Know your Rights at Counter Protests

By Muna Sharif, Field Organizer with Amnesty International USA

Have you heard about the anti-Muslim and anti-Sharia rallies that are being planned throughout the country this Saturday, June 10th? These rallies are rooted in bigotry and fear and organized by Act for America (ACT), which is the largest anti-Muslim grassroots organization operating in the United States today, and has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Amnesty International USA is standing up against this hate and bigotry. On Saturday June 10th, we are joining activists around the country in demonstrations in support of the communities impacted by hate and hate-based violence. Here are some ways to take action:

- Join counter-protests: Amnesty activists and many others across the country will be standing up against hate and joining counter-protests.

- Stand in solidarity: If you see a counter-protest taking place, offer to hold up signs, carry water or just be present for the community. Check out the tips for showing up in solidarity below.

- Distribute Know Your Rights and Protest Safety Tips.

- Document, Document, Document: If you join a counter-protest and disputes arise with passers-by or others, document the interaction: be prepared to record any violence or provide statements to the police.

Safety is our top priority during any protest or rally. Everyone has the right to peaceful protest, including members of ACT. But we have heard reports that some intend to bring firearms to these rallies. If you are joining a protest in solidarity your job as an ally is to support and uplift the voices of the community. One clear way to do that is by NOT escalating tensions with ACT. If a protester becomes confrontational or aggressive with you, de-escalate the situation by taking yourself out of their immediate space and not responding back in anger. Here are tips on de-escalating.

We must remind members that Amnesty International and its members do not engage in civil disobedience. Therefore, any member of Amnesty International who plans to attend a counter protest as a representative must obey all police orders.

Below are some tips on protest safety and security that every protestor should know beforehand.

SHOW UP IN SOLIDARITY:

HOW TO STAY SAFE DURING A PROTEST:

- Plan ahead. Know what to expect and how to get assistance.

- Have a plan to contact your friends if separated.

- Be calm and focused: When things get intense, react to danger or warning signs sooner not later.

- Watch for signs of physical and mental problems in yourself and others. Try to calm down others who exhibit panic behavior.

- Document, film or write down incidents of police brutality.

WHAT NOT TO DO:

In the event that you anticipate protests escalating, here are some safety considerations prior to attending:

- Do not put Vaseline, mineral oil, oil based sunscreen or moisturizers on skin as they can trap chemicals.

- Do not wear contact lenses, which can trap irritating chemicals underneath.

- Do not wear things which can easily be grabbed like jewelry, ties, or loose hair.

- Do not go alone, if you can help it, go with an affinity group or some friends who know you well.

- Do not forget to eat and drink lots of water.

WHAT TO BRING:

- Water in a plastic bottle with squirt top to drink water and wash off skin or eyes.

- Energy snacks.

- Identification and or emergency contact information.

- Enough money for a payphone, food, transportation.

- Watch, paper, and pen for accurate documentation of events

- Medical supplies including inhaler, EpiPen, insulin and several days of prescription medication

- Menstrual pads. Avoid using tampons as you may not have a chance to change if you are arrested. Bring basic first aid kits, wet wipes and tissues.

WHAT TO WEAR:

In the event that you anticipate protests escalating —

- Comfortable protective shoes that you can run in.

- Clothing covering all your skin to protect from the sun and pepper spray exposure.

- Shatter resistant eye protection like sunglasses, swim goggles, or gas mask.

- Bandana to cover nose and mouth soaked in water, lemon juice, or vinegar as it can aid in breathing during chemical exposure.

- Fresh clothes in a plastic bag in case yours get contaminated by chemical irritants.

- A hat to protect you from the sun and from chemical irritants.

DEALING WITH TEARGAS AND PEPPER SPRAY:

Both tear gas and pepper spray are skin irritants. If you are exposed to either you may experience the following:

- Stinging or burning in your eyes, nose, mouth and skin.

- Excessive tearing causing your vision to blur.

- Runny nose, increased salivation, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

- Disorientation, confusion and sometimes panic.

The effects of tear gas are temporary. Discomfort from tear gas usually disappears after 5 to 30 minutes. Tear gas can be flushed out of the eyes using water by tilting to be head back and squirting water directly on the eyes from the inner corner of the eye outward to ensure tear gas does not further reach the tear duct. If you are assisting someone in flushing teargas from their eyes, remember to always ask for consent before touching or aiding them.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS:

During a protest, you have the right to the following:

- Freedom of expression and assembly.

- Protection of the right to freedom of assembly.

- Freedom from excessive use of force.

- Right to medical assistance.

- Freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.

- Right to speak out if you feel your rights have been violated.

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