As the events that unfolded in Ferguson begin to fade away from the news cycle, we should stop and take a good look around at own communities, because the militarization of the police is no isolated incident. For many years, towns and cities across America have been facing this growing threat within their political offices and police departments. We should ask ourselves, how far are we willing to go to secure our rights? If the police and bureaucrats in your community begin to overstep their bounds, would you take your outrage to the streets?
If you ever decide to engage in a peaceful protest for any reason, you should entertain the possibility that it may become violent at any time. Perhaps the police will overreact, or opportunistic criminals may use the protest as cover to loot stores and private residences. No matter who is at fault, a decent protest can turn ugly on a dime. If this occurs, there’s a few things you don’t want to leave your home without.
No matter what time of the year it is, you should always wear long sleeves and long pants to a protest. It seems like every image I see of a protest in the U.S. contains at least one person who looks like they’re dressed for a picnic. If the police decide to fire off their tear gas, you’ll immediately regret your decision to wear your short shorts to the picket line. Tear gas isn’t just an eye and mouth irritant, but a skin irritant as well, and a good pair of jeans with a long sleeve shirt will provide a decent barrier between you and the gas.
If it’s hot out, suck it up, wear cotton, and bring more water because there isn’t really any other way around this. Being exposed to tear gas is a lot like getting a sunburn. While the pain in your eyes and mouth will normally subside within an hour or two, your skin may still burn for several days. Also, be sure and bring an extra t-shirt to change into. Tear gas can really cling to clothing, and continue to burn you until you find a new set of clothes.
Being fully dressed will also have the added benefit of protecting you from the sun, which you’ll need because you probably don’t want to wear sunscreen. Any oil based lotion or sunscreen will trap the tear gas and adhere it to your skin, making it extremely difficult to remove. If you must use sunscreen, find a water based product rather than the typical oil based sunscreens.
CS gas, also known as tear gas, isn’t actually a gas at all. It’s usually either an aerosol containing very fine particles of a volatile solvent, or a concentrated form of capsaicin. While you can buy a gas mask and a filter specifically designed for tear gas, these tend to be pretty pricey. Most standard respirators you find at the hardware store will successfully filter out tear gas. Look for anything that is rated N100, which means it will filter out nearly 100 percent of any particulate matter in the air.
I would actually advise against buying a full blown gas mask for a protest. In my experience, the eyepiece will give you poor peripheral vision, and they tend to fog up, so you’ll want your eye and lung protection to be separate pieces. They will also make the simple act of breathing very difficult, so any simple activity (like running for your life) will be absolutely exhausting
In addition, gas masks will have you standing out from the crowd. I suspect that when riot cops see someone wearing a military style gas mask (which are also pretty intimidating), they see that person as a “veteran” protester and an agitator. It may be a better idea to buy something a little more innocuous like a disposable respirator.
Having a separate pair of goggles will be an essential addition to your respirator. You’ll want something that can quickly and easily give you a perfect seal around your eyes, like swimming goggles. Modern swim gear also has the added advantage of having great peripheral vision and anti-fogging treatments. If you suspect the police will use rubber bullets, you may also want to opt for shatterproof goggles. Whatever you do though, DO NOT wear contact lenses to a protest, or at least take them out if things start going south. They have a tendency to collect and trap the irritants in tear gas, and may even cause blindness.
There seems to be a lot of different opinions on how to treat an exposure to tear gas, so it’s difficult to judge what works best. One treatment that seems to be very consistent and popular, is a 50/50 mix of Maalox and water. Having a little spray bottle of this can be used to relieve the burning sensation in your eyes and mouth.
As for physical injuries, a first aid kit would be an obvious choice, but you’ll want something specific to the injuries you may face in a riot. Bring some tampons or a maxi pad in case you receive an open wound from a rubber bullet or baton. The absorptive qualities of these feminine products work wonders on serious injuries, and can quickly stop the bleeding.
While the goggles should work to protect your eyes from gas and rubber bullets, there are several more spots on your body you should keep in mind. Although cops are trained to aim for the torso with rubber bullets, these projectiles are also inherently inaccurate, so they can end up landing in the more vulnerable parts of your body.
To protect your head, something like a hard hat used in construction should work well. Personally, I’d probably take a bicycle helmet, for the same reason I wouldn’t wear a gas mask. It’s a pretty innocuous object that wouldn’t look out of place, and you can strap it to your backpack or purse for safe keeping. Just don’t be the guy walking around in an army helmet. You’ll stand out to the cops in a really bad way.
The neck is another extremely vulnerable region that you’ll want to consider. A rubber bullet to the jugular could feasibly rupture a vein or crush your windpipe (the more I talk about this, the more I wonder if rubber bullets should be considered “non-lethal”) so you may want to buy one of the neck guards that are used by hockey players. Many of these are very small, and easy to stow away in a backpack.
And guys? don’t leave home without an athletic cup.