Guide to protesting safely, University students talk protest experiences

Jessica LaFrance

Jessica LaFrance

Bart Carmody and Britni Dunn

The Black Lives Matter movement has been leading the charge against systemic racism within the police force and the United States. Protests have now occurred in all fifty states—an unprecedented movement in American history. Despite efforts to remain peaceful, some protests have broken out in fights and demonstrated countless examples of police brutality. With recent police usage of tear gas, pepper balls, physical force and the ever-present COVID-19, it is important to be prepared for all outcomes while protesting.

The Pace Press has compiled a list of ways to stay safe as a protester. Many University students are taking action and protesting across the country, showing support for the movement in our student body. We have reached out to a few of them to share their experiences while protesting. 

Protest Preparation and Safety 

What to Bring: 

  • A small backpack to hold your things
  • Plenty of water and snacks
  • Sunscreen and hand sanitizer
  • ANOTHER PERSON!!! Try to not go to protest on your own for your safety
  • Portable phone charger
  • Cash, try not to bring credit cards
  • Make some creative signs if you are able to!
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes, preferably neutral colors that will allow you to keep your identity safer 


Many protests involve being closer than six feet apart from someone, which means there is sometimes no way to socially distance. Since the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging across the globe, it is important to wear a face mask. Since there will also likely be chanting at a protest, it is imperative to cover your face to keep from spreading germs to others. Bring multiple face masks because one could be ruined, lost, etc. As always, if you are feeling sick, stay home! There are plenty of ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement from home like signing petitions, donating and being an active listener in the current discussions. 


As peaceful as we all wish the protests would remain, we have unfortunately seen some confusion and unrest break out among demonstrations across the nation. These breakouts, in many instances, have been met with questionable tactics from the police like the deployment of rubber bullets and tear gas—the latter being the reason not to bring contact lenses. As comforting and safe as it is to have one’s full vision during a protest, it’s been advised by tear gas professionals that the substance (actually a powder, and not a gas) has the ability to melt the lenses upon contact and almost “glue” them to the victim’s eye. This instance can cause irreversible damage to several parts of the eye, and in some cases, can even permanently blind the victim. It’s highly advisable that protesters either wear a pair of backup prescription glasses or leave the contacts at home and making sure that their group is fully aware of their lack of vision (that being said, it’s always advisable to protest with a group).


There are several precautions that should be taken to conceal one’s identity and maintain anonymity amongst the protests. There have been several recorded instances in which police have spontaneously and unjustly approached protestors’ homes after the demonstrations with persistent questioning and investigating. It’s important to be diligent in following any steps necessary to hide any identifying features, like wearing light outerwear to hide any tattoos or a hat to cover dyed hair. Wearing masks will also help hide your face from any photographers/reporters documenting the protests. If any photographers or reporters approach you requesting a photo or interview, make sure to get the name of the publication that they are with beforehand. And finally, make sure that your Face ID and data are turned off, your phone is on airplane mode and that you and your group have a protocol or designated meet-up spot in the case of separation. If you post any photos or videos of the protests on your social media afterward, make sure that you screenshot or screen record the material before posting it, and make sure to blur/pixelate any protestors’ faces, as to avoid police surveillance.


Being as informed as possible will allow you to be as safe as possible. Keep up to date with the protest organizers of the protest you would like to attend. Many University students have found Twitter to be a particularly helpful research in this time of uncertainty in the media. 

Jessica LaFrance

University Student Experiences


60th & 3rd, June 3

My personal experience in participating in the protests was a turbulent one. I went alone, which I immensely regret and very much advise against doing. The demonstration began at Gracie Mansion at 7 PM, and I arrived via Uber around 7:30 PM. Once I got out of my car, I managed to catch the very front of the march that began at Washington Square Park. As protestors who gathered at Gracie Mansion began to join in, I did as well. The march continued from Yorkville all the way to Turtle Bay, where I dispersed from the crowd since my dad lived in the area and curfew restricted me from calling an Uber to my home downtown. Almost immediately after my disbanding from the crowd, a stampede of protestors broke out behind me on 3rd avenue, with people yelling warnings towards others of police beginning to box the crowd in. After seeing this scene, I started running towards 2nd avenue where I ran into another protestor on the phone. Not having my glasses (another mistake on my part), I asked him if we were soon turning on the street where my dad lived, and he began leading me that way. Only shortly after this, police cars began whizzing past us and the other protestor predicted that they were heading to 42nd and 3rd to cut the front of the march off. Right after, police cars began pulling off to the side of the road abruptly and snatching people who were walking, protest-ready or not, off the sidewalks – it resembled a kidnapping. As we ran down 2nd avenue, our party likely being next, I yelled to the crowd that anybody who needed shelter immediately should make a left down the next street. Myself and three others did, and I let them into my dad’s apartment where we all waited out until the streets were clearer and Ubers opened back up at 12:30 AM.



Downtown Manhattan, June 2

The first protest I went to was in Manhattan. It kicked off at the NYPD headquarters near Pace. The march went from downtown Manhattan all the way towards Harlem but we stepped off once we hit the Upper East Side. It was a really powerful, uniting experience. The first main stop was in Washington Square Park which was packed with protesters, but it never felt uncomfortably crowded. Everyone was considerate of their peers, gladly welcoming all that were willing to give their voices and bodies. We chanted together for a while before moving on into Midtown. The march stopped every few blocks to kneel and continue chants led by the people in the front with megaphones. When we came across health workers, the crowd would cheer and share their sincerest gratitude. When we came across cops, the people with the megaphones would encourage the crowd to stay civil and to use our voices. That’s when the chants got the loudest and had the rawest emotion and power. There were so many people giving out water, snacks, masks, hand sanitizer, etc. There were people watching from their balconies and one guy going to town banging on a pot at the top of his roof. People would pass through with boomboxes and start dancing along with the chants. One guy was going back and forth between playing his trumpet and smoking a cigarette. There was a man sitting under a storefront with a bunny, several anonymous masks and super creative signs. The weather was also perfect—overcast and warm but breezy and comfortable.


Grand Army Plaza, Jun 6.

The second one I went to started at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. On the way there, it started pouring which we were fortunate enough to take cover from before getting to the march, but I know people already in the march kept going despite it. This protest was quieter and the weather was hotter, but the numbers were still incredible and the power was there. There was a guy in front of us screaming at the top of his lungs until his voice gave out. The cops were as stoic as they were in Manhattan, but some had the nerve to laugh and smirk at us. It’s absolutely infuriating, seeing someone representing a bureau so deeply corrupt with systemic racism look down at you, smirking, laughing at you. You just want to drop all barriers and just risk it all, completely freak out and retaliate, but being with a group keeps you in check, you channel it through being angry together, strong with your words and you either laugh it off with your surrounding peers or you scream with them. We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, talked with people along the way, complimented each others’ signs and waved at passing cars who showed their support with enthusiastic beeps, smiles and signs. Near the end of both protests, I was given a sign by someone leaving which was really nice. Fortunately, there was no violence that occurred at either protest, there was just love and support and unity.

Tips from this protester: Check the weather beforehand! Wear light layers, bring a small or medium backpack with you that you could easily keep and put stuff in without hurting your back. Bring water and snacks if you have them, but if you don’t/run out, there will be tons of supplies being given out! Wear a mask/face covering (obviously) but bring extras with you, you’ll most likely be doing a lot of yelling and sweating, so the one you’re wearing may get wrecked. Bring portable chargers, bandaids/painkillers, wear comfortable shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. If you don’t have goggles, bring sunglasses. Be careful with prescription glasses!  I highly recommend going with other people and making sure they’re always near you. If you’re worried about getting lost, wear matching colors, keep your phone on and share your location with friends. Overall, be careful, be aware and be alert. Your presence is huge and everyone is looking out for each other.



Bethlehem, PA, June 4

I had a safe protest. I think it’s important to start there. I didn’t get tear-gassed or shot with rubber, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t, at times, incredibly scared. When I arrived, the event consisted of a mass group of people listening to the protest organizers speak. Each speaker told their own story, they shouted the names of lives lost to police brutality and caused passionate chants to reverberate through the crowd. They each spoke their piece, passionately and powerfully, then asked that everyone would kindly clean up after themselves on their way out. The friends I went with and I were slightly disappointed that so many people heard that, considered their dues paid and went back home. (Showing up isn’t enough.) I was there to listen to Black voices, of course, but while listening I knew that the right people weren’t hearing them. Though we all need to educate ourselves daily on the individual experiences of Black people, as well as analyze our own privileges, the crowd of people holding signs saying “Am I Next?” and “Don’t Shoot,” with crackling voices from their desperate cries for justice are not the ones in need of an education on inequality. 

Thankfully, my friends agreed that they’d like to stay for a while longer. We took our signs and set back to find the two boys we had seen an hour ago holding a trumpet and guitar. To our satisfaction, the two young Black boys were entertaining a smaller but even more passionate crowd and added a trombonist. They played improvisational jazz, they called up people from the crowd who wished to speak, read or rap and then something incredible happened. As they began to play again, a woman listening in the crowd said “Is that Afro Blue?” and the trumpet player nodded. She said, “Can I sing it?” and everyone insisted she jump in. And she did. I wish I could put English words to the feeling I had then, but I haven’t found them yet. Some deep place inside of her heart sang the words, “Dream of a land my soul is from” and everyone fell still. As she sang, my eyes closed and I started to cry. This is excellence. This is the culture we’re protecting. A piece of the beauty of the African motherland, the voices of her ancestors were right in front of me and I cried for the people who can’t see it. 

Being surrounded by so many people so passionate about equality makes it hard to remember how painful the issue is you’re fighting. Then we moved up the street to where the police were and everything became quite clear. We moved up with the intention, I think, to show those policemen what our protest looked like. It was full of music, passion and a cry for the world to see that. But when the group moved closer to where the police had blocked off the road, more police showed up. Cops on bikes began moving down the sides of the streets and soon there were cars behind us too. We were surrounded, and everyone took a knee. As we were kneeling I saw two Black girls stand with their hands up, move a few feet closer to the police and lay on the ground with their hands on their heads. As this happened, the crowd was chanting “HANDS UP, DON’T SHOOT.” I immediately stood, pushed through the crowd and put myself in front of the girls on the ground. I held my sign that read “WE ARE FAMILY, DON’T SHOOT” in one hand and raised the other so they’d see I was unarmed. I was much closer now, and I could see the policemens’ guns attached at their waists. At any moment, a police officer has the ability to draw their gun and end someone’s life. Sitting there, I was shown a glimpse of what POC fear every day. My voice broke because I was shouting no longer out of only passion, but out of fear and pain. 

Though there was a policeman mocking the protestors, the rest behaved themselves and the situation never escalated. I had basic first aid in my backpack just in case. If you find yourself at a Black Lives Matter protest, I hope that you can listen and learn from the people you’ll find there. Please monitor the situation and ensure that above all, you stay safe. Protect your brothers, protect your sisters and protect your non-binary siblings. Offer your kindness to those who need it, and recognize that you are a part of the change happening here. Stay safe.