Activist Defense Tactics Against Police Pepper Spray Attacks

By Black Powder / Red Power Media

Defense Against Pepper Spray

Pepper spray, also known as OC spray, is labeled a ‘non-lethal’ chemical agent used for police crowd control, individual self-defense, and sometimes in case of animal attacks. The chemical that makes it so potent is called capsaicin, which is derived from hot peppers.

Despite the ‘non-lethal’ label for pepper spray is a skin irritant, causing burning pain and excess drainage from eyes, nose, mouth and breathing passages. In addition, it can have dangerous consequences if ingested, or sprayed directly in the mouth/nasal membranes.

Pepper spray is more popular with authorities as an agent of control because of its immediate pain-causing qualities.

Be alert, the pepper spray canisters that do the most harm are easy to spot, they will be about the size of a large can of hairspray. Smaller hand-sized ones are also possible, but their stream and damage is not as dangerous as the larger ones. The large hand-held canisters of pepper spray can reach several feet with full intensity and throw out a much wider stream.

Portland police pepper attack

Portland police officer discharges pepper spray canister at “Solidarity Against Austerity” protest.

Masks and Goggles 

It’s always wise to bring some sort of mask along with you to an action.

Regardless of whether you think there might be a threat of chemical weapons usage, a bandana is easy enough to carry with you.

Why mask up at demos?

The first and most obvious reason why we should wear masks at demos is to protect ourselves from the effects of chemical agents and also the watchful eyes of surveillance. The police and intelligence services are using an increasing variety of methods to document and gather evidence at protests.

Indigenous activist (in a Public Enemies t-shirt) wears a black mask during a confrontation with police officers at Toronto's G20 protests.

Indigenous activist (in Public Enemies t-shirt) wears a bandana as a mask during a confrontation with police officers at Toronto G20 protest.

If you choose to participate in Direct Action then be aware that police will be pouring over video & photos of the demo afterwards and will seek to pin-point known activists and recognizable faces.

It does not matter if what you do is entirely peaceful, the police will still attempt to identify you, create a file and if possible prosecute you.

Secondly, even if you do not plan on participating in the act of disobeying authority or confrontation, masking up allows you to give solidarity to those who do, by hiding them within our ranks. It is much harder for the police to identify and isolate masked up activists if they are part of a larger masked group or one of many similar dressed people.

Demonstrators protest outside the police station on Friday in Ferguson.

Demonstrators protest outside the police station in Ferguson.

When being pepper sprayed police will always aim for your face, so be prepared. A bandana soaked with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice can provide temporary protection.

Bandanas soaked in a solution of 50% vinegar and 50% water make easy-to-carry mask(s) that provide effective emergency protection against chemical agents. Keep them sealed in a zip-lock plastic bag and take out when needed.

White vinegar is harsh on the lungs. However, you can grab a handful of white vinegar in individual packets from a cafeteria or restaurant. They don’t leak and are easy to apply on-site.

In an emergency you can use a wet bandana. Water soaked bandanas are better than nothing, as it helps the bandana from absorbing the chemicals.

There are a few more advanced options for masks but they aren’t necessarily superior to the classic vinegar-and-water bandana.

Dust Mask

Dust Mask

You can go to your local hardware store and buy a small dust-mask (look for one that offers protection against paint fumes). These masks are easy to carry and can be put on quickly but only offer limited short-term protection.

Always have goggles around your neck.


Basic eye protection against chemicals. Costs $5 to $20. To PREVENT FOGGING: Get anti-fog solution. Or simply use shampoo. Smear a light coat on, let it dry and buff off. Don’t wear it tight on top of your forehead while not using – your sweat will fog it.

Swim or Ski goggles, are cheap, simple, effective and you can carry extras for your allies.

Most activists don’t use gas masks or hardware store respirators because they are either too cumbersome, too expensive or get stolen by the police.

Remember to wear long sleeves and cover as much skin as possible.


Police push back protesters using pepper spray. (Cops will always aim for your face) If you see a pepper spray attack coming, duck and roll away if possible.

If you see a pepper spray attack coming, duck and roll away if possible. This requires quick reflexes but often you have a couple seconds of time while the person is reaching to take aim with the spray. If it is being dispersed in a wide area, go upwind of the mist asap.

If you are hit by a blast of pepper spray, Stay Calm. The eyes shut automatically, causing temporary blindness, and the sprayed person, unable to see, often panics.

Panicking increases the irritation. Breathe slowly and remember it is only temporary.

Do not rub skin or eyes that has pepper spray on it, you will increase the contact to your skin/eyes and make it worse.

Seek medical treatment. Make your way to a Street medic or a safe space with fresh air where unexposed comrades can help you, or at least ensure your safety while you treat yourself. Remove contaminated clothing.

Protest, Street Medic.

Protest, Street Medic.

Always carry water, keep it readily available in an emergency. A bottle with a squirt cap is ideal for an eye flush.

Administrating Treatment for Pepper Spray: 

Consent; Do not perform first aid without getting permission from the person.

Eye Flush with just Water (used mostly for pepper spray).

Wear clean latex or plastic gloves when flushing someone’s eyes.

If wearing contact lens, you must remove them or have someone with uncontaminated fingers, remove them for you. Destroy the lenses after exposure, they are not cleanable.

Eye Flush

Have the victim tilt their head back and slightly to one side. With the tip of the water bottle a few inches from the eye to be treated, quickly squirt a strong stream of water into the eye at a slight outward angle. Use a sweeping motion, starting at the inside corner of the eyeball and moving toward the outside. It is important to squeeze hard on the bottle.

Do not simply drizzle or gently squirt water into the eye – use a solid stream of water. The idea is to flush the contaminants out, not to dilute them. Done correctly, this results in a quick flush with minimal amounts of water. Do not flush either eye more than 3 times.

A street medic douses a protester with milk and sprays him with mist after security forces hit him with pepper spray in Ferguson.

A street medic sprays a protester with milk after being hit with pepper spray in Ferguson.

Another remedy for the eyes and mouth:

The Greeks have become seasoned protesters, so much so that many of them don’t leave home without a few essentials. Among the items on the checklist are gas masks, swim goggles, dust masks, a motorcycle helmet, and Maalox.

They recommend an eye flush using a solution of liquid antacid (Maalox) mixed 1 to 1 with water. L.A.W. (liquid antacid and water)This works as a mouth rinse too, as long as the victim is alert and breathing normally. Spit it out after rinsing.

In most places, street medics use L.A.W. as a primary treatment for tear gas and pepper spray victims, even if water is available. Both types of chemicals can be counteracted with L.A.W..

Other treatments like milk, spoil when unrefrigerated and contain irritants such as sugar and preservatives. For this reason, L.A.W. is recommend instead.

The effects of pepper spray are temporary. Discomfort disappears after 5-30 minutes. But diminish sooner with treatment.

The hype and fear surrounding pepper spray is enormous, but in reality, if your prepared, you will survive it with little problem, and be back out protesting within minutes.



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