Protests often draw counter protests. I believe that the worst violence occurs when police focus solely on protecting the free speech of one group as they did in Seattle again yesterday after the death and injuries in Charlottesville, Virginia. Rather than frustrating the mass of counter protestors with blockades preventing their access to the same location (which created confrontations in Seattle), the police should concentrate protections at the main protest location and focus their efforts on arresting people (on either side) who try to violate them. People in front who mask their faces should be directed to remove their mask or move back. Arrest anyone who doesn’t do one or the other and commit to preventing violence only, not free speech.
The immediate use of pepper spray or tear gas is wrong, especially when only a few protestors in the group are acting out. Everyone in that crowd suffers and resentment and distrust of the police increases. Be prepared with backup if property damage occurs or public safety is IMMEDIATELY threatened. The Battle in Seattle against WTO is a prime example. The police heighten the tensions and reacted with force, alienating a generation of protestors. And the things those protestors warned against have mainly come to pass. In addition, analysis of the Battle in Seattle fifteen year later detailed the unenforceable rules that led the police into using excessive force against protestors and all the money paid to settle suits brought due to injuries and the lack of due protest.
Police forces should have learned from such examples as WTO and Ferguson. A recent Nation article stated:
“One of the lessons from the Ferguson protests of 2014 was that large militarized police formations tend to foment protester anger and leave police flatfooted. While police stood defending some imaginary line, a handful of protesters could run free and set fires and fire weapons. The police then used “less lethal” weaponry, like tear gas, on the more organized groups of protesters—most of whom were opposed to property destruction and violence—escalating tensions and hardening animus toward the police. The Department of Justice made clear that the heavy use of tactical teams, police dogs, snipers, and armored vehicles only inflamed tensions in Ferguson.”
Hate groups have limited free speech rights, especially when committing acts of domestic terrorism or urging others to join them. Police and security forces do not have the right to limit peaceful (even if peacefully confrontational) protest to “protest zones” or block individual access because they are carrying signs or wearing clothing with non-violent slogans. That’s what China did for the Olympics and we should have boycotted them then, refusing to participate or attend (President Bush) unless they met their negotiated terms for hosting those Olympics.