Protesting is a right we enjoy when we live in a democracy. Peaceful protest is considered a legitimate way of expressing the way we feel about things that are important to us, a way of letting the government know we are unhappy.
Sadly some protests turn ugly and when they do the change can happen fast. There a variety of reasons why this occurs, from agitators who hold an opposing view infiltrating what would have remained a peaceful protest to high feelings within the protest group that things are not happening quickly enough and maybe more notice would be taken if the protest was more forceful.
If you are caught up in such a situation the reasons for the change are of little importance, getting away from the violence is the only thing that should be on your mind, you can analyse later when you have made it to safety.
Now getting out of a mob is far easier said than done, tempers are flaring, feelings running high. Law enforcement will be in the area and that in itself can pose further problems for someone caught up in an angry crowd…LEO’s won’t stop to ask politely if you are involved. So, what do you do?
Well the obvious thing to say is avoid getting caught up in it in the first place. If you see marchers coming ahead of you go the other way, even if it’s not the direction you need to be going in. Look for buildings, not glass fronted, that you can take shelter in and wait until the mob has passed. Side alleys, gates you can get over or through and even recessed doorways will give you protection. Getting into a car, unless you have the means to drive it away isn’t a wise move and getting under a vehicle is even more unwise. Vehicles are often overturned or set on fire when people are intent on causing mayhem.
If you know that there is likely to be unrest in the area knowing alternative routes that can lead you away from the area is always prudent, carry a map of the area if you are not on home ground.
Right, back to our protest that is about to turn into a riot, if none of your avoidance tactics work what are your options?
- If you KNOW you are going to end up getting swept into the group stay as close to an outer edge as you can. This gives you a better chance of escape should the opportunity arise.
- I’m not suggesting you join in with the protest but DON’T try to reason with people, walk/move along with them offering no opinion, all the time looking for a way out of the crowd.
- If there is ‘wriggle room’ make your way to one side, edging your way nearer and nearer an outer edge of the group.
- Large and fast moving crowds cause more of a problem and as tempting as it may be to move away in the opposite direction and get out of there, unless you are on the outside of the crowd this is ill-advised. Trying to fight your way against a human tide can cause you serious injury and if you go down you will most likely be trampled underfoot.
- Continue moving in the same direction as the crowd but edge your way to whichever side is the nearest to getting you out of the throng. Everyone will be jostling so you going one step forwards and one step sideward will not be noticed.
- If that’s impossible and you are literally getting forced forward your greatest risk is from falling, a huge crowd is an irresistible force. Lace your fingers together in front of you, place your palms on your belly, thumbs on your waist pointing behind you. Move your elbows out and to the front of your body. This creates a space and prevents your chest from becoming compressed which shortens your breath, causes panic and in very large crowds can lead to suffocation.
- At some point the police/military will appear in front of the group. Sometimes they will try to herd everyone in a given direction, other times they will form lines to prevent the protestors from continuing on their route. This is a good indication that it’s going to turn nasty.
- If the crowd stops stop with them, keep your elbows out to prevent chest compression. Listen and watch the crowd. Stay calm and assess if there is any possibility of moving sideward. In large crowds some people may actually attempt to move backwards once the police are around. This relieves the pressure and can allow gaps to open up that you can utilise.
- Any action by law enforcement will usually cause rapid and haphazard movement in the crowd. Take advantage of this. People will often scatter in all directions simultaneously. You should head for the nearest doorway, building or alley and stay there until you have assessed the situation. At this point even sheltering behind a vehicle can give you a few seconds to think. The prime concern of the crowd at this point is to avoid water action the police are taking, not to stop and set light to a car.
- If there is a way to go back the way you came do so but take side roads if you can to get off the route that the protest took. Walk do not run. Running makes it more likely you will fall and more likely police will see your rapid movement which draws attention to you. At the first opportunity get off the street and stay off the street until the situation has resolved.
- If police have cordoned off the area around the protest laying low until restrictions have been lifted maybe your only choice if you want to avoid arrest. Many people in many countries have found it impossible to convince law enforcement that they weren’t involved in flash mobs, looting and riots. If you are dressed in a business suit and were on your way to work and the mob is generally the jeans and hoodie brigade you may be able to approach law enforcement and get out of the area. If you are dressed casually and are of the age group protesting this is far less likely regardless of your innocence. I actually know a guy who got swept into a situation like this in London. He called the police, told them he had ‘gotten swept along’. He told them who he was and where he was and they guided him to the nearest police line – where he was promptly arrested!!! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- If challenged by the police or military stop and raise your hands slowly, palms outwards. Law enforcement will also be on heightened alert, this is no time for a misunderstanding. Dropping to your knees before you are asked to do so, telling them “I’m getting on my knees” shows that you are not going to attempt to flee and that you pose no threat.
Finally – if you have managed to extricate yourself from the situation but can’t yet get out of the area what do you have with you that will be of use?
We should ALL be carrying a few things with us every time we leave home regardless of where we are going and why we are going. An EDC (every day carry ) pack tucked into a backpack or even a briefcase or handbag is a must and can help us cope with anything from a vehicle breakdown to getting stuck at work because a storm has blown in.
What you have in an EDC kit will vary depending on your circumstances. If you work in a restaurant half a mile from home you can forget food and pack something else. What you pack also depends on the time of year, the terrain in your area and risks that may be relative to the area you are travelling in.
There are a few basics however that we can all find useful regardless of where we are:
- Small flashlight with spare batteries or dynamo wind up type.
- Sunglasses, preferably mirrored lens type. Good for snow dazzle as well as sun and for keeping wind and dust out of your eyes.
- Fully charged battery pack for your phone.
- Fire-starter and tinder.
- A brightly coloured bandana.
- Small first aid kit
- High calorie high energy snacks
- A bottle of water
- Lightweight waterproof jacket
- Flat shoes
- A whistle, signal mirror and compass
- Small pack of baby wipes
- Cash in small denomination notes
Having basic items with you all the time makes sense. So many people have been left in desperate situations and have had nothing with them to help them out. Looking after your own needs when the unexpected happens allows you to calmly take stock and consider your options.
You are not having to look for or scavenge a meal or drink, you can start a fire and you have a map. It buys you time to either shelter until the danger has passed or start your journey to safety. You have a means to communicate, a kit to deal with minor injuries and a whistle and signal mirror to attract attention. You are, albeit in a very basic manner, prepared for the unexpected as long as you have the kit with you.
It beats being thirsty, incommunicado and hopeful that someone with a band aid will come and attend to the cut on your hand.
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