Have you seen the news? Protests demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and countless others murdered by police for being Black have spread across the country.
In every state, people are gathering to call for the dismantling of two of America’s most disgusting pillars: racism and police brutality. And in the middle of all of these protests seem to be skateboarders, stunting as only us skateboarders do.
Clips and images of people skating overturned and on-fire cop cars, fighting sword-bearing counterprotestors, and smacking officers to the ground hard as Kerry Getz slams his skateboard are going viral across the internet, earning skaters newfound respect from radio shows and targeted ire from police chiefs. It’s an incredible sight, one that might encourage some of y’all to get out into the streets for a little action yourselves, and we can’t encourage that enough.
Mass demonstrations mobilize the mistreated and enliven the apathetic to join in on the cause, leveraging numbers and resources against oppressive systems that are impossible to dismantle solo.
Protests are awesome, but going to one can be confusing and even dangerous if you’re unprepared. You wouldn’t try to skate a handrail without knowing how to ollie, would you? With that in mind, we wanted to round up a few things to consider, gear to bring, tactics to take, and resources to refer to should you find yourself moved to make change.
[Disclaimer: These are just suggestions, lessons we’ve learned from some of the best resources we could find, and acquired from seasoned protestors and anecdotal experience. Please protest however you feel is best for you and your cause. We ain’t the cops!]
KNOW WHY YOU’RE PROTESTING
This may seem self-evident, but it’s an important first step to take before joining in any demonstration. Figure out what the hell it is you’re out there to protest against and/or advocate for. The easy part about this is that there are a thousand and one valid causes to take: people are being oppressed, killed, and forgotten by an uncaring order the world over; our environment is expiring; billionaires are hoarding impossible sums of money; and they might even tear out the Brooklyn Banks! Obviously not every cause should be fought with the same level of intensity, but you should honestly ask yourself why you want to demonstrate.
While you should be wary of talking to the press, you want to be able to answer any “Why are you here?” questions succinctly so you aren’t accused of showing up just to instigate. Look to the organization that put the protest together for sources you can use to better understand the issue, they’ll be happy to share.
If you realize that your only motivation is boredom, social media clout, or misdirected anger because you couldn’t land that noseslide the other day, maybe just focus your board and get some therapy. And if you have friends that just want to show up to party and live out their GTA-fantasies, call them out for the kook that they are. Protests are not parades. These are life or death issues we’re talking about, and you should know something about the seriousness of the situation before joining up.
You should also think through whether marching in person is the best way for you to fight. If you’ve got a warrant, know you’re extra screwed if you get arrested; and if you have a medical condition, remember that these things can get rough. If you can’t join up in person but want to support those that can, you can always open up your pockets for one of the many protest organizations or bail fund collectives that have popped up to help free arrested protestors. Check out a list of ones nearest you in this Google Doc.
PLANNING AND PACKING FOR A PROTEST
Once you’ve decided to join up (good on you!), you should plan and pack accordingly. Here are some things to remember when prepping…
FRIENDS – Just like with skating, protesting is better with friends. You should encourage as many like-minded homies as you can to roll with you. Talk through an action plan beforehand so y’all can be on the same page with what you’re willing to do and how you’re getting home. They’re like your protest spotter, invaluable to your survival.
Also, let at least one person who isn’t attending know you’re going, and have them check in on you when you’re supposed to get back. Write down or memorize their phone number–and that of the National Lawyers Guild–somewhere on your body in permanent marker just in case you need it.
SKATEBOARD – It’s pretty cool how many uses a skateboard can have in a protest. You can write protest slogans on the grip and hold it up like you’re posing for The Storm cover. It’s a tried and true device for quickly dipping out of tricky situations. And, of course, it can be used in self-defense. We’ve seen enough videos to know that a skateboard makes for a damn destructive hammer, but it also makes for a fantastic shield, and if you get enough skaters on the frontline you can link together to form a phalanx on some gladiator kind of tip.
CLOTHES – You should dress as unremarkable as possible so that you’re not easily singled out. Comfortable shoes, maybe a cupsole, are good since you’ll be on them all day. And, because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and because the police will use your identity against you, it’s a good idea to come with a mask on or at the ready, with a few backups too. Fortunately, it’s super easy to tie a t-shirt into a nice and tight balaclava.
Thick cotton gloves will help protect your hands from anything too hot. And it might also be useful to pack a spare pair of differently colored clothes in case you want to switch up your look or if your ‘fit gets contaminated by chemical irritants (more on that in a minute).
GEAR – There’s a whole lot of gear you could put on if you wanted to really prepare for a protest. Here are a few useful items you might want to remember though: Bring a snack and don’t forget to consume it; the same goes for water. Hunger and dehydration, hidden by adrenaline, will sneak up on you when you most need your strength. Bring enough to share if you can.
Watertight goggles are useful if you’re afraid you might get gassed or maced (spoiler alert: these days, you probably will!), and if you wear contacts you should take them out so that they don’t worsen any chemical exposure.
Identification is good to have, as is some small amount of cash (less than a complete’s worth), but you shouldn’t be using your credit cards or metro passes while heading to or from a protest. The point is to minimize the ways in which you can be tracked by the powers that you’re protesting against, which brings us to the protestors’ double-edged sword: the phone.
TECH – The cellphone can be an excellent tool to both document the misdoings of the police and to share information with fellow protestors and allies, but it can also be used to pinpoint your location and incriminate you and your compatriots.
There are some really comprehensive guides for protecting your digital security out there you can check out, but the basics are simple: disable location services and data across all apps, use a passcode instead of face or fingerprint ID, and make sure to use an app like Signal that encrypts your messages end-to-end. If you pull your phone out to take a picture–preferably only of the cops–keep it locked in case they get their grubby hands on it.
TO SHARE OR NOT TO SHARE?
It’s only natural to want to share your experience with the world, you’re a skater after all (if you didn’t film the trick did you even land it?). But you should be aware that prominent protestors are often identified and targeted through such documentation, and you should take care not to endanger any fellow protestors by sharing their identity without permission.
There is undoubted power in a beautiful or stunning protest image, but if you find one of those in your camera roll, you should scrub the image of its metadata and blur out any protestors completely. You don’t need to be Atiba or Ako Jefferson to know how to do that though, you don’t even need Photoshop. There’s a handy and easy to use website that helps you do all of the above, use it!
IN THE STREETS
It doesn’t matter if you’re on a scooter or a longboard, at a protest, we’re all in the same fight. Solidarity is key, and knowing the protest plan is a good way to stay on message and moving in the right direction as a group.
Unless you’re in Hong Kong where they’ve got protesting down to a science, attending a mass demonstration can be a little confusing. The best way to figure out where you fit in is to go to a lot of them and pay attention to those that seem to know what they’re doing. Just like you can’t learn to skateboard through YouTube videos, you can’t learn to protest from an online guide, you’ve got to get out there and try it for yourself.
Organizers are invaluable leaders (they’re the ones usually on the megaphone leading chants and telling people which way to march and when), and you should look to them for guidance. But there are some ideas we can take from our brothers and sisters around the world that have proven useful:
Stay calm and vigilant – Your anger is righteous (why else would you be protesting?), but you also don’t want to unnecessarily escalate things. Keep in tune with the vibe of those around you.
Speak strategically – We’ve got no love for the police over here, but it may not be the smartest move to rile up these already disturbed individuals. There’s no need to hug or applaud a cop for doing anything except quitting, but think about what yelling “Fuck 12” in the face of a cop accomplishes, especially if you’re white. Remember that any violent repercussions are going to be doled out to Black and Indigenous folks first and foremost, don’t highlight the target already on their backs.
Lock arms on the frontline – No matter if you’re speaking your truth while kneeling, they might come out and grab you, which is harder for them to do if you’re connected to your comrades. Now’s a good time to remember the Skater Phalanx!
Keep moving – Be like water, fluid, and unbreakable. Bruce Lee’s teachings are good to remember wherever and whenever you’re marching.
Block open streets – The police often try and trap the protestors between their pincers by something called kettling, so it’s good to try and maintain distance between the back of the march and the following cop cars. And, same as if you’re bombing a big hill into traffic, you want to watch any cross streets that pose a potential danger.
Protect the vulnerable – Police target Black and Indigenous people first. So if you aren’t one of these people, you should be looking for ways to use your privilege to protect them. This means white folks should be on the outsides of the masses, consistently putting their bodies between the cops and the targeted. Renouncing your privilege is self-serving, just use it so others have the opportunity to have some too.
Be ready for anything – There’s no telling what will happen at a protest these days. We’re in unprecedented times, and you need to be ready for the worst, unfortunately.
WHEN THINGS ESCALATE
Not all protests turn violent, most, in fact, are perfectly peaceful. But when tensions are high, sometimes shit pops off, almost always initiated by police tactics designed to give them a reason to use all their expensive weaponry. Here are some of their favorites:
TEAR GAS – Though the Geneva Convention made this illegal to use in international warfare, cops use these chemical weapons against citizens all the time. Tear gas’s purpose is to induce panic, so you know it’s going to suck if you get a whiff. Your vision will blur, your skin will burn, and you’ll be coughing worse than if you hit one of Beagle’s big ass blunts.
You can help mitigate the effects in a few ways: a smear of lime juice on the inside of the mask works according to Palestinian protestors, some say vinegar works as well. Oddly enough, breaking open an onion and sniffing it will lessen the irritation in the eyes and nose. A former Marine recommends pushing through the pain until you can breathe again, and then washing everything you have super well.
If you’re an expert-level protestor there are ways you can put out tear gas canisters using leafblowers, traffic cones, and water. You can even throw them or bat them back at the opps with your skateboard.
PEPPER SPRAY – You’ve seen it used nonchalantly against protestors forever, and if you’ve seen them do it to you in person you probably weren’t seeing too well for too long.
“He need some milk” is a common call when the pepper spray starts flying, and while the dairy may counteract the sting, you’ve got to be sure to rinse your eyes out thoroughly afterward so they don’t get infected. Most street medics prefer either straight water, saline, or a 1:1 ratio of liquid antacid and water to clear up your vision.
If you want to be a doc, here’s a good guide to look through to learn how to rinse someone’s eyes out. And remember, try not to jerk off until you’re certain you’ve got all the stuff off, you’ll definitely regret it if you do.
AUTOMOBILES – The most shocking of all the weapons utilized against protestors lately has been the car. This is why it’s important to try and make barriers to block through roads. Sometimes, though, the best thing you can do is stay vigilant and hope to get out of the way.
If you or a homie sustains a gnarly injury of any kind, make sure you take a bunch of photos from different angles and try and take note of when and how it happened. Obviously there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to press charges against the police, but on the slim chance that you can, these will help make your case.
PROTEST AND DESTROY?
“Skate and Destroy” has been a longstanding saying in our culture. Despite its limitations, there’s a fundamental lesson there that’s especially applicable to the question of protest tactics: Things are replaceable; life is not. No building nor brand no matter how luxurious should be valued at anything even approximating a human’s life, no matter what human.
We aren’t here to argue whether or not destruction is a useful technique in protesting (but you should read James Baldwin and even your conservative parent’s favorite peacemaker, MLK Jr., on the riot as “the language of the unheard” for some perspective). It is useful to try and think through the possible consequences that these moves might have though, and remember that those consequences are more severe for some folks over others.
Optics aren’t usually something that’s on the front of your mind when you’re in the middle of a protest that’s taken a turn–it’s a high-intensity and often frightening situation–but you should know that the actions you take will likely be recorded by someone, and they may be used to try and discredit the cause you’re fighting for. Also, and we cannot emphasize this enough, never take an action that puts a more marginalized person in danger.
Police and those that are against the protests will be strategic in the ways in which they try to sabotage a peaceful gathering, so you should be even more strategic about how you choose to respond. Like, if you see a whole pallet of fresh bricks laying suspiciously close to an all-glass building, maybe leave them alone or, better yet, use them to hinder the cop cars from following too closely.
No matter what goes down, remember that things are just things, and human life is the most precious thing of all, protect it.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE ARRESTED
Getting arrested sucks for sure, but protests end that way for a lot of people, and you should know what to expect if you or someone you know gets snatched. Police practices aren’t universal, even day to day they change depending on how pissed they are, but here are a few tips to keep you from incriminating yourself or others and to get you out again as quickly as possible.
IF YOU GET ARRESTED – While there are ways in which you can break out of the zip ties often used by cops, you’re likely not going to get the chance to pull a Houdini and escape. So if you get grabbed be ready for a long and distressing night and morning. Here are three quotes you can keep repeating to try and protect your rights (though those rights aren’t always respected):
“I’m not resisting!” – They’re going to be rough with you, that’s what they do, so make sure to be as passive as possible to minimize the chance that they’ll murder you right then and there. Cooperating with the cops sucks, but do what you’ve got to do to stay alive at that moment.
“I do not consent to this search.” – While this won’t necessarily stop them from running your pockets for any kind of evidence they can use against you, it gives legal recourse for when you make it out of there. Staying silent or responding “fuck you” to a question of if you consent to being searched constitutes a “Yes” in the eyes of their law. (Another example of police not being able to understand “no”.)
“I’m not talking without my lawyer.” – They’ll try all sorts of things to get you to spill the beans on yourself, from buddying up with you to offering a simple warning if you just confess–don’t fall for it. The only thing you should say to them is that you want your lawyer, nothing else until you get one.
If you get a phone call, use it to call up the National Lawyers Guild which specializes in protest law (you should have their number written down somewhere on your body!). Make sure to note the timeline of your arrest and the names or badge numbers of any officers involved, as this might help your case later on.
IF SOMEONE YOU KNOW GETS ARRESTED – Make sure to take notes on the exact time and location of their arrest, and get the officer’s badge number if they haven’t already illegally concealed it. Reach out to the National Lawyers Guild or CreatureFriend.org as soon as possible. Try to figure out where the arrested are being taken, and then be there for them when they get out.
GET READY FOR THE NEXT ONE
The arc of history is long, but it only bends towards justice if we force it to. Protests are not the be all end all of the fight, in fact, it’s just the first step to initiating change. And usually, you’ve got to take this first step a bunch of times because the powers that be keep pushing back at any progress that’s made.
The fight for what’s right is never-ending, so you need to take care or yourself and your community so that you can continue to contribute to it. Skateboarders have inexhaustible energy and a commitment that borders on madness. We fall, we get up again; we fuck up, we learn from it. It’s inspiring to see so many skateboarders extend that spirit in the streetfight for peace and justice.
Stay safe, but keep on pushing – we’re right there with you.