by Alice Pasquini in Madrid
by Alice Pasquini in Madrid
Street art by Farid Rueda
Even before the demonstration in Virginia began last weekend, the police there knew they weren’t going to be able to handle what was coming.
Charlottesville police officers, including Sgt. Jake Via of the investigations bureau, had been contacting organizers and scanning social media to figure out how many demonstrators were headed their way and whether they would be armed.
“The number each group was saying was just building and building,” Via said. “We saw it coming. … Looking at this, I said, ‘This is going to be bad.’”
The protesters’ numbers were too large and the downtown park too small. City officials tried to get the demonstration moved to another, more spacious location, but lost in court after the rally’s organizer, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleged his freedom of speech was being infringed.
The protests, of course, ended tragically. Local law enforcement was widely blamed for losing control of the event and standing back even as people were attacked.
Via maintains that nothing the police did could have stopped the violence between the two sides. “No hours and hours and hours or even months of planning is going to stop the radicals from both sides wanting to go at it,” he said.
With more demonstrations planned in cities across the country, ProPublica interviewed law enforcement experts in the United States and Europe to ask what more can be done to prevent bloodshed at protests where people are spoiling for a fight. The consensus was that additional steps can be taken.
But many of the tactics come at a price. Some could be viewed as impinging on civil liberties and the constitutionally enshrined rights to free assembly and protest. Others require funding and coordination that is difficult to achieve within the fragmented framework of American policing. A few are as simple as strategically placed blockades that keep the two sides separate. Here are some of the top approaches and how they might — or might not — be deployed in the U.S.
Local police forces will increasingly institutionalize the use of drones at mass demonstrations. That’s the prediction of Brian Levin, a criminal justice professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Cameras in the air with real-time feeds transmitted to officers on the ground would allow police to cover more terrain and in some cases, identify potential conflicts before they erupt.
“Demonstrations spread, and these violent confrontations can take place in disparate areas,” said Levin. “It’s like when a hammer hits mercury.”
Drones can also be safer than helicopters. In Charlottesville, a helicopter monitoring the demonstration went down, killing two state troopers aboard.
But police drone use has been met with opposition from civil liberties groups. Drones donated to the Los Angeles Police Department have gone unused for years amid privacy concerns. Activists have argued that access to the devices, which make surveillance cheaper and more efficient, will lead police to more routinely surveil private citizens.
Earlier this month, LA’s police commission gathered to discuss relaunching the program only to be met by chanting activists who shut down the conversation twice. Similar stories have played out in Seattle and elsewhere.
Another tool cities and states (including Virginia) have used is anti-mask laws, which bar groups of people from disguising themselves in public. Violent demonstrators will sometimes arrive in ski masks or scarves wrapped around their faces. New York City has a ban, with exceptions including for Halloween. So does Alabama, a rule it instituted in 1949 to unmask the Ku Klux Klan. A similar restriction in California, though, was struck down after Iranian Americans hoping to safely (and non-violently) protest the post-revolutionary regime back home sued on First Amendment grounds.
State police and National Guardsmen watched passively for hours as self-proclaimed Nazis engaged in street battles with counter-protesters. Read the story.
Another challenge in Charlottesville was the number of demonstrators who came with guns, and were allowed to do so lawfully, because of Virginia’s open-carry laws.
Even in states with such statutes, the authorities have some options. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s law school, said the Supreme Court has upheld the right to have guns at home, but not necessarily in public. “Think of curfews. The government has the ability to take steps to protect public safety,” Chemerinsky said. “The more evidence there is that it’s a threat to public safety, the more sympathetic the courts would be.”
The evidence could consist of past rallies that broke out into violence, or intelligence that an armed group is planning to employ force in the future.
Still, attempts to temporarily restrict gun rights have floundered in the past. Before the most recent Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the head of Cleveland’s largest police union and others called for the state’s open-carry laws to be tightened during the convention. Gov. John Kasich refused, saying “Ohio governors do not have the power to arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights.”
A more radical approach comes from Philip Zelikow, a history professor at the University of Virginia and former executive director of the 9/11 Commission. In 1981, he worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights nonprofit, to ask a federal judge to shut down a group called the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which was showing up armed and in Army-style clothing on the Texas Gulf Coast to harass Vietnamese fishermen.
With the support of the Texas attorney general, Zelikow and his team invoked a 19th-century law that forbids “military companies” not authorized by the governor. They argued that the Klan qualified because it was not government-regulated but had “command structure, training and discipline so as to function as a combat or combat support unit.” The lawyers prevailed, and the Klan was forced to leave its weapons at home.
A similar argument also succeeded soon after in North Carolina, and Zelikow said groups like those in Charlottesville that are mixing weaponry and political activism could be subject to similar legal challenges. “These problems haven’t come up much in recent decades,” Zelikow said. “The issue subsided and memory fades but here we are again.”
Most states have restrictions on private military-like groups. Zelikow was contacted by lawyers from Oklahoma this week, asking if their state had such a law on the books. “It took me about five minutes to find,” he said. Zelikow is now trying to form a team of lawyers to bring a case in Virginia.
Thousands of people, divided into two opposing sides, squaring off in public. Some come armed, looking to damage property and wreak havoc. Many filter in from out of town, complicating efforts by police to negotiate peace in advance.
It’s a scenario European authorities know well, though with a different kind of group: soccer hooligans.
Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a former supervisor in the Israel National Police, said cops in the Netherlands use a “situation-oriented” model to keep violent rival soccer fans under control.
That framework trains officers in perceptual skills, helping them develop the emotional intelligence to read members of crowds and make sound judgments about which situations are truly dangerous. Officers are put through simulations in which they can achieve positive, nonfatal outcomes. Trainings are handled in groups, not individually, so that in the field, officers are less likely to misinterpret any of their colleagues’ motions or actions.
“European police forces are light years ahead of us in terms of training.” Haberfeld said. “It’s not something you can train police officers to do in half an hour. It’s a serious commitment.”
Reaching that level of training may not be feasible in the U.S., where local municipalities set their own academy protocols. (And demonstrations are less frequent than soccer matches.) The training in the U.S. typically lasts just a few months, compared to the couple of years that European police cadets get.
In Germany, police forces commonly have specialized units assigned to each side of a potentially violent protest. Officers meet with the groups’ leaders in advance and discuss plans for the protest in detail, including symbols that are forbidden for display by the government.
Protest leaders can be denied permits to demonstrate because of criminal records, forcing them to turn leadership of the event over to another member of the group. They’re also asked to assign deputies from within their organization who can help the group’s leader keep things under control. Those assistants also have their records vetted by the police before being approved.
Once at the event, the specialized police units show up in distinctive yellow vests, and without riot gear, so they can mix in with the demonstrators less threateningly. When officers see someone with a banned weapon, they sometimes will only film the demonstrator and make an arrest later.
“It is important for us, is not to have a negative solidarity spillover effect. … If we disarm a person or act against a small group of potentially violent protestors, other people around solidarize with them against the police,” said Elke Heilig, head of the anti-conflict team in Pforzheim, Germany. “This leads towards escalation.”
Social media gives hate groups a new megaphone for getting the word out about their rallies, opening up communication with many previously fragmented niche groups and helping lead to larger gatherings, experts said. A big crowd is inherently harder to police, but what makes the scenario even more vexing for law enforcement is that they’re now dealing with not just one or two groups, but many, along with unaffiliated individuals.
“People are coming in from disparate places and disparate groups who don’t answer to any single authority. A Klan leader can tell his folks to stand down,” said Levin, a former NYPD officer. “Social media has been a magnet not only for haters but for unstable haters.”
Some municipalities are responding by using social media tools to dissuade some activists from showing up. City officials in Berkeley, California, have experimented with discouraging peaceful protesters from attending demonstrations they expect to be violent.
In March, fights broke out between supporters and opponents of the president at a demonstration near the Berkeley campus. Some of the unruly counter-protesters were believed to be affiliated with black bloc, an anarchist group whose members are known to wear black and mask their faces. Mayhem ensued. In one case, a man wearing a “Trump is My President” shirt had his face bloodied.
“There are people who come intent on committing violence and they look for ways to subvert whatever you set up,” said city spokesman Matthai Chakko. “There are people who use peaceful protesters as shields. They blend into crowds after they commit their acts.”
In April, before another planned demonstration, the city launched a messaging campaign suggesting peaceful protesters keep their distance. “Consider whether the approach others advertise is the style and venue for you,” one alert read, warning of violent protesters. “Reaching out to organizations or individuals in need is an alternative to conflict. When people at an event act in a way that compromises your values and goals, separate yourself.”
The number of peaceful protesters dropped significantly, Chakko said, and the city is taking a similar approach with an unpermitted, white nationalist demonstration expected later this month. The alert the city sent out Wednesday was direct: “The best response for those seeking to safeguard our community is to stay away.”
Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor who has worked on police reform efforts in Los Angeles, said the most fundamental strategy for dueling demonstrations is keeping the two sides separate, with physical obstacles and police in between. “Create a human barrier so the flash points are reduced as quickly as possible,” she said.
Law enforcement will sometimes quarantine protesting hate groups inside concentric chain link fences, creating a large empty space between opposing groups. Those entering the inner ring are sent through metal detectors.
A group that included many people who were college-educated or ex-military displayed effective planning. “White people are pretty good at getting organized,” said one. Read the story.
At an anti-Sharia protest in San Bernardino, California earlier this year, the two groups were kept on opposite sides of the street, with horse-mounted cops there to prevent protesters from crossing over.
The lack of space to separate the factions was a widely noted problem in Charlottesville. The massive demonstration was allowed to take place inside a small downtown park, making it more difficult for police to insert themselves and separate the two sides. “The two groups are both trying to occupy the same area and this doesn’t give police a lot of maneuverability,” said John Kleinig, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Demonstrators ended up spilling out beyond the park, and one counter-protester was killed when an Ohio man allegedly plowed his car into a crowd a few blocks away from the park.
Demonstrations can in some ways be easier to control in concentrated urban areas, where police use tall buildings with little or no space in between them as barriers. And smaller city police forces generally have less training in large crowd control.
“I’m former NYPD,” Levin said. “We had grid patterns and streets we could block off, put a wedge in when we had an unruly crowds. … You have people hemmed in by structures and street grid patterns. In smaller places, people can spread out in all different directions.”
Since the weekend, amid criticism of their handling of the demonstration, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas acknowledged that crowd’s spread led to problems.
“We had to actually send out forces to multiple locations to deal with a number of disturbances,” he said. “It was certainly a challenge. We were spread thin once the groups dispersed.”
Special correspondent Pia Dangelmayer in Germany contributed to this story.
Street art by Wild Drawing
in Crete isl. Greece
THURSDAY, AUG 17, 2017 01:59 AM PDT
After Donald Trump’s shocking meltdown on Tuesday afternoon, it’s even clearer that progressives need effective strategies to blunt the effect of having a conspiracy-theory-driven, racist authoritarian in the Oval Office, backed by a congressional majority that is still too afraid to offer meaningful checks on his worst behavior. The good news is that some of the nation’s biggest cities and states remain controlled by Democrats. Activists and politicians in those states are looking for meaningful ways to throw wrenches in the Trump agenda.
At the top of that list is California, which not only has the largest population of any state but is controlled by progressive Democrats (relatively speaking) who seem ready and eager to fight Trump, especially on the issues of climate change and immigration. (New York is the next biggest state controlled by Democrats, but intra-party warfare has crippled the ability of progressives to get much done.)
California fired a significant shot across the bow at Trump on Monday, when state Attorney General Xavier Becerra declared that the state would sue the Trump administration over threats to withdraw law enforcement grants if the local and state police refuse to cooperate with federal efforts to deport immigrants. The lawsuit will be joined with an earlier one filed by the city of San Francisco.
“It’s a low blow to our men and women who wear the badge, for the federal government to threaten their crime-fighting resources in order to force them to do the work of the federal government when it comes to immigration enforcement,” Becerra said during a press conference announcing the suit. California received $28 million in law enforcement grants from the federal government this year, money it could lose if the police prioritize actual crime-fighting over federal demands that they focus their resources on deporting people.
“The government’s plan for deporting millions of people in this country is to coerce local law enforcement to be their force-multipliers,” explained Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights for the ACLU of California.
Pasquarella noted that most deportations currently occur because of an encounter with local law enforcement. By resisting pressure to step up efforts to persecute undocumented immigrants, she said, California can make it safe for people to “access basic services that are vital to our state and communities without fear of deportation, like schools and hospitals and libraries and health clinics.”
Some Democrats in the state are trying to take this idea even further, backing SB 54, titled the California Values Act. According to The Los Angeles Times, the bill would prohibit “state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes.”
While SB 54 is still being worked over in the legislature, California has already made progress in resisting the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal Obama-era actions to fight climate change. In July, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill extending a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions until 2030. The bill passed by a two-thirds majority in both the State Assembly and Senate.
Many environmentalist groups have come out against the bill, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough. Still, compared to the federal government’s evident retreat, it’s progress in the right direction. California has the largest state economy in the country, and demonstrating that climate action does not have to undermine economic growth could go a long way towards convincing other states to take similar action. This, in turn, could help the country meet the goals set by the Paris Accords, defying Trump’s efforts to pull the United States out of the historic climate change agreement.
This strategy to resist right-wing policies and protect California residents predates Trump, to be clear. While much of the country was experiencing an unprecedented rollback of reproductive rights — with numerous red states passing alarming new abortion restrictions while anti-choice activists fought insurance coverage of contraception in the courts — California moved to make birth control and abortion easier and safer to get.
In 2013, responding to research showing that abortions provided by nurse practitioners and midwives are safe, Brown signed a law giving those groups authority to offer abortion services. Brown has also signed off on three provisions to make it easier for women to get birth control: Letting pharmacists dispense it without a doctor’s prescription, requiring that health care plans cover contraception without a co-pay, and allowing women to get a full year’s worth of birth-control pills at a time.
These policies were already in place before Trump’s election, but they are all the more necessary now that the president is backing conservative efforts to make contraception more expensive and harder to get. It has also helped create a model for progressive cities and states to resist reactionary policies pushed by the federal government, which is already inspiring Democrats in other states. Chicago, for instance, is also suing the federal government over the threat to sanctuary cities.
There’s a deep philosophical irony here, because for decades now conservatives have claimed they wanted to reduce the power of the federal government and hand more decision-making authority to the states. That was always a disingenuous pose, of course. This conservative “principle” was largely invented to justify state resistance to Supreme Court decisions and federal legislation legalizing abortion, desegregating schools and protecting voting rights.
Still, it’s nice to see states like California calling the Republican bluff and showing that their supposed devotion to “small government” dries up the second states and cities move to protect human rights, instead of to attack them. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has always held himself out to be a small-government conservative, for instance. But his reaction to state and local officials who claim the power to set law enforcement priorities for themselves has been to accuse those officials of being law-breakers. This hypocrisy is already obvious, and it may soon be exposed in court.
FRIDAY, AUG 18, 2017 03:30 AM PDT
There’s no disputing the white anger and rage seen in Charlottesville, even if conservative publications like the National Review say these “angry white boys do not have a political agenda.”
Their anger is real and grievances differ, even if they took the old path of joining mobs spewing racist filth. Yet these white supremacists are blaming the wrong slices of society for their angst.
Racial divides are not what’s plaguing vast stretches of white America — deepening class divides are. If you think about who is to blame, it is mostly powerful white capitalists and their government servants that decimated regional economies in recent decades.
Many Democrats keep saying inequality is the top economic issue, as Eduardo Porter wrote for the New York Times in a piece that recaps the party’s national political agenda. However, the conventional wisdom that Democrats need to “recover the support of the middle-class — people in families earning $50,000 to $150,000, whose vote went to Mr. Trump,” especially in swing states “where three-quarters of voters are white” — is not acknowledging the roots of America’s latest outburst of white supremacy.
“Our economy is in very serious trouble. Ten or fifteen years from now, the standard of living of our average citizen may actually be lower than it is today,” writes Steve Slavin, author of the new book, “The Great American Economy: How Inefficiency Broke It and What We Can Do To Fix It.” “Large swaths of the suburbs will be slums, and tens of millions of Americans will have joined the permanent underclass. There will be three separate Americas — the rich and near rich, an economically downscaled middle and working class, and a very large poor population.”
Slavin cites eight major economic trends, pointing out that almost everyone who is not living in wealthy enclaves — usually coastal cities or inland hubs — is facing a downward spiral that’s been decades in the making. These are the same stretches of suburban and rural America that elected Trump, elected the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, where hate groups are concentrated, and where many of those arrested in Charlottesville come from. They hail from the losing end of the trends Slavin cites and forecasts for the country.
It may very well be that the external circumstances of the whites protesting are “pretty good,” as the National Review’s Kevin Williamson writes, compared to non-white America. That’s even more reason to condemn their visceral rage and hate speech. But as Slavin notes, the national economy and sense of well-being is on a downward slide that accelerated in recent decades.
Those responsible are largely white politicians, white business executives and more recently the graduates of elite business schools — where the curriculum involved outsourcing domestic industries that once allowed people without degrees to prosper.
The culprit here is primarily class — even though race and class are often synonymous. If anything, the downwardly spiraling sections of white America today eerily resemble inner cities in the 1960s, where non-whites called for economic justice. Those urban cores were abandoned after two decades of white flight to the suburbs and manufacturers also leaving.
Here are eight overarching economic trends that Slavin notes have clobbered the middle class, working class and poor.
1. Manufacturing has mostly vanished. Notwithstanding Trump’s announcements that a few companies based overseas are returning, factory jobs have largely disappeared from the interior of America, where from World War II through the 1980s they anchored cities and counties.
2. Many cities have fallen into decline. Starting after WWII, the government and industry promoted suburbia, abandoning scores of cities to the mostly non-white poor. Detroit’s carmakers bought and dismantled public transit. That led to today’s costly transportation needs with a nation of commuters paying a lot for private vehicles, gas and insurance and spending hours away from home.
3. Health care costs have left wages frozen. Average wages have not seen increases, after being adjusted for inflation, for decades. A big part of the reason is businesses that provide health insurance have to keep paying more to insurers rather than employees. Meanwhile, insurers keep finding ways to draw on what’s left in people’s pockets.
4. Public education is vastly underfunded. Suburban schools in wealthy enclaves might be fine, but nationally half of high school graduates are not at the same level as graduates of other countries and their better achieving peers. That forecloses opportunity.
5. The government is not reinvesting in America. This is not simply about neglected roads and bridges. The U.S. government supports a beyond bloated military industrial complex that accounts for 40 percent of global spending on weapons. This may be domestic spending, but it is not spending on domestic needs.
6. The criminal justice system is bloated. Here too, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation; a predatory system that targets lower-income people and creates taxpayer-funded private police forces.
7. The make-work private sector’s useless jobs. This isn’t just the growth of service industries, but “more than 15 million Americans hold jobs that do not produce any useful goods or services,” such as bill collectors, telemarketers, sales reps paid on commission, etc., Slavin writes.
8. The bloated financial sector. This is Wall Street’s diversion of savings from productive investments to speculative ventures, where money is made from tracking the movement of other assets or the public is sold repackaged securities that generate fees.
In every one of these eight areas, wealthy whites in positions of power and privilege have made decisions that collectively have set the country on the path to today’s downward economic spiral. Right after World War II, the federal government would not lend money to black veterans to buy homes in newly expanding suburbs. They gave real estate investors like Fred Trump, the president’s father, money to build what became urban housing projects where many occupants were non-white renters.
There were not many non-white executives in Detroit when the auto industry acted to destroy public transit systems. There were not many non-whites on corporate boards in the 1980s, when the first wave of moving manufacturing abroad hit. The business schools minting sought-after MBAs were teaching predominantly white students to take operations to countries where labor was cheaper, or extolling the virtues of businesses like Walmart that decimated entire Main Streets across small-town America.
The list goes on and a pattern emerges — a class division, more so than race — which has deepened and afflicts America today. As Slavin writes, “Perhaps the most persuasive indicator of our nation’s economic decline is that millennials are on track to be the first generation in our nation’s history to be poorer than its parents’ generation. In January 2017, CNBC reported, ‘With a median household income of $40,581, millennials earn 20 percent less than boomers did at the same stage of life, despite being better educated, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group Young Invincibles.’”
The Young Invincibles are a progressive group concerned about health care, higher education, workforce and finance, and civic engagement. But their name could also be used to describe the belligerent attitude of the white marchers in Charlottesville.
As Williamson writes derisively in the conservative National Review, “What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians—may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis.”
But Williamson only hints at what they seem to want — and it’s exactly what Slavin nails. These angry whites are being bypassed by structural changes in the economy that are narrowing their options. Needless to say, most people in dire straits do not embrace violence and racism. But it seems the heart of their grievances appear to be based on class frustrations, not race. If the white marchers want to blame someone, they ought to point their fingers at the wealthy whites on Wall Street and in Washington.