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George Floyd anti-racism protest, Trafalgar Square
The London Black Lives Matter protest at Trafalgar Squarecourtesy of Twitter

How to protest safely against racism during a pandemic

Here’s how to protect yourself, protect others, and rally against police brutality and the racist systems we’re living in

Thousands of activists and supporters have joined demonstrations in cities across the US in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in police custody earlier this week (May 25). Similar protests have emerged in other cities worldwide, including London, Berlin, and Toronto, where demonstrators are also responding to the death of a 29-year-old black woman, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, while police were in her home.

25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery and 26-year-old Breonna Taylor were recently shot in separate incidents; a black transgender man, Tony McDade, was also fatally shot by police on Wednesday, May 27 – people across the world are marching for them, and the countless others killed and affected by racist police brutality.

In many cases, these protests have been punctuated by violence, with police officers using teargas and rubber bullets (in at least one documented case, reporters and photographers have been directly targeted). Distressing footage is permeating social media right now, and it’s paramount that people protect themselves, protect others, and rally effectively in the face of racism, violence, and oppression. The ongoing pandemic gives this cause another aspect of urgency and the need for solid protective measures.

Across social media, activists and organisations have shared tips for protesting safely and effectively, including what clothing and protective gear to take along, and what groups to look to for guidance. Some of that advice is gathered in the list below.


The US politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others, has shared an infographic detailing what to wear and take to a protest, and what to leave at home. Nondescript, layered clothing is recommended, along with goggles and a mask to reduce the effects of pepper spray (and, currently, to reduce risk amid the coronavirus pandemic).

Masks also help preserve anonymity, and clothing should cover identifying signs such as tattoos.

It’s also recommended that those with long hair tie it back for safety purposes. 

Emergency contacts on your person are a good idea in case you require medical assistance.


Protest signs are an obvious thing to take along to a protest, but water and a cloth to deal with tear gas is also important; official news footage (below) has shown officers using the weapon, as well as rubber bullets, against activists and news crews with no provocation.

It’s also worth taking cash, water, and some snacks for yourself or those who might have been demonstrating for long periods of time, and first aid equipment in a small, secure bag.

The Y-Stop app is also helpful to download if you have a smartphone – it offers free, accessible information on knowing your rights if you or someone you’re witnessing is stopped and searched.


Obviously, phones have been used to document a lot of what’s been going on in the protests and share it over social media, but it’s worth disabling data and turning on airplane mode to avoid tracking. In terms of communication, WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption makes it more difficult for outside sources to access messages between sending and receipt.

Turning off accessibility options such as Face ID or Touch ID is also a good idea, as police can use them to access your phone without permission (as they’ve attempted in Hong Kong, as reported by The New York Times).

Anything that could get snagged in a crowd or justify an arrest should also be kept at home. Contact lenses are also dangerous, as they can cause damage to the eyes if tear gas is used.


As AOC writes in her Instagram post, black grassroots organisers “have been at this a long time and are disciplined in the ropes of community organizing and demonstration”. 

Following the lead of groups such as Black Lives Matter and attending their organised rallies (which you can find by following local divisions on social media) helps ensure that you’re supporting a unified and legitimate cause.

It’s also a good idea to attend demonstrations with a friend or ‘buddy’, so you can look out for each other and stay supported if separated from the larger crowd.


Protesters should still be wary of maintaining distance – as much as possible – to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, and organisers have additionally recommended self-quarantining for two weeks after attending an event.

Before event attending a protest, you should assess the risk to yourself and to others in your household and community, especially if they are in a vulnerable demographic, elderly, or have underlying health problems. Though campaigning for equality and justice is vital at this time, the pandemic hasn’t gone away (and continues to disproportionately affect minority communities).

Alternatives include taking virtual action, sharing information, and donating to funds that aid activists; some are listed in Dazed’s ongoing collection of anti-racism resources. If you do attend a protest in person though, you’ll be safer from coronavirus transmission if you stay outdoors and take the usual precautions, such as wearing a mask and disinfecting surfaces.


Again, it’s important to monitor what event organisers are saying during a protest, as routes and meeting points can change on-the-go and, if people aren’t aware, this can fracture the march or gathering.

Situational awareness is also important for if/when tear gas is fired, or a protest potentially turns violent. Keep an eye out for routes through a crowd and streets to take you away from any area you’re in, and avoid becoming boxed-in.

If you’re white or a non-black person of colour that is currently less at-risk, you should also acknowledge your privilege in a protest environment and use it to support those that are less safe due to their appearance. More on how to be an ally here.