Protest Tips: What To Do If You Fall In A Crowd

Molly Longman

People across the world are marching in protest of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black people — as well as the systemic racism and tradition of police violence in the U.S. that contributed to their deaths.

Alvertis Simmons, an activist who’s organized more than 1,000 civil rights marches for over 30 years, led a march of several hundred people in Denver last Saturday. “Our goal was to keep the memory of George Floyd alive, and to say to the police departments across this country that you just can’t shoot or kill or beat up or put a knee on the neck of a Black man,” Simmons says.

Simmons’s protest was — as many of them have been — peaceful. But in Denver and elsewhere in the country, police have used crowd control methods like tear gas, pepper balls, and rubber bullets against rally-goers.

Besides being harmed specifically by actions taken by law enforcement, there’s another risk to consider: falling. It may seem like a small thing, but if you’re in a crowd that starts moving quickly — because police start to lob rubber bullets into the crowd, say — it can be easy to lose your footing. And being on the ground in this situation can be dangerous. You risk being trampled, or having others trip on you and fall on top of you, creating a pileup.

In the following tips, experts explain how you can avoid losing your footing, and how to minimize harm if you do.

Head to a wall. If you’re in a large crowd and panic begins, try to keep moving. Get as far away from the thickest parts of the crowd as possible, and if you can, find a wall so you can brace yourself, suggests Paul Wertheimer, a leading authority on crowd safety and the founder of Crowd Management Strategies.

Get into boxer’s position. That’s feet staggered apart, knees slightly bent. This will help you balance in a fast-moving crowd. You can also keep your hands up at chest level with your elbows out to help retain some breathing room, and to help protect your body if you fall, says Wertheimer.

Bounce back up. If you’re knocked down, try to get up as quickly as possible. Easier said than done, yes. But if you stay down, you run the risk of people stepping on you or others tripping on you, which could create a pile-up. If you can’t get up, roll into the fetal position with one of your sides to the ground. If you’re carrying a bag, hug it in front of your chest with one arm, and use the other to protect your head. “You’re trying to protect your heart and lungs,” Wertheimer says. “If you lay flat on your back, the next person who falls may put hundreds of pounds on your chest. If someone falls on top of him or her, you’ve got even more weight on you and then you can inhale, but can’t exhale.”

Help others get back up. If you see someone who’s fallen down, Wertheimer recommends trying to help them get up quickly without stopping for too long. Pull them up from under their armpits or by their belt loop, he suggests. Getting them up quickly is key in a situation with a panicking crowd, because one small push from one person can cause a domino effect that puts a handful of people off balance. 

Protect your body. Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes to avoid tripping. Don clothing that covers your skin and arms (to protect yourself from chemical irritants, sunburn, and scrapes if you fall). Also bring a bottle of saline solution; it can be used to wash any wounds you may get if you fall, says Michelle Henry, MD, a clinical instructor at Weill Cornell Medical College. Just wait until you’re somewhere safe to check yourself for scrapes and to use the rinse.

Remember your purpose. Ultimately, Simmons stresses the importance of keeping in mind why you’re protesting in the first place. “Remember you’re there in memory of George Floyd and other African Americans who’ve been killed,” he says. “If you keep them in mind, it will help you when problems happen — it will help you with your soul.”

To help bring attention to the police killing of George Floyd, you can sign the Change.org petition here, or donate to local organizations like Black Vision Collective or Reclaim the Block via the Minnesota Freedom Fund here.

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