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Personal Safety During a Protest Starts with Your Goals

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

Black Lives Matter protests at Sunset and Vine - June 2, 2020 | Photo by Brian Donnelly

There are no shortage of "tips for protestors" out there. I recommend these as great places to start - especially now that we have to consider COVID risks. But for an asphalt anthropologists it really boils down to the 5 simple tactics below.


Ok, I know I'm a bit late here in sharing thoughts on personal safety at demonstrations, but I'm just now catching my breath.

LAPD in Hollywood June 1, 2020 | Photo by Brian Donnelly

The last week or so have been a time warp where Brian and I have been to several protests related to the killing of George Floyd. The first one saw us getting stuck outside after the 6pm curfew and zig-zagging our way home avoiding LAPD skirmish lines. Just blocks from home we encountered looting on Hollywood Blvd but we finally made it home unscathed. I couldn't help but wonder when I saw the folks on the news arrested for curfew violations if I wouldn't have been with them if my skin were a darker color. Another day we walked eight miles as part of a rally and that evening decided we better learn to pace ourselves and find ways to support the youngins and their better stamina.

The first protest/counter-protest I attended was in 1991 when the ku klux klan marched straight down the middle of my hometown of West Chester, PA. But it was at the 2013 Trayvon Martin demonstrations in Hollywood that I witnessed first hand that for every person at a protest there are different goals for showing up.

During the George Floyd demonstrations we saw that people with a wide range of agendas can disrupt the message and often it is the courageous protestors putting their own bodies on the line to protect the message.

Looters hit Drip LA on Hollywood Blvd June 1, 2020 | Photo by Brian Donnelly

How you manage your safety in this environment will depend on your goals in addition to your skin color. The tactics below align with supporting a cause while maximizing personal safety. These goals won't be helpful for someone with different goals, a movement leader or someone who is ok with being arrested for example. Those are important goals and I respect the courage that it takes to pursue them - but the tactics for those goals will differ than what follows. And these tactics may not be as effective if you are Black or a person of color.

5 simple tips to maximize your personal safety in a protest:

  1. Don't bring children.

  2. Only go to demonstrations that you can easily get to on foot. Avoid ones you have to drive or take public transit to.

  3. Stay on the edges of the crowd and avoid being in the middle.

  4. Keep an eye out for folks who become visibly agitated or call for violence. They may become destructive and the target of police activity.

  5. Know your escape routes. The best escape route may change as the group dynamics change so stay alert.

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