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  • Monday, August 23, 2004


    Musings on prison and protest

    Shock and awe. This was a theme and mandate for the US invasion of Iraq. This is a tactic that has spread over the last fifteen years in military and law enforcement circles. As the perceived need for S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams has evolved, so too the use of militarized tactics. Overwhelming aggression and domination is taught to immediately control a situation. Loudly shouted commands, intensely intimidating body language, and overwhelming firepower are used to secure suspects as quickly as possible with as little danger to the officers as possible. The goal is to minimize casualties of police, civilians, perpetrators, and suspects. The line between appropriate force and excessive force depends on the situation. Erring on the side of safety for the police is sensible. Until you put police trained in these tactics in situations where a protest rally is taking place. Loud chanting, shouts, sudden movements?

    Here's my little analysis of the police/public protest interaction. In the eyes of law enforcement, protest is, ipso facto, a disruption of the status quo. Law enforcement is protector of the status quo and upholds criminal laws. Therefore it is incumbent on the police to limit or stifle public protest rallies and marches, either deliberately or through intimidation and obstructionism. Laws may be broken at a rally. The police have an interest in arresting lawbreakers. The police don't often know ahead of time where and when laws will be broken. So the police are looking for violations and determined not to let anything get out of hand. In the police's mind, a public protest is, by its very existance, already barely within the law.

    The growth of the SWAT approach to crime has increased at the same time that our prison population has increased tremendously. The US prison system currently holds approximately 2 million people. Think about that number. The US population is almost 300 million so 2 million is approximately two thirds of a percent. Another way of looking at it is that 1 in every 150 people in the US is in jail. That's a lot of people.

    I just found the blog of Micheal Petrelis, a guy I used to know back in the days of ACT-UP Boston in the 1980s. Here's a link to his blog.

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