I don’t think the police have been handling the crowds that gather to protest Donald Trump with any smarts, any knowledge of crowd psychology, and really any common sense. The old way of having isolated fenced in areas for crowds doesn’t work, and will only serve to both incense and incentivize crowds to break through the fences. Protestors don’t want to be caged a block or two from the venue. If necessary, there can be a safety zone for those who are there to show support for the candidate.
I have never been a police officer deployed at a protest or demonstration. However I was a reserve police officer for 20 years. To that extent, the follow informs my opinions.
Most important, a minimal number of police in their usual uniforms should be there to secure the no-go zone. I think that police in protective riot gear actually encourage some angry protestors to turn against them. I think the soft hat actually protects an officer better than a face mask and ballistic helmet. In my opinion blue (the light shade the better) uniforms are superior to black SWAT type outfits, the tan Sheriff Deputy uniform is even better. Shorts should be worn in the hot weather. Bullet proof vests should be worn under shirts.
When I was a cop I always removed sunglasses when making a traffic stop, and would suggest that police at such protests not hide their eyes behind dark glasses. I’m resisting posting a photo of a much younger me in uniform.
The eyes humanize the police.
The police should understand that protest is a crucial American freedom. People, generally on their own or with a few friends, who decide to head to a Trump rally venue do so for three basic sometimes overlapping reasons: to protest, out of curiosity, and a small minority to cause trouble. The majority are there to protest. Many don’t think about the optics Trump will use against them, if they did, for example, they wouldn’t display Mexican flags or try to get in a TV camera shot and make juvenile hand signals. They certainly wouldn’t assault Trump supporters, and that includes snatching their hats or signs.
By and large, protestors will resist being told how to behave at protests. Unfortunately the police can’t meet with protest leaders in advance and set down reasonable ground rules. That’s because there are no leaders to sit down with. That doesn’t mean the police can’t engage with protestors on a personal level, preferably not through a PA system. (See photo at left)
Skip to the end of the diary if you don’t want to read more about my personal experiences.
These protests are unlike the Vietnam War protests where there were ways to communicate with anti-war protestors, through recognizable leaders at protest rallies and credible anti-war publications.
I was at Michigan State (one of the five state universities described in the book “Campus Wars” left) where we ended up with Walter Adams as interim president just when we needed him. He was a well known anti-war economics professor who the students liked and who probably did more than anyone to keep things from getting even worse than they did.
Following the resignation of John A. Hannah in 1969, Adams was asked by the Board of Trustees to serve as interim president while a selection process could be undertaken. Adams accepted, and was sworn in as Michigan State's 13th President on April 1, 1969.
His brief, nine-month term was marked by the same campus unrest and student protests that were occurring across the United States in 1969. Adams was, however, frequently able to defuse tense situations using a combination of self-effacing humor and a willingness to engage the students personally in open dialogue.
In spite of his limited administrative experience, Walter Adams carried Michigan State University through a very difficult period in student/establishment relations. The students' positive impression of him may be seen in the numerous pro-Adams editorials that were published in the student paper, The State News. His success can be measured by the fact that toward the end of his term, petitions requesting that he remain as president had collected the signatures of some 950 faculty and 20,000 students—approximately half of the entire student body.However, he stuck to his original promise, and on January 1, 1970, Walter Adams returned to what he considered his true calling, economics.
In 1971, Adams published a memoir of his experiences as president, titled The Test.
Still, students broke store windows and the police ended up using tear gas from time to time. A huge student march which stretched for miles went up the main drag from East Lansing to the State Capital Building in Lansing. There was only one serious incident. That was when a outraged pro-war supporter tried to drive through the crowd at an intersection and injured several marchers. I was there near the front of the march, my soon to be wife was somewhere behind me. When the word travelled quickly mouth to mouth up to where I was that this happened and students were hurt, I was scared that my then-girlfriend was one of the victims.
But I digress.
What should and shouldn’t police do?
They should announce that no personal assaults, even grabbing a hat or sign, or property damage, will be tolerated.
They should make it clear that supporters leaving a rally must not have their exit thwarted.
They will announce that nobody will be arrested for unlawful assembly.
Trespassing on certain private property like a garage or parking lot — will not alone be grounds for arrest. Entering a building will be forbidden.
They should stop looking like storm troopers and employing the crowd moving tactic of advancing in a line towards a crowd unless a really riot arises. Those police should be at the ready but kept out of sight.
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