Police Non-Violence a Break From the Past

The police at this ministerial in Cancun have been incredible
about keeping protesters in their place and avoiding any type of
scandal. Remarkably, the lack of police violence has probably been
the most shocking thing to many activists here. In Seattle, in
1999, the WTO was clearly established as an organization so
contrary to the interests of so many that protests, always
passionate and often violent, would follow it to the ends of the

Here in Cancun the police have used methods that have virtually
shut down the ability of the large-scale protests in nearby Cancun
City to have any direct contact with the delegates at the fifth
ministerial. And unlike Seattle, the police here have done it with
remarkable restraint.

Today was the last major march against the WTO in Cancun. Many
of the same groups came together in what was a significantly
smaller protest than the one on Monday, with upwards of three
thousand people. Once again, the protesters met the barricade at
kilometer 0 of the road to the hotel zone, roughly 8 kilometers
from the convention center.

The barricade, made of three layers of ten-foot fences and
cement blocks, was rapidly torn apart with ropes, wire cutters, and
battering rams fashioned from shopping carts. Once the protesters
faced the police everyone quieted down for speeches. Amazingly,
everyone sat down to listen to announcements by the South Koreans.
‘We have come here to oppose the WTO… we pulled down this fence
together…’ They offered flowers for Kyung-hae Lee, the leader who
killed himself on Wednesday, and burnt an effigy representing the

These symbolic actions, however, are all that is necessary.
There is no hope of getting through the barricades and making it
all the way to the convention center. It would take two or three
hours just to walk there, not even counting the fact that there are
a further dozen barricades the police could fall back on in that
distance. Thus, just as the death of the South Korean farmer was a
symbolic act, so too have the protests been forced to become
largely symbolic.

The thousands that came to the wall of police here today were
dressed ready for battle. Most had gas masks, bandanas, and some
form of goggles. Many had gloved hands for throwing gas canisters
back at the police. Most everyone had some sort of message against
the WTO on their shirt or hat. The police, for their part, were
dressed in full riot gear and as immovable and ready for violence
as the activists.

In Seattle, Genoa, and in other places around the world, police
have violently repressed peaceful protesters. This violence has
galvanized many at the grassroots of the global justice movement.
If police beat people up, if they arrest people who have peacefully
protested, if they shoot people in the face as they did to Carlo
Giuliani in Genoa, then activists take a sort of pride in being
part of a brutally repressed movement that is on the side of truth
and justice. Protesters came prepared for police violence. Breaking
with the past, police have answered by keeping the peace.

Last night, when Starhawk and others protested in front of the
convention center, the police actually brought an air-conditioned
tour bus to give them a ride back to the city. No one was arrested.
Police have taken many blows from protesters. They have been hit by
rocks and bashed with sticks. Today, protesters actually threw a
bucket of shit on police — serious provocation. A few police have
hit back, although this has been scarce and largely in

In this sense, the protesters lost. The media shows people
throwing shit on police and the police hold their line. But in many
other senses protesters have won. This week has been a brilliant,
shining example of positive alternatives for thousands of people
who came here to partake in hundreds of public forums held
throughout the week, including the Peoples Forum for Alternatives
to the WTO, the Fair Trade Fair, Sustainable Trade Symposium, and
the Forum on Forests and Globalization. Many of these people did
not take to the streets.

Taking the streets is an incredibly powerful statement. The
action stops the movement of traffic and commerce in the area.
Attention is drawn to an important issue. This was done with
amazing care and with a small number of people in the case of the
direct action last night in front of the convention center.

When violent protesters take to the streets against peaceful
cops, the only images that result — because the media coverage is
the lens the rest of the world has to view the protests — is that
violent protesters unwittingly turn the barricades around on
themselves, becoming instead the barbarous element. The actions of
the few people who chose violent alternatives at the marches
unfortunately, however, reflect upon us all.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The ultimate weakness of violence
is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it
seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it…
Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder
hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate…. Returning
violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness
to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.’

The unexpected lack of police brutality this time around has
left the protesters wondering what happened. The only way back onto
the good side of the fence, the next time around, is to march
towards the police with open arms and hands raised in the air with
two fingers pointing skywards — peace.

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