At least half a dozen journalists have been injured or detained while covering the growing unrest in the United States. Here are safety tips that reporters can use to prepare for potentially unruly protests:
Before you head out
• Make sure your accreditation is in order and easily accessible.
• Alert authorities that your news organization plans to cover the protests, and obtain the cell number of the person in charge.
• Take protective gear. This can include helmets, gas masks, or vests, depending on what the local police force uses for crowd control.
• In case of tear gas, carry a bandana soaked in onion, lemon, or vinegar, which neutralizes irritation.
• Don’t wear contact lenses. Bring eye drops and spare glasses.
• If there’s a chance you might be pepper-sprayed, don’t wear face crème or cosmetics. They burn on contact.
• Use earplugs to help neutralize sound cannons.
• Wear comfortable boots that you can run in.
• Don natural fabrics, which are less flammable than synthetic fabrics.
• Prepare a backpack with supplies to last a day: lightweight raingear, energy bars and water, spare batteries for electronic equipment.
• Pack a medical kit and know how to use it.
• Carry a photocopy of your press accreditation and telephone numbers of your editor and lawyer. Make sure your editor knows how to reach your family in case you’re arrested or hurt.
• Set your cell phone to speed dial an emergency number.
• If possible, explore the terrain ahead of time. Are there stores you can dart into? Can you arrange to film from a high vantage point? Negotiate a “safe” place where you can retreat if mayhem erupts.
At the scene
• Don’t go alone. Get someone to watch your 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 prevailing mood.
• Alert your editors if the scene turns angry.
• Stay away from 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.
• Television crews should travel as light as possible. If experiencing aggression, leave the tripod behind so that you can run fast.
When trouble erupts
• Avoid horses. They bite and kick.
• Stand upwind from tear gas.
• If the police detain you, insist that they call the cell phone of their boss, whose number you just so happen to have.
• Call your lawyer and editor.
• Maintain a safe distance from violence.