Common Sense Responds: How to stay safe at protests

Jamie Stern, Managing Editor

As the murder of George Floyd has sparked protest nationwide, Montgomery County citizens joined in on the fight for the Black Lives Matter movement. The first protest in the area took place on Monday, June 1 on the RIO Lakefront in Gaithersburg. This peaceful protest was organized by DC Teens Action, an organization aimed to unify students from all over the DMV area for social action and civic engagement projects across a large range of causes and experiences. 

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the shopping centers before marching into the streets. History teacher Maima Barclay spoke out in solidarity with the community that showed up to protest. Barclay said, “I am so pleased and so proud to watch all of you young people. Please, do not give up the fight. Do not be discouraged. Do not turn around. Keep marching forward. The power is in your hands.” 

On Tuesday, June 2, a student-organized protest was held at Connie Morella Library with more than 1,000 people there to fight for what is right. The protest was put together by students at Walt Whitman and was assisted by DC Teens Action, who wanted to get the community together and have their voices heard. The predominantly young and white crowd met at the library where empowering speeches were given. Then, they marched around the streets, staying socially distanced, chanting “hand-up, don’t shoot” showing that they would stay silent no longer.  Junior Rozhin Fadae said, “It was very inspiring and empowering to see how many people I knew, and how many different people showed up and showed their support for the same cause.” 

A third protest in Rockville took place on Friday, June 5. The afternoon started with everyone gathered outside the Montgomery County Circuit Court building and Executive Office building. There were multiple speakers, including students, who gave inspiring speeches. From there, they marched onto Rockville Pike, which had been closed down by police earlier in the day. All three of the protests were supported by local police and were all peaceful demonstrations. 

While thousands are leaving their house to fight for human rights, it is important to remember that we are still in the midst of a growing pandemic. Besides the dangers of Covid-19, there is also the fear of tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bangs. Here are the best ways to keep yourself safe while protesting. 

What to do. Stay calm and focused. When things get intense, react sooner rather than later. Be on the lookout for signs of physical and mental problems in yourself and others and be ready to cool down others who seem panicked. Document and film any police actions, brutality and injuries. 

What not to do. Do not wear vaseline, mineral oil, oil-based sunscreen, or moisturizers because they can trap chemicals on your face. Don’t wear contact lenses; they can trap chemicals underneath and become irritating. Don’t wear things that can easily be grabbed: jewelry, ties, loose hair. Don’t go alone- go with a few friends who you know well. Don’t forget to eat food and drink water. 

What to bring. Water in a plastic bottle with a squirt top in case you need to wash chemicals out of your eyes. Energy snacks, identification/emergency contact information, inhaler, epi-pen, other prescription medicine, wet wipes, tissues and a basic first aid kit. 

What to wear. Shatter-resistant swimming goggles and an N95 mask. Wear comfortable, protective shoes that you can run in. Clothing that covers all of your skin to protect from pepper spray exposure. Bandana soaked in water, lemon juice or vinegar, that can help you during chemical exposure. Bring an extra set of clothes to change into and a hat to protect you from the sun and chemical weapons. 

Dealing with teargas. Avoid the use of oils and lotions because they can trap the chemicals and thereby prolong exposure. Gas masks provide the best facial protection, if properly fitted and sealed. Alternatively, goggles, respirators or a wet bandana over the nose and mouth will help. Stay calm. Panicking increases irritation. Breathe slowly and remember it is only temporary. Blow your nose, rinse your mouth, cough and spit. Try not to swallow. If you are wearing contacts, you must remove the lenses or get someone to remove them for you, with clean, uncontaminated fingers and destroy the lenses after exposure. DO NOT RUB IT IN. Use an eye flush using a solution of half liquid antacid and half water.

Know your rights. Freedom of Expression and Assembly: Everyone has the right to carry their opinion to the streets. Protection of the Right to Freedom of Assembly: Law enforcement must facilitate and not restrict a peaceful public assembly. Freedom from excessive use of force: In the policing of non-violent protests, police must avoid the use of force. Right to Medical Assistance: If you are injured you have the right to medical assistance without delay. Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Detention: If you are arrested you have the right to be told of the reason for your arrest, you also have the right promptly after your arrest to have access to a lawyer and to your family. Right to Complain: If your rights have been violated you have the right to file a complaint and to be provided information on how to do so.