Preemptive Crowd Control

Why are some protesters treated so differently by police?

| January 15, 2004

'I am seriously worried about the way protesters are being singled out, and met with violent and unaccountable behavior, for legal free speech activity, by police in America,' writes Kirsten Anderberg in a posting to Unfortunately, anyone who heard about the Robocop-like police presence at Miami's FTAA protests in November has reason to concur with her fear. As Anderberg points out and aggressive police tactics demonstrate, protesting -- as a form of peaceful free speech or not -- is definitely not welcomed by the guardians of law and order

According to Anderberg, not only are police more likely to show up at protests than at other potentially dangerous large public gatherings (like sporting events), they are also more likely to treat protesters questioning the government more harshly than those supporting administration policies. She points to a Seattle anti-war protest in March, 2003, at which she claims Seattle police demonstrated a double-standard that favored pro-war protesters and unduly cracked down on anti-war protesters. 'These riot police serve a political purpose of intimidation, and of paternalistic, public repression of free speech,' she writes.

Responses to Anderberg's posting seem mostly supportive of her claims. 'I think that any public gathering that lets people get control of the spaces around them instead of cops or business is dangerous to authority,' argues one reader with the handle Peligro. Other respondents cite instances of police brutality or offered techniques for avoiding the wrath of riot police. The bottom line: don't expect fair treatment if you're protesting government policies.
-- Erica Wetter

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