• Scott Olsen standing at Occupy Wall Street – fractured skull
  • Kaylee Dedrick standing at Occupy Wall Street – pepper sprayed in the eyes
  • Protester standing in Oakland – struck by rubber bullets
  • Felix Rivera-Pitre marching with other protesters – grabbed from behind and punched in the face
  • Christina Gonzalez filming Occupy Wall Street – arrested

The “Occupy Wall Street” Protest is now entering its second month and has expanded worldwide into Boston, Hong Kong, London, Rome, and other cities. Like anything else, most people go into these activities thinking they know how things work just because they watch “law and order” and end up with mace in the face. What you don’t know can still hurt you.

Consider the Following

You’re standing by a police barricade and the crowd is cheering and chanting. As the crowd moves forward, they push you into the barricade and it falls down. You try to move back but there’s not enough room with the large amount of people behind you.

At this point, the Police can…

a) yell at you
b) club you with a baton
c) pepper spray you
d) all of the above

Corrrect answer: D

The vast majority of protesters at these events believe that this can’t happen to them. They’re usually the same people who end up with burning eyes, bruised ribs, and locked up on top of that.

You should know what you can and can’t do before attending a protest. More importantly, you should know what can be construed as illegal. The two most important things at these events are your safety and your freedom. Let’s find out how we can put that into practice during one of these events.

1. Knocking over barriers can get you hit or pepper sprayed

Law enforcement is authorized to strike and pepper spray when they fear for their safety.

Law enforcement is authorized to strike and pepper spray when they fear for their safety. What this really means is that if you get too close, knock down a barrier or do anything to threaten their safety, they’re authorized to hit or spray you. Be very cautious when near police barriers. Police barriers are either wooden planks or metal gate portions that are linked together.

Aside from maintaining the safety of crowds, they serve another purpose. That purpose being anyone who crosses the barrier can and probably will be arrested. Now these barriers are barely able to support themselves as-is. Imagine having a crowd of people leaning against them. The barriers will fall and the Police will start screaming and pushing people back. Now there wasn’t enough room for everyone behind the barriers to begin with. Of course it’ll be impossible for everyone to cram back into a group to fit behind the barriers.

This becomes a very dangerous situation now for a couple of reasons.

First, even if you tried to comply and move back, you can’t because there’s not enough room for the amount of people that are at a protest.

The second is that the Police now “have permission” to use physical force which includes pushing, batons, and pepper spray. While you may be peacefully and calmly standing in the crowd next to a fallen barrier, the cops can still hit you with a baton or pepper spray you. Even if you’re not doing anything except standing there.

While you may be peacefully and calmly standing in the crowd next to a fallen barrier, the cops can still hit you with a baton or pepper spray you. Even if you’re not doing anything except standing there.

The Police are facing a crowd of people that massively outnumbers them. The Police are on edge because at any given moment, the crowd could overrun the perimeter and trample or kill them. It’s a very intimidating place to be. And there’s a legitimate fear of safety present in those Police Officers.

Imagine going into a fight with 300 people that want to beat you down. There’s a lot of tension there which means if there’s a signal that he (a Police Officer) may be in danger, he’s going to shoot first ask questions later in the same way that you or I would. Understand what position the Police Officer is in. If you fall over a barricade by accident and he starts spraying and swinging his baton, he doesn’t mean to strike you in the head and fracture your skull, he’s just trying not to get killed. That translates into swing batons, pepper spray, punch first and ask questions later.

Getting pepper sprayed is not fun

Any time there’s an element of fear present in a large group of people, they will do whatever it takes to alleviate that fear. That includes swinging a baton, spraying pepper spray or trampling others. If there’s a fire in a crowded stadium, do people want to trample other people? No. They just want to get away from the fire.

Moreover, getting hit with a baton can cause serious damage to your body. You could easily get hit in the head and fracture your skull. A fractured skull may lead to brain damage, if you don’t die, all because you got unlucky. You happened to be the one person who fell over a barricade and it looked like you charged it.

The police report will show that law enforcement personnel were placed in a dangerous situation because they were surrounded by hostile people and one of them invaded their personal space. Be very careful when protesting near police barriers.

2. You can get arrested for standing nearby on the sidewalk

A large amount of protests include standing in front of buildings, on the sidewalk or in the street. Sometimes you aren’t even protesting. Sometimes you’re just WATCHING the protest. The Police can actually arrest you for being there.

Disorderly conduct, in most states, includes many actions that may seem peaceful or legal. “Standing on the sidewalk” can be obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic, causing public alarm, or congregating with others in a public place and “refusing” to comply with the Police. Just because the crowd isn’t listening when the police tell them to move along doesn’t mean they can’t pick you out and decide to make a lesson out of you.

Best Practices for Being in a Protest

  • Don’t knock over any Police barricades.
  • Don’t stand towards the front or near the barricades. The people in the front are usually the first ones who get hit or pepper sprayed by the Police.
  • Don’t get within reaching distance of the Police.
  • Move when the Police tell you to move. Whether you move or not is obviously up to you but understand if you don’t move you can be arrested, pepper sprayed, etc.

3. What happens if you get arrested

If you get whacked with a baton (hopefully not in the head) or doused in pepper spray during a mass arrest, you’re in for a world of hurt. Because medical attention ain’t coming. Not only are you getting arrested, but you’ll be sitting there restrained with burning eyes and skin (and potentially a fractured skull) for probably a few hours.

First you’re going to get loaded into an overcrowded van or bus with a bunch of other people. Then you’ll be transported to a precinct to get processed. Now you may go to a farther precinct which means you’ll spend more time with your eyes burning and your hands restrained behind your back.

When you arrive at the precinct, don’t expect any medical attention unless you’re unconscious. Even then maybe not.

When you arrive at the precinct, don’t expect any medical attention unless you’re unconscious. Even then maybe not. (“He was sleeping.”)

Sure, it sounds simple enough to have paramedics come to the precinct and check you over to make sure the Police didn’t cause any permanent damage. Let’s say you and three others were injured to the point where you need to be hospitalized. That means that four ambulances in total would need to go to the precinct to bring each of you to the hospital. This also means that at least four Police Officers would have to guard you in the hospital until you get discharged.

Aside from sacrificing the man power, law enforcement often won’t delay the arrest process to make sure you receive medical treatment.

You're not as safe as you think

4. Video cameras don’t protect you

There’s strength in numbers. I feel much safer with 2 or 3 friends than by myself. So I can imagine how powerful it must feel to stand there with two or three-hundred of your friends. Especially when there are only a few cops out.

But appearances can be deceiving. You may feel inclined to disregard the cop barking orders at you with his coffee breath and powdered donut sugar sprinkled on his shirt. There’s a false sense of security when a bunch of people are holding cameras up filming everything that’s going on.

the abundance of video cameras won’t “save” you when the Police start using pepper spray like it’s Febreze.

But the shortage of police officers or the abundance of video cameras (or even people next to you) won’t “save” you when the Police start using pepper spray like it’s Febreze. It won’t matter how many people are there when you get clubbed like a baby seal for knocking over a barricade.

People seem to think that video cameras mean the police can’t do anything, or that they’re safe. Let’s say that you actually do capture real, illegal police brutality. Think about the sheer numbers of police brutality videos that are being posted on YouTube, Vimeo, etc., just from the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York alone. These videos will take months to look through, assuming someone actually is investigating these matters.

Furthermore, many of these protests are occurring at night. Even in high definition, video quality degrades exponentially as it gets darker. If you’ve ever tried to take a video in subpar lighting, you’ll see what I mean. Now you take that combined with the shaky cam footage of trying to film while you’re getting pepper sprayed, and what do you have? A video showing, “An overweight male in his 20s or 30s wearing a police uniform and swinging a baton at people like he’s trying to open a pinata filled with donuts.” That’s awesome. I hope I’m there when you’re giving that description to an investigator. Congratulations, you just named 85% of the Police Department.

Now let’s say your name is Spielberg and that you have a 3D movie showing the officers nose hairs and name badge. How many Police Officers do you think will actually be punished for their actions? Assuming he didn’t have a legal justification for his actions, and that the Police Department conducts an internal investigation, will they really punish a large number of Officers, especially if they feel threatened by the lack of Police presence at large protest events? Unlikely.

5. What to do if you get pepper sprayed

The good news is that the effects of pepper spray generally aren’t permanent and will go away with time. The bad news is that there’s not a whole lot you can do to speed that process up.

Capsaicin (the active ingredient in pepper spray) is not soluble in water, and even large volumes of water will not wash it off. Victims are generally encouraged to blink vigorously in order to encourage tears, which will help flush the irritant from the eyes.

Wikipedia shows that common treatments such as Maalox, 2% lidocaine gel, baby shampoo, milk, or water make no significant difference in pain relief. It will, however, make the pain go away faster.

Dilute Chlorine Bleach has been used with very good results in ER situations for external use only (non-occular application). A 1 part to 5 part water solution is recommended. Using contact lens wetting solution seems to help occular relief.

To avoid rubbing the spray into the skin, thereby prolonging the burning sensation, and in order to not spread the compound to other parts of the body, victims should try to avoid touching affected areas.

There are also wipes, manufactured for the express purpose of serving to decontaminate someone who has received a dose of pepper spray. Many ambulance services and emergency departments use baby shampoo to remove the spray and with generally good effect. Some of the OC and CS will remain in the respiratory system, but a recovery of vision and the coordination of the eyes can be expected within 7 to 15 minutes.

Some “triple-action” pepper sprays also contain “tear gas” (CS gas), which can be neutralized with sodium metabisulfite (Campden tablets, used in homebrewing), though it, too, is not water soluble and needs to be washed off using the same procedure as for pepper spray.

If I were going into a situation where there was a good chance I was going to get pepper sprayed, directly or indirectly, here’s what I would bring:

Final Thoughts

After reading this, you now know what the majority of people don’t. Please help spread this article so people maintain their safety. Going to a protest with the above knowledge allows you to better control both your freedom and safety.

Please share any experiences, questions or suggestions, please leave comments below or feel free to e-mail me through my Contact Page. I reply to every e-mail I receive.

Additional Resources

Veho VCC003MUVI Micro DV Camcorder

Medique 40061 First Aid Kit, 61-Piece

Ultimate Survival Technologies JetScream Whistle (Black)

Critical Item if you get Arrested