This is how the country that gave the world the First Amendment now handles protest. There’s a disquieting ease now with which authorities are willing to crush dissent -and at the very sorts of events where the right to dissent is the entire purpose of protecting free speech- that is, events where policymakers meet to make high-level decisions with far-reaching consequences. In fact, the more important the policymakers meet to make high-level decisions with far-reaching consequences. In fact, the more important the policymakers and the more consequential the decisions they’ll be making, the more likely it is that police will use more force to keep protesters as far away as possible. As Norm Stamper said, this unfortunately was the lesson the country’s law enforcement took from the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.
A number of police departments from across the country had sent officers to Pittsburgh to help police the 2009 summit. Nearly all were dressed in paramilitary garb. In one widely circulated video from the summit, several police officers dressed entirely in camouflage emerged from an unmarked car, apprehended a young backpack-toting protester, stuffed him into the car, then drove off. It evoked the kind of “disappearance” you might envision happening in a Latin American country headed by a junta, or one of the countries of the Soviet bloc…Another video showed a police unit with a handcuffed protester. Officers surrounded the protester, propped him up, then posed with him while another officer snapped a trophy photo…As the summit went on, Twitter feeds and uploaded photos and videos claimed (and sometimes provided evidence to prove) that police fired tear-gas canisters into dorm rooms, used sound cannons, and fired bean bags and rubber bullets. One man was arrested for posting the locations of riot police to his Twitter…
A University of Pittsburgh spokesman later said that the tactic was to break up crowds that “had the potential of disrupting normal activities, traffic flow, egress and the like…Much of the arrests last night had to do with failure to disperse when ordered.” Note that no one needed to have broken any actual laws to get arrested. The potential to break a law was more than enough. That standard was essentially a license for the police to arrest anyone, anywhere in the city, at any time, for any reason.
Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko