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From Beirut To Minneapolis
A protest guide in solidarity
In solidarity with protesters in Minneapolis and other American cities, Lebanese technologists, protesters, and activists put together this document as a guide for escalating protests and documenting police abuse. We recognize that our experiences and lived realities are different, but in the same way that we’ve found solidarity with Hong Kong and Chile protesters, we wanted to extend ours to others.
Protest safety, tear gas, and other hacks ✊🏾
Protests can be an overwhelming experience when you are alone, so make sure – when possible – to go with a friend or with a small group. You are safer when you stay together.
Tear gas contains several compounds that, when in contact with air or moisture, irritate the mucous membrane of the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs. This causes your eyes to tear up, your nose to run, and makes it difficult to breathe. Tear gas exposure can cause confusion, panic, anger, and other psychological effects, therefore try to remain calm. Panic is contagious.
Kep in mind that the following tips on tear gas and pepper spray are based on our experiences on the ground and are not official medical adivce. We can't guarantee that every prevention method will 100% work.
Determining whether it is safe to attend a protest
- Physically attending a protest introduces many risks from physical safety to increased surveillance of you and your community.
- Being at a protest can lead to arrest or other legal consequences that can put non-citizens at risk of deportation.
- When thinking about whether to attend a protest, consider both the impact it can have on yourself and others.
What to wear 🥾
- Generally, avoid exposed skin. If you can, wear goggles, long sleeve shirts, long pants, strong shoes that you can run in.
- Tight-fitting swim goggles/tight ski goggles.
- Wear glasses instead of contacts if at all possible. If you get pepper spray or tear gas in your eyes, remove contacts immediately before rinsing.
- Wear normal shoes to protect your feet in case people start throwing bottles/rocks- do not wear sandals.
- Use helmets (especially if you have a medical condition).
- Avoid wearing lotion or oils on your skin. Pepper spray and tear gas stick to it and burn.
- Avoid jewelry, and anything that could get pulled or caught in something.
- If concerned about being identified in photos (by law enforcement, media, and others), make sure any visible tattoos or other identifying marks are covered.
What to keep in your bag 🎒
- A bandana or mask cloth and a small bottle of cider vinegar (for tear gas, keep in mind that this should help you for the short period of time you would need to get upwind or reach higher grounds). You can keep a soaked bandana with water+vinegar in a plastic bag, to be prepared for tear gas. Beware that prolonged inhalation will irritate lungs.
- Keep extra bandanas and change yours immediately if it's exposed to tear gas. Soak in water+vinegar.
- Saline water, to treat tear gas.
- Mix water and Maalox (which is an anti-acid) in equal doses and have it ready, to treat tear gas. Only use aluminum hydroxide or magnesium hydroxide based antacids. Only use plain, mint or other flavors will burn.
- Milk. It can help alleviate burning skin if pepper sprayed. NOT for eyes. Read more below (what to do if tear gassed).
- Keep cut onions with you to inhale if tear gas gets on your face. It worked well for some protesters in Lebanon because of the type of tear gas used. If possible, identify the tear gas used and that will allow you to figure out the best solutions for your context.
- Soda: Drinking soda can help instead of water. You can also wash your face with soda.
- A dry change of clothes inside a plastic bag in your bag- so you can change in case you get wet.
- First aid help to treat yourself or others.
- Portable battery for your phone.
Behavioral safety tips
- Do not park your car/bike close to the protest site to prevent police from scanning your license plate or damaging your bike/car. If you can walk to the protest, do it.
- Stay in pairs or in a small group of people so that they would notice in case you’re missing or get arrested. Have a buddy system.
- Decide on an exit strategy/meet up point with your group in case you get separated.
- Write a lawyer’s phone number on your arm with a marker and YELL OUT YOUR NAME, in case you’re arrested.
- If attacked by riot police DO NOT RUN, try to cover yourself and move away calmly (if with a group try to form a circle and back away together).
- Try to remain on the outer circles, so you can easily get out and move out of danger if things get heated.
- In NYC specifically, undercover police might be spotted if they are wearing the color of the day on a band around their arm, like this. On one day that band might be white. On another, it might be another color.
- Some undercover cops might encourage protesters to be violent. Don't get provoked.
- Once you get out of the protest - hide anything that may show that you were actually attending a protest (flags/banners/wet clothing)
- Don’t go back home alone, police/undercover police may be waiting for you.
- If you are using a gas mask, make sure to change the filters every day.
- If you forget to turn off your location settings, take meandering routes to confuse your phone’s location in case police are looking at phone location data.
If you're hit with tear gas / pepper spray
Mace and pepper spray are mostly the same thing. Mace is a brand name. Most Mace products today are OC based, with OC being the active capsicum ingredient in pepper spray. Tear gas used in the US is mostly aerosolized CS powder.
- Once tear gas is deployed, get upwind or find higher ground and remember to breathe calmly.
- If you are wearing contact lenses, remove them immediately. Do not rub your face.
- Washing your face with water after you get exposed to teargas can exacerbate the stinging symptoms, not alleviate them.
- Wash from inside corner out - otherwise you will be washing chemicals into your eye. Tilt head sideways and wash from the corner out - never into the corner.
- Use cider vigar, soda, saline water, or Maalox-water mix to wash chemicals out.
- Only use aluminum hydroxide or magnesium hydroxide based antacids. Only use plain, mint or other flavors will burn.
- Milk: not as effective against tear gas, but works to alleviate skin irritation and burn if hit with pepper spray. If milk gets in your eyes, make sure to immediately wash it out with saline water.
- Hydrate: your body will try to flush the chemicals naturally, but to do so you must be well hydrated.
- Street traffic cones can be a good hack to use and cover tear gas cannisters. The top of the cone is usually open, and you can pour water through to diffuse the can.
When you’re home
- Take a shower, making sure you let cold water wash over your eyes until the stinging is gone. Soap and cold water should get rid of the chemicals from your skin. Hot water can make the burning worse.
- Get out of all your clothes and wash them separately in cold water. You might need to wash them several times to get rid of the chemicals, or discard them altogether.
If you get arrested
- You do not have to answer any questions, and can ask for a lawyer: “I want my attorney and I choose to remain silent” and then refuse questioning until you have a chance to talk to a lawyer.
- If the police ask to see your phone, tell them that you do not consent to a search of your device. They might still seize your phone and search it later, with a warrant, but you would have made it clear that you did not give them permission to do so.
- If the police ask for the password to unlock your phone (or ask you to unlock it yourself), you have the right to refuse and ask to speak to your lawyer.
- If you are arrested and the police ask for a DNA swab, you have the right to refuse. If you are offered a drink, cigarette or gum in the precinct, it is most likely a trick to steal your DNA. This has been a practice in NY specifically, and probably elsewhere as well.
- You can refuse to ID yourself. In times of mass arrest, refusing to identify yourself can slow down the arrest and charge process, and you might get released after a night in jail without formal charges.
Digital Tips 🔒
The police have very sophisticated surveillance equipment. Assume you are always being watched and tracked. Here are some general digital safety tips to minimize risk as much as possible.
- Use end-to-end encrypted apps like Signal or Whatsapp for messages and calls. Turn on disappearing messages if your messaging app supports it. Avoid regular SMS/calls as it's possible for police to intercept it.
- Even if you are using an end-to-end encrypted communication app, be careful about sharing sensitive details about yourself, people at the protest, or protest organizing, especially with anyone you do not personally know and trust.
- If you use biometrics unlock (thumbprint or facial recognition), immediately power off your phone if you're arrested. Both iPhones (emergency SOS mode) and phones with Android Pie or newer (lockdown mode) have a way to turn off face or fingerprint unlock without turning off your phone. In some jurisdictions, officers can compel you to provide your fingerprint but not your passcode.
- Better yet, turn off fingerprint or face ID before going to a protest.
- Draft a message to a trusted friend (not at protest) or legal hotline. Be ready to hit send if you are arrested/there is an emergency. Samsung devices have an SOS mode that does this.
- Be sure your phone is charged. Bring a portable battery.
- Practice turning off your phone, that is when its the most secure. Also practice initiating the panic/emergency/lock-down mode for iPhone and Android. These modes will temporarily disable biometrics (face/finger unlock) from working.
- Take photos and videos without unlocking your device
- If the police ask to see your phone, tell them that you do not consent to a search of your device. They might still be able to seize your phone and search it later, with a warrant, but at least it will be clear that you did not give them permission to do so.
Phone Tracking and Contact Tracing
- Police can generally track protest attendance and protester locations in two main ways:
- Cell phone data (this article has more details):
- Each cell phone will have a unique device ID that police can correlate with cell phone provider records to track location or that can be used to track location in real-time.
- US police have been known to use IMSI-catchers/stingrays to capture a list of devices/people at protests.
- With less typical pedestrian traffic during COVID-19, it is likely cell phone data can more easily identify people attending protests..
- Mobile phone location data:
- Mobile phones use GPS to get location data (linked to the location permission).
- US police have requested location data based on a time and place from tech companies to determine a list of "suspects" to investigate.
- For US protesters, expect any US-based tech company or application that collects location data to be legally obligated to turn over that data to law enforcement upon request.
- Cell phone data (this article has more details):
- With COVID-19, location tracking surveillance has expanded to do "contact tracing"
- Contact tracing is used to track who could be carrying a disease while asymptomatic and is based on whom someone who tests postive has come in contact with
- Minneapolis has publicly noted they are conducting contact tracing on arrested protesters
- Depending on what information is available, contact tracing can be used to identify
- If at all possible, it is best to not have a cell phone with you at a protest. If you need to bring a cell phone and are concerned about vulnerable members of your community you see regularly:
- Remove the cell phone battery, if possible, prior to arriving at the protest and only turn it on in the case of an amergency
- Bring a temporary phone that has not been used or turned on in the vicinty of where you live or the vulnerable community members and securely destroy it or dispose of it before heading home
Minimize location tracking on your phone
Police have all kinds of technology to track you and your phone. If at all possible, keep your phone at home and don't bring it to the protests. If you can't, here are some tips to minimize location tracking.
- If you have a faraday bag, bring it and keep your phone in. If you want to make your own, here is a guide.
- Keep as little sensitive personal information as possible on your phone.
- Turn off location history:
- iPhone: Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Significant Locations
- Android: Settings > Google > Google Account > Data & personalization > Location History > Manage setting > Your account & all your devices > Use Location History Off
- Google Maps: Settings > Maps history > Web & App Activity
- Delete past location history to protect against phone seizure:
- Delete search history from your browser to protect against phone seizure:
- Log out of accounts and apps that you will not need.
- Consider turning off all location services temporarily:
- iPhone: Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Location Services Off
- Android: Security & location > Location > Use location Off
If your device is confiscated
- Don't consent to a search of your devices. Do not unlock your device for the police.
- A lawyer can file a motion for the return of your property if it is not being held as evidence in a pending case.
- You can revoke access for some services that are logged in on your phone. Also, you can simply change your password, which will automatically get the app to log out. Beware that revoking law enforcement access or remotely deleting data can expose you to the risk of being charged with obstruction of justice or the destruction of evidence. You should always speak to your attorney first before deciding how to proceed.
General phone hygiene
Phone and communication security (e.g., using Signal or WhatsApp) is generally very good and above the technical ability of governments to break. Law enforcement and governments will focus on infiltrating a protester network by compromising a person or device. The following are tips to make it more difficult to have your device compromised
- Backup your phone before attending a protest in case you need to wipe your phone after a protest due to unusual activity
- Keep your device and applications up-to-date. Key security updates are essential to making it more difficult to compromise your device
- Do not jailbreak or root the phone that you bring to a protest
- Be careful about what apps you install on your phone. There have been reports of governments collecting data from an application installed from a phone's legitimate app store.
- Try to minimize the use of your phone at a protest
- There has been evidence of governments using spyware to monitor protesters and activists and is something to be aware of. Generally a user will need to click on a link or open an attachment to install the spyware.
- Double check your messaging apps privacy settings.
- Turn off message previews in your notifications:
- iOS: Settings > Notifications > Show Previews: When Unlocked
- Android: Settings > Apps & notifications > Notifications > On lock screen: Hide sensitive content
- Consider purchasing a case that has a ring or loop on it to keep your device securely in your hands. Especially if you are documenting the protest.
- Protect your info online. Photos will be circulating online, and trolls have a habit of trying to identifying protesters and targeting them. Make sure your social accounts are secure.
In the event of a media blackout
What happens if you’re on the streets but there are no media outlets covering? With no mainstream media keeping the authorities in check and covering in real time, police and military are likely to take more brutal measures against protesters. Here are the best tips from Lebanese protesters involved in the October revolution.
Going live on social media
- Use the platform that will reach the most of your intended audience. In the US, Twitter use is more important than Facebook use, so make sure you weigh the trade-offs when you decide which platform you’re using when you go live.
- Try to keep your phone down if riot police are heavily deployed to avoid them noticing you’re filming. The sounds will still be clear in your live coverage.
- If you’re live on Facebook, the video will be saved in case it is interrupted by arrest or by locking the phone.
- If you’re live on Instagram and get interrupted, the video won’t be saved to your story for 24 hours and you won’t have the option to save it to your phone. That’s why Facebook live is a better option.
- If you want to go live on Twitter from your phone, you will have to download Periscope. Keep in mind that Periscope’s video quality is less clear than Facebook’s.
Filming police abuse and arrests
- Charge your phone and keep a portable charger. Your phone is all you’ll need. Your camera can be cumbersome and heavy when you need to start running. Keep it at home.
- In the US, it is legal to film the police as long as you don't interfere and comply if asked to back up.
- Police should not ask you to delete videos.
- If safe, film details like police badges, license plates, weapons, etc.
- Identify yourself and the time, date, and location. If your location services are off, film intersections or street corners to identify the location and newspapers or some other media with the date and time.
- Don’t film alone, always have a buddy protecting your back when things get heated. When riot police come charging at you while you’re filming, your adrenaline will be too high for you to notice you need to get to safety. That’s why having a buddy doing lookout is necessary.
- Make sure to film angles and if you can, conduct eye-witness interviews (make sure to ask for permission first).
- When filming an arrest, ask clearly and loudly that the person being arrested yells out their name.
- If you are documenting celebrations, destruction, burning, consider sending the video to someone who is away from the protest so they can blur and/or remove faces from the footage. In the USA, there is a history of arrest weeks and months after the protest.
How to help if you can't attend a protest
Attending a protest can be prohibitive for many reasons, including risk profile and economic. The following are some suggestions of how to support protestors and actions if you can't physically attend.
- Monitor police and other white supremacist activies and report their movements to people at protests through a secure communication channel
- Coordinate cop watch and police monitoring activities in neightborhoods with heightened police activity
- Coordinate ICE and CBP monitoring and protection services (ICE and CBP have has a presence at protests)
- Provide childchare for people attending protests
- Help coordinate legal support and bail funds for arrested protestors
- Provide and/or deliver supplies for protestors