Several journalists have been injured or detained while covering civil unrest in the United States and abroad. The following are some tips – courtesy of the International News Safety Institute – to help prepare you for unruly protests or events.
Before You Head Out:
- Contact protest organizers/check Facebook event: Is there a planned route?
- Research local police tactics. Is kettling, tear gas, pepper spray likely?
- Make sure your accreditation is in order and easily accessible.
- In case of tear gas, don’t wear contact lenses and bring eyedrops and spare glasses.
- In case you expect pepper spray, don’t apply face cream and cosmetics. They burn on contact.
- Use earplugs to help neutralize sound cannons.
- Wear comfortable boots that you can run in.
- Wear comfortable clothes made of natural fabrics, which are less flammable than synthetic.
- Have you news director/point person on speed dial.
- Are there Twitter hashtags to follow to track events?
- If possible, explore the terrain ahead of time:
- Are there stores you can dart into?
- Can you cover from a high vantage point?
- Negotiate a “safe” place where you can retreat if mayhem erupts.
- Prepare a backpack with supplies to last a day:
- Lightweight raingear
- Energy bars and water
- Spare batteries for electronic equipment
At the Scene:
- Don’t go alone. Get someone to watch our back if you’re shooting pictures.
- As soon as you arrive, spot escape routes and look for landmarks like a tall building or lamppost. It’s easy to get disoriented in a crowd.
- Stay on the edge and do not get caught between police and protestors.
- Crowds have a life of their own. Stay aware of the mood.
- Alert your news director if the scene turns angry. Be on alert for aggressive people. They may provoke a violent response.
- If planning to move, seek advice from people who have just come from the direction you’re heading.
When Trouble Erupts:
- Maintain a distance from the violence.
- Avoid horses. They bite and kick.
- Stand upwind from tear gas.
- Repeat to police officers that you are the press. Keep note of officers’ badge numbers.
- If detained, call your news director your lawyer and your union representative.