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, meaning you must be given a reason for your arrest and the right to access a lawyer. You have the right to remain silent and you also have the right to file a complaint with 311, Civilian Complaint Review Board or contact the NYCLU if your rights or someone you know's rights are violated.

You also have the right under the First Amendment to photograph and video-record anything in a public space, including police officers. That being said, don't obstruct or impede law enforcement by recording, because that's a violation. Just stay out of the way when recording.

You also have the right to hold signs but marching on the street and using sound amplification requires a permit. Learn more about your rights here.

Keep the Legal Aid Society number on you in case you're arrested

Some protesters are encouraging participants to write these numbers, 1-833-346-6322 or 212-577-3300, down on their arms in permanent marker in case they get arrested — the Legal Aid Society offers free legal support 24/7.

It's also good to know what to expect if you get arrested. Check out the Legal Aid Society's article on this here.

Above all, be safe.

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