Today protesters in Minneapolis shut down the airport and the largest mall in America. Of all the protests so far, I think these two events are the most high profile yet. I also don’t know if they are as effective as they were a year ago. City governments don’t seem to be any more responsive than they were before the protests started.
In reading today’s news I had to wonder, will the protests ever get so big that the city decides clearing the streets is more important than not hurting people while they do so?
Plenty of people have been hurt by the “non-lethal” weapons employed by police. The protest hashtags on Twitter are filled with pictures of the injuries from rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray. But so far the police have not flat-out opened fire with live ammo on a large group.
But could that happen? Probably not.
I would say (cynically) the main reason is that it would look bad . Dead bodies stacked like cord wood is not something a mayor or governor wants on the news. Also the protests haven’t reached a point where killing people is seen as the rational solution.
In Minneapolis the protesters mostly dispersed after a large show of force. The airport and mall weren’t filled with tear gas, and most people involved want to spend the night at home, not in a jail cell.
But what about when the protests do become disruptive enough for a serious response?
That’s when an overwhelming show of force would make people have second thoughts about coming out to protest. Mass arrests coupled with public humiliation and a criminal record would deter all but the most determined protesters. Everything is in place already. Only a few changes in tactics and the police could end most protests as quickly as they begin.
From watching the videos of police in action, they seem to cherry-pick who gets arrested. That person is singled out, then cuffed and let away. This also takes personnel off the front line as they have to transport the arrestee. If they decided to be brutally efficient about it, no one would be transported until everyone was cuffed. With a few three-man teams the police could work their way through the crowd. The first team member would immobilize the target with a handheld stun-gun. The second would zip-cuff the target’s wrists and ankles, while the third keeps the target from falling. The dazed protester is laid on the ground and the teams keep moving through the crowd until everyone in the area is subdued.
If the police managed to shock and cuff 200-300 people I’d think they’d want to let some go just to save on the processing at the jail. If an enterprising district attorney were to prepare a citation in advance, most of the detainees could be kept from protesting for at least a year. The citation would simply be an agreement to not press charges if the detainee agreed not to protest in the future. If they were arrested at another protest, they’d be prosecuted for both offenses. This is already a common tactic courts use to mandate a period of good behavior while reducing their workload.
The last step would be to publicly identify who took the deal and who didn’t. The police already use marking paint to tag people and cars they want to find later. Banks do something similar by putting exploding dye packs in a robber’s bag. The detainees would be given the option to take the ticket or go to jail. If they took the ticket, they would have to acknowledge it by using their nose and a stamp pad of marking ink to “sign” the ticket. Then they could be released.
This would also leave the marking ink in a very visible place. To some this would be a source of pride for having attended the protest. To others it would be a sign of untrustworthiness, as they took the easy way out to avoid jail. Plus the city would have leverage over them by holding the charges over their head. Just knowing the marking ink was in use would also discourage participants who have a public facing job or work for a conservative employer.
I’ll grant that these ideas are based in fiction, but it’s easy to see that what could be done isn’t that far from what’s already happening.