While celebratory crowds have gathered in Baltimore following today’s announcement that the six police officers suspended in the Freddie Gray case will be arrested and charged, this is only the beginning of a long trial yet to come, both in and out of court.
In the meantime, local organizers here have decided to continue peacefully protesting as the city’s 10 p.m. curfew remains in effect through the weekend. Protests have also erupted in places like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Oakland this week, but Baltimore remains the epicenter: On Monday alone, more than 200 people were arrested during local riots and held without charges for well over the 24-hour limit legally allowed by the city. Roughly half of those prisoners were released on Wednesday after being held without even officially filed statements by their arresting officers or any record of probable cause.
On Facebook yesterday, Baltimore public defender Marci Tarrant Johnson described the horrific scene inside the cells, noting that those detained weren’t given clean drinking water and were so sick of eating plain slices of bread that they instead saved the slices to use as pillows as they laid on the floor. “One detainee’s lawyer informed me on Wednesday at bail hearings that some of those arrested had been crammed into cells without enough bench room, “ local reporter Caitlin Goldblatt told me yesterday after cover the bail hearings at the courthouse. “Everyone else had to stand because the floor was covered in dirty water from the cell’s overflowing toilet, and guards wouldn’t fix [the toilet] because they blamed the detainees for it.”
This sort of lack of communication seems to be a recurring theme between different levels of Baltimore government at the moment. And as the protests expand outwards, inching closer to being the closest thing to a national civil rights movement the country has seen since the ‘60s, there are some things you should know before you set out to join the movement. Our friends at Lifehacker have covered this topic before, but given recent events, it’s high time for an update, and I’ll start it with this: Whatever you do, don’t get arrested, especially in Baltimore.
Beyond that, here’s what you need to know.
Traveling lightly might seem ideal for the amount of walking you’ll be doing, but we’ll recommend that you pack for survival. Carry a bag that leaves both of your hands free (backpacks are ideal) and fill it with the following:
- Water. One or two bottles. Sub one out for Gatorade or the like if you expect to be out all day.
- Fuel. Ideally protein bars or a high-energy snack (nuts, dried fruit, trail mix). You don’t want to faint.
- Prescription medication. Be safe and carry an extra of everything: an inhaler refill, any meds you regularly take, etc.
- Medical supplies. You can find a travel-sized kit with bandages, alcohol wipes, and gauze at most basic convenience stores. Or just drop some of the above into a ziplock bag along with some aspirin and antacids. In a separate ziplock bag, carry a handkerchief soaked in vinegar, which will come in handy if you’re part of a crowd that happens to get tear gassed.
- Your cellphone. Make sure it’s charged and close all running apps to preserve the battery. (Note: If you’re arrested, your phone can be searched. The EFF has a thorough guide on cell phone precautions during a protest.)
- A backup battery/charger. The portable kinds are regularly behind the counter at convenience stores and bodegas. Electronic stores definitely carry them, and they come as cheap as $5-$10.
- A permanent marker and a small notebook. After all that, your phone might still die. You’ll want these on hand to take down important information, like badge numbers or information shared by other protestors.
- Important numbers: You’ll want to use that permanent marker to write down phone numbers on your arm: Specifically those of an emergency contact, a lawyer or public defender’s office, and other important people you may need to get in touch with.
Wear clothes that are easy to move in and won’t irritate you after being out for a few hours. Wear full sleeves and pants if possible to protect from smoke or gas or whatever else might be in the air. You’ll be on your feet, so make sure to wear sneakers or walking shoes. Bring a bandana along to cover your face for protection or anonymity.
In the event you are taken into police custody, the U.S. constitution provides you with the right to remain silent, be informed of any charges against you (and their penalties), speak to your attorney (or have one appointed if you can’t afford one), and have a judge decide whether or not you should be let out of jail until your trial.
The police are allowed to ask you processing questions like your name and address. You are required to comply with their requests for this type of information regardless of your right to remain silent. You do not have to answer personal questions, questions pertaining to the crime for which you are charged, or answer anything without an attorney present.
Your silence cannot be used against you, but what you say or write can. If you want to answer their questions with a legal counsel, be sure you tell them immediately. The police are not allowed to question you without a lawyer, once requested, unless you later waive that right.
Earlier this week, a pair of Baltimore City Paper reporters were photographed while trying to keep drunk sports fans from antagonizing legitimate protestors (by throwing bottles and shouting racial slurs). The images went viral, as did a wildly false narrative about what was happening in them. (You can read about all that here.) Remember: Participating in any sort of public protest makes you fair game for TV cameras, news photographers, and personal cellphone videos and social media. Cameras tend to pick out those wearing slogans, dressed in bright colors, or carrying large signs. Know that and be okay with that.
I’m going to sound like your mom, but stick close to friends or people you know. Have a roll-call buddy who you check in with if you’re separated by a crowd or some sort of scuffle. Also, have a “home-base” friend outside of the protest who you update every hour or two with your location. Should you go missing for a few hours, it’s good to have someone on the outside know where you were last, and what local stations or hospitals they should call to check in for you. (This may sound extreme, but Baltimore’s cell service has been particularly and suspiciously terrible right as curfew hits downtown, which is also when cops are allowed to arrest people just for walking down the street on their way home.)
The fastest way to get and send information to a public audience is Twitter. Follow your local city police and traffic or emergency-alert accounts. Also follow protest-organizer accounts, local media sources (local alt-papers and radio are often the most reliable), and other folks who seem to be breaking the most relevant information about conflicts, city decrees, or route information.
Print out a map of the approximate area the protest/march will cover, if possible; highlight the route and make notes of any known police blockades and other existing barricades to crossing certain streets or areas. You’ll want to make note in advance of places along the route where you can safely dip out if you need to. (And that’s okay! When things get hairy or when you’re too tired to continue on, that’s okay.)
Good luck out there.
Photo by AP Images.