Bill Quigley is a lawyer with decades of experience fighting for justice on behalf of vulnerable populations and defending the rights of protesters. He doesn’t need magical powers to see into the future to know how police in Ferguson are likely to respond to energetic and passionate protests after the Michael Brown grand jury decision comes down. He knows what they are going to do because it’s what police always do, unless strong safeguards are in place. The police have already set the stage to allow them to deploy these tactics, in a series of press conferences and appearances they have alluded to the threat of violence from “some” of the protesters and stocked up on riot gear. Property owners have gotten the message and boarded up windows, and some cities have warned residents to prepare “as if for a storm.”
#1: Try to stop people from protesting. The police all say they know they have to let people protest. So they usually will allow protests for a while. Then the police will get tired and impatient and try to stop people from continuing to protest. The government will say people can only protest until a certain time, or on a certain street, or only if they keep moving, or not there, not here, not now, no longer. Such police action is not authorized by the US Constitution. People have a right to protest, the government should leave them alone.
During the protests this summer, the police imposed a “5-second” rule on protesters. They wouldn’t let people stand still for more than 5 seconds! The rule was struck down by a federal judge.
#2: Provocateurs. Police have likely already planted dozens of officers, black and white, male and female, inside the various protests groups. These officers will illegally spy on peaceful protesters and often take illegal actions themselves and encourage other people to take illegal action. They will even be arrested with others but magically not end up in jail. Others inside the groups will be paid to inform on the group to the government. Comically, when undercover police are uncovered they often claim they have a constitutional right to be there and try to use the constitution they are violating as a shield!
This tactic is as old as the FBI itself. Perhaps the most notorious agent provacateur in recent years is Brandon Darby, and activist-turned FBI operative who encouraged two young activists to make molotov cocktails at the 2008 Republican National Convention.
#3: Snatch Squads. Police will decide who they do not like or who they think are leaders. Then they will use small heavily armed groups to knife into peaceful crowds and grab people, pull them out and arrest them.
Chicago police used this tactic at the NATO protests in 2012, as Security Magazine reported, “The police force handled troublemakers in a very focused way, as officers were trained to “surgically extract” individuals who broke the law in a way that disrupted crowds as little as possible.”
#4: False Arrests. The police will arrest whoever they choose whenever they choose and will make up stories to justify the arrests. If people are breaking glass or hurting others, those arrests are legal. However, the police will arrest first and sort out who they arrested later. Police in Ferguson have already wrongfully arrested legal observers, a law professor, and church leaders.
The excessive arrests also help promote the narrative that the protesters are dangerous or criminal. As one example of wrongful arrests, look at the roughly 2,600 people who were arrested in NYC over the course of Occupy Wall Street, but charges were dropped for all but a handful.
#5: Intimidation. As they have shown many times in Ferguson and all over the country,once the protests heat up, police will show up in full riot gear, dressed like ninja turtles (big flashy guns, plastic shields, big batons, shin guards, gas masks, flex cuffs) and act like they are military warriors protecting people from ISIS invasion.
#6: Kettling or Encircling. The police will surround a group and pen them in and not let them move. They will either arrest all or force them to leave in one direction. This, as the police know fully well, always sweeps up innocent bystanders as well as protestors. NYPD did this with hundreds on Brooklyn Bridge and at many other protests. Sometimes they deploy orange plastic nets or snow fencing, sometimes just lots of police.
On the bright side, this is tactic has often led to lawsuits with big payouts to protesters. For example, $1 million paid to 150 San Franciscans who were kettled in 2010 protesting the light sentence a transit cop was given for killing Oscar Grant, an unarmed African American man.
#7: Raids on supportive churches, organizations or homes. Often the police make illegal pre-emptive raids on places where volunteers are sleeping, cooking or parking their cars. They lie to locals and accuse the protesters of links to violent organizations.
For example, police raided the “Convergence Center” for activists organizing protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008 in St. Paul, MN.
#8: Pain Noise Trucks. Police will also use LRAD noise trucks (Long Range Acoustic Device). First used in Iraq now used against peaceful protesters in the US. The trucks blast bursts of sound powerful enough to cause pain. Never approved by any court, this intentional infliction of pain is another sign of the militarization of the police. Police also use MRAPs Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles – heavily armored trucks which look like tanks but roll on wheels not treads. This is part of the intimidation.
The LRAD made it’s debut as a tool to thwart protesters at protests in Pittsburg during the G20 summit in 2009.
#9: Arrest reporters. When the police are feeling the heat of public view, they will force journalists away from the protesters. Those who insist on engaging in constitutionally protected activity and returning to the scene will be arrested.
#10: Chemical and other weapons. When the police get really desperate and afraid, they will try to disperse the entire crowd with pepper spray, tear gas, and other chemical weapons, rubber or wooden bullets. If this happens the police have just about lost control and are at their most dangerous.
Yep, this has happened already in Ferguson, and Occupy. Bill notes that there will be “Dozens and dozens of different police forces which will be surrounding the protesters in Ferguson when the Michael Brown verdict is announced. There will be federal FBI agents, Homeland Security, US Marshalls, State Police troopers, County Sheriffs, and local city cops from the dozens of little towns in and around St. Louis.” But there will also be legal observers, legal workers and lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild, ACLU, Arch City Defenders and the Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment… all dedicated to protecting the rights of protesters.