Protests and Riots

Seth Manzel

Before struggles evolve into open warfare, they often manifests themselves in the form of protests and riots. People who feel that the political system is not responding to their grievances sometimes take to the streets to demonstrate to the establishment and public at large they are unhappy with the current situation. The objective of a protest is to bring about change through a symbolic show of force. The road to political significance is long and winding for the protester. The activist is depending on many things to be in line for his/her message to be effective.

The protester’s message must be clear and powerful. With all the advertising that the general population is exposed to, it is unreasonable to expect them to pick up on a convoluted or obtuse argument. The real world operates off of sound bites. If protesters can’t get their message across in one concise sentence then they should not expect anyone to understand or care.

The message must be picked up by the media. The effect of a demonstration is very local. Only people in the area of the demonstration will be exposed to the message unless the media chooses to cover the event. Intelligent agitators will understand the need for mainstream media to cover their event. While they may try to compensate for a lack of media coverage through their own, small scale media, the end product will have much less impact.

Activists also have to worry about what the media will do to their message. It is very common for the media to cover a protest, but not say what it is about, or twist the meaning of the movement into something it is not. This is why a concise and message is so important.

If the media does successfully transmit the agitators ideas to the people, it is quite likely that they will not care. In a world of distractions like sports, Internet, video games, and music, it is easy for people to ignore the world’s problems. An apathetic public is the largest obstacle that an agitator faces. Most people in the United States will not be troubled to vote. If the simple act of voting is too much work for most people, then it is an uphill battle for the activist who hopes for people to lobby their representatives for change.

Because demonstrations are not very effective, the establishment is well served to let them take place. A peaceful protest that will not bear fruit in the form of change is an opiate to the small segment of the population that cares enough to act. It is far better that they exert their energies marching, chanting, and holding signs than through direct action or some other, more effective means.

It is also a good way to gather information on dissidents. If a government doesn’t allow peaceful protest, then drives activists underground. Their activities become hard to monitor under such conditions. Many resources are required to form intelligence networks that will infiltrate and gather information on the activities of malcontents. If the establishment allows peaceful protest, it needs only to observe the crowd to identify key players in a movement.

Still, the government will always respect the power of people in large numbers. Even at a pro-establishment rally, one will find police, ready to react to signs of unrest. Crowds, regardless of their purpose, are inherently dangerous. Volumes have been written on crowd psychology. When part of a crowd, individuals will act in ways that they never would alone. In this way, a crowd is an organism all to itself.

Savvy agitators will capitalize on this, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with chants, drums, angry music or even bagpipes. Dissidents will usually place cadre at strategic points in the group to control their movement, initiate or discourage actions, and maintain their focus. Without these key figures the throng can dissipate, loose momentum, or go out of control- causing much destruction. Police responding to crowds face a number of challenges. They must maintain order, which is a fine line between allowing the crowd to have their way and dispersing the crowd. An unchecked crowd that is bent on destruction must be dispersed. At the same time, a rapidly dispersing crowd can cause as much damage as they were when they were rioting.

In a crowd control situation, police must isolate the area, protect likely targets, and maintain control. In countries like the U.S., UK, France and Germany, police are somewhat accountable for their actions. In situations where accountability is an issue, police mitigate liability by applying best practices. In places like Burma or Occupied Palestine, protesters should expect no quarter. This writing will cover the former, in the latter, police will use whatever force they deem necessary.

The first priority for police is to isolate the area. They must prevent the disorder from spreading to unaffected areas. This way the destruction will be minimized. It is important that they move uninvolved people from the area. In this way they can insure that innocent people are not harmed by their actions against the crowd. Police will also prevent unauthorized people from entering the area to keep late comers from adding to the crowd’s strength or possibly introducing weapons. Finally, they have to prevent the escape of people who are bent on expanding the disturbance area.

Police will identify and protect likely targets of destruction or looting. Key buildings like courthouses, jails, banks, and armories will get special attention from establishment forces. This may entail utilizing existing private or proprietary security forces already assigned to these places. In some municipalities, security guards are deputized by local authorities, giving them the same powers as law enforcement agents.

Extra patrols will also concentrate on protecting utilities. If demonstrators were to knock out power to a city, it would draw people out of their homes who would normally never dream of taking part in a protest. It would also promote civil unrest amongst the general population and ensure media coverage for the malcontents. Police cannot allow agitators to take advantage of this obvious force multiplier. Critical services like hospitals and cellular towers also warrant police attention. Taking a radio or television station would be a major victory for dissidents as they would not only interrupt the message of the establishment, but they could broadcast their own propaganda. Police must place a high priority on preventing this.

VIPs like government officials, police administrators, and statist figures also deserve protection. They could be targeted by anti-establishment forces who want their voices heard. Maintaining control of the situation is key. Control activities include monitoring, dispersal, and containment of the crowd. Once police have lost control, any number of evils may be predicated by the malcontents without consequence. However, by judiciously applying a combination of controlling activities, this will not happen.

Monitoring can include any number of methods. Video surveillance is by far the most effective means of crowd control. Individuals will sharply curtail their activities once they realize that their shenanigans are being preserved for posterity, and possibly a jury. For this reason establishment forces have nothing to gain by hiding their video cameras. In fact, Special Response Corporation, a private security firm, goes out of its way to purchase large 1980’s era video cameras to record crowd behavior because of their unmistakable silhouette.

It may be advantageous for police to infiltrate the crowd to identify leaders and eavesdrop on their conversations. Specialized surveillance equipment like parabolic ears, or microwave listening devices may be employed for that same reason.

Dispersal is also a means of control, however it can be dangerous to members of the crowd and to bystanders in the direction that the crowd is driven. Smart incident commanders will ensure that the crowd always has a safe and open route or routes of egress. Sun Tzu warns against hindering a fleeing enemy. Rightfully so- if a crowd is completely encircled by obstacles and police, it is a dangerous situation for all involved. A errant gunshot, the deployment of riot control agents, or the close proximity of the rioters could spark a panic. When a crowd is panicked, it will disperse, even if it involves trampling its own participants or going through police officers. There are many cases of soccer riots where crowds have pushed people through chain link fences like cheese through a grater. It is also possible that the dispersing crowd will reform somewhere else to continue its mayhem where police are not present. For this reason, it is important for police to identify and neutralize insurgent leaders before the crowd is dispersed. It is important to realize that the resolve of individuals is amplified by the crowd, and the crowd is directed by its cadre. Once the cadre are removed from the equation, the crowd will act as it is directed.

Once the conditions for dispersal are right the incident commander should issue dispersal proclamation. It should give specific instructions on what is expected of the crowd. If it imposes a time limit, the amount of time allotted should be reasonable. A commander who gives a large crowd five seconds to disperse should expect casualties on both sides. The proclamation should be in a language that the crowd understands. Giving a dispersal proclamation to a crowd of immigrants in English would be a misguided step. There should be clear consequences for malcontents who do not comply. The consequences should be terrible enough that only the most hardened among them would stay. If the crowd refuses to disperse the incident commander has many tools in his/her arsenal to impel dispersal. Crowd control agents are an effective way to force evacuation. I use the word evacuation because dispersal implies an organic and peaceful exit. Riot control agents will cause a panicked sprint by many members of the crowd. Because of this, the incident commander faces a double liability in that the agents will injure some people in the crowd and the resulting stampede to escape will cause more injuries. However, when no other options exist, the controlled use of these weapons can bring about the desired effect.

At this point it is important to mention the proper use of force. Almost all agencies employ some variation of an escalation of force policy. The idea is that law enforcement agents should use the minimum amount of force necessary to accomplish their objectives. The escalation of force is: shout, show, shove, shoot. Often times, the first two, shout and show, are transposed, but it is of little consequence.

On an individual level an officer may shout by issuing instructions like “Stop. Put your hands up.” The officer shows when he/she demonstrates his/her ability to employ violence like producing a baton. Shove is the application of nonlethal force like actually shoving a person, hitting them with a baton or mace. Shoot is the use of deadly force. Ideally less lethal weapons like the tazer or rubber buckshot should be used in lieu of deadly force, however they are often used in place of a baton.

The incident commander’s actions should also embody escalation of force policies. The dispersement order would qualify as shout. The aggressive posture that riot control officers assume as well as the formations they employ would be a show of force. The employment of batons, tear gas grenades, or mace would be the shove level of force. If all else fails, the use of rubber buckshot, or beanbag rounds would be appropriate.

If it becomes clear that a police department is not following some escalation of force policy, protesters should realize that they are in a very dangerous situation. Murphy’s Laws of Combat state that “professionals are predictable, it is the amateurs that you have to worry about.” Police will only behave as professionally as they have to. If a department is not held accountable for its actions it will commit any number of evils. Especially when the media isn’t looking.

Batons are an indispensable riot control tool. Their presence is a strong psychological tool of subjugation. Guns, mace, fire hoses, and large bore launchers are intimidating, however the fear they produce in people’s minds is somewhat abstract. Most people have never been shot or maced and the idea of a fire hose isn’t all that terrifying. Everyone has been struck by a blunt object before and the pain is quite real to them.

While in the normal course of their duties, police often use extendable batons or side handle PR-24s the longer wooden batons are more desirable for riot control as they provide longer reach and a wider force block. They can be held in two hands and used to push back rowdy throngs.

Fire hoses have become somewhat passe` as they have the potential to produce many casualties and do not produce the same terror in crowds that teargas or shotguns loaded with less lethal rounds might. One only needs to look at Martin Luther King’s march through Birmingham, Alabama to see how dangerous they can be. Fire hoses are hard to control and require several officers to use. They are, however, quite effective at pushing large numbers of people.

Chemical munitions are very effective at challenging a crowds resolve. These agents come in many forms but all have similar effects- they bring about pain compliance by irritating the eyes, airways, and skin. They do carry with them a fair amount of liability. While modern chemical agents are not flammable, they can kill people who already have breathing problems like asthma. Their overuse can send healthy people into convulsions.

There are many methods of employing these agents. The hand thrown CS grenade is much like the military smoke grenade in that it utilizes a pull pin, safety spoon, and internal burning fuse. These are pyrotechnic devices. That fact discourages protesters form throwing them back as it can cause severe burns. It also precludes them from being used in structures or around flammable materials. A non-pyrotechnic alternative is aerosol area denial devices. These are similar to bug bombs. To use them one removes the cap, depresses the valve which locks in place, and throws it. Since these do not burn, there is a risk of them being thrown back.

37, 38, and 40 mm launchers can be used to project chemical munitions further than any officer could throw them. These are usually single shot large bore launchers. The launchers themselves are made by many companies like Arwen, Ramo, Heckler & Koch and Defense Technology. The rounds are produced by Smith & Wesson Labs and Fox Labs. 37 mm launchers and ammunition are available to the public for use as signaling devices. The 40 mm launchers or and ammunition are considered destructive devices by the BATFE and require registration and transfer fees when in the hands of citizens.

Some of the large bore tear gas projectiles are made for crowd dispersal and some are meant for use against barricaded suspects. Care should be taken not to use barricade penetrating rounds on crowds as there is a significant risk of causing casualties.

Large bore launchers are not limited to gas rounds. They can be used to launch rubber buck shot, flares, padded batons (affectionately referred to as Nerf rounds) and bean bags. Solid projectiles are considered destructive devices in the hands of civilians.

Shotguns can also be employed to launch less lethal projectiles like rubber buckshot or bean bags. The shotgun is the most versatile weapon in the police arsenal. In addition to less lethal rounds, the shotgun can be used to breach doors, fire lead buckshot and slugs.

The most common shotguns found in the hands of police are the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500. Both are well made pump action shotguns. One reason that police would use pump shotguns in lieu of a semiautomatic is that the reduced power less lethal rounds might lack the recoil and pressure to work a semiautomatic action.

The possibility of a crowd employing violent tactics is always weighing on an incident commander’s mind. The use of deadly force is in these situations opens up a whole new world of liability. In the best of cases it will be unseemly to fire live ammunition into a crowd of mostly unarmed people. The media will undoubtedly call any slaying a massacre which is an automatic win for the protesters. At the same time it would be irresponsible to take away individual officer’s ability to defend themselves against deadly force.

Individual officers will usually carry side arms unless some department regulation prevents them from doing so in crowd control situations. At one time these policies were common as officers engaged in melees with protesters ran the very real risk of having their pistols taken away from them in the confusion. However, modern riot tactics coupled with triple retention holsters have largely done away with that risk. Triple retention holsters prevent a pistol from easily being stolen by someone who is facing the officer. They typically employ a snapping retention strap like other holsters, but still will not relinquish the pistol without the butt of the pistol being pushed towards the officer’s body and rotated back, then drawn smartly.

The most common police pistol is the Glock. Available in many different chamberings, 9 mm, .40 Smith & Wesson, 10 mm, .357 Sig, .45 GAP and .45 ACP, the Glock design is as versatile as it is reliable. The Glock has no external safeties, save a small lever on the trigger that discourages discharge while reholstering. Some can accept high capacity magazines that hold as many as 33 rounds.

The Glock is what is referred to as a Safe Action, meaning that its striker is held in a half cock position. When the trigger is pulled the striker is drawn back the rest of the way and released, firing the weapon. The lack of external safeties, coupled with the consistent trigger pull makes the Glock very user friendly for untrained or poorly trained people.

The trigger pull is long, but light ( about 5 lbs). This perceived deficiency has been blamed for many accidental police shootings. As a result, the New York City Police Department began requiring a 10 lb pull on their pistols. This trigger system, known as the New York Trigger, is mandated by many departments. Liability has also impelled some departments to install a trigger with a pull greater than 10 lbs, known as the New York Plus Trigger. While this information may seem overly technical I include it because it illustrates the burden that liability places on some police departments.

As I said earlier, it is bad PR for police to shoot live ammo into crowds. However, in the past armed people have infiltrated crowds, using them as cover and concealment. Snipers have also been known to use demonstrations as an opportunity to prey on police or demonstrators. To avoid having the riot line unloading their service pistols into the throng Police Snipers can be utilized. These specially trained officers will often be armed with a scoped bolt action rifle or semiautomatic rifle to observe and if necessary, kill armed threats in the crowd.

They will observe the crowd from a hide and report back on the crowd’s activities. Often times they will be visible on the rooftops as a show of force to discourage the rabble from any shenanigans. Police face many obstacles in crowd control situations. If the crowd is large, it is likely that they will outnumber the police. This is a dangerous situation for establishment forces. They must maximize their effectiveness by utilizing good tactics.

By making good use of choke points they can limit the frontage of the crowd that they are exposed to. The people in the middle of a crowd are irrelevant to the conflict unless they are throwing rocks or firing weapons. Following along this line of thinking, if police position themselves where the terrain forces people to bunch up, they can be more effective than they would in an open space, because they will only have to deal with a limited number of people at a time.

The ability to determine where a free speech zone is a boon to police. If police know or can dictate where a demonstration will take place they can arrange barriers in advance to maximize their advantage. They can make the protesters occupy places that will put them at a disadvantage. Downward slopes will allow the police to be on high ground looking down at protesters. Muddy fields will hinder the movement of the malcontents and discourage them from staying long. Forcing protesters to stand in linear danger areas like roads allow the police the ability to fire into a narrow and captive area without worrying about hitting bystanders or doing property damage.

Protests are taxing on a police department. They require extra man-hours. This costs the municipality money in the form of overtime pay (not to mention property damage). It fatigues officers, making them less effective. It also diverts police resources from important matters. Oftentimes police from neighboring jurisdictions have to be brought in to fortify a department’s numbers.

This is not necessarily a good thing, unless the police are the object of the protest. During a protracted conflict, overworked officers or commanders can make bad decisions that will jeopardize the safety of protesters, police, and bystanders. It is important for protesters to note that in a demonstration, the police, being better armed, control the situation. They hold in their hands the lives of everyone present by virtue of the fact that they are able to bring lethal force to bear. If a demonstration is taking place, it is because the police are exercising restraint. Malcontents should not assume that reliance on best practices is a constant. Police are human beings, when stressed, they can make bad decisions that can result in casualties.

In addition to being well armed, police have many advantages. They can choose the place where conflicts happen by designating free speech zones. They are mobile, and can project force remotely by virtue of a well established communications system. They have a unity of purpose, while the crowd is disunited. They also have on their side legal authority, the veneer of legitimacy, and established doctrine.

They do suffer some shortcomings. They are often outnumbered. They have constraints on the use of force. Reliance on a rigid command/control structure slows their reaction time. They rely on a form of communication that can be jammed and doesn’t work without electricity and batteries. They are constantly burdened by tort liability and the need to maintain a positive public image. Protesters are not burdened by these things. They are not limited by rules of engagement. Demonstrators can act spontaneously and autonomously. They can also blend in with the population if they don’t dress like Sid Viscous.

They are poorly armed and lack cohesion. They also have to deal with the criminal liability that stems from their actions.