Remembering May Day, September 26, October 22, and New Year's Eve

City Council Considers Crowd Control
At a January 18 "informal session" of City Council, Chief Mark Kroeker and other police officers testified about the Bureau's approach to crowd control. While this was ostensibly a meeting to discuss changes enacted since May Day, the police took the opportunity to complain about public scrutiny and promote the permit system for marches and demonstrations. The downtown business class came to show solidarity with the armed defenders of privilege by packing the hall and wearing stickers reading "Protect Our City."

scary riot cops

About the nicest thing one can say about Kroeker's "May Day Follow-Up Report" is that it is brief. Rather than re-hash the Chief's controversial account of what happened on May 1, the report focuses exclusively on what little has been done since then: The cops are ordering better communication equipment; the use of ATVs in crowd control has been restricted; and the mounted patrol is being incorporated into a 76-member Rapid Response Team--a designated Riot Squad (Oregonian, January 22). In other words, despite the public outcry over the police attack on May Day, Chief Kroeker is only promising better organized repression.

Worse yet, Kroeker reports that of 23 Internal Affairs complaints filed in the aftermath of May Day, only three were ever investigated. The police cite as an excuse the inability of witnesses to name specific officers. But that just verifies what protesters have said for a long time--that the cops use the anonymity provided them by riot gear to escape being held accountable for brutality.

The Council asked no hard questions and allowed no one critical of the police to even speak. Council was happy to leave unchallenged the cops' assertions that black masks signal trouble, that the permit process is the key to success, and that police are only interested in enforcing the law. Commissioner Francesconi even went so far as to praise the "amazing restraint" the cops showed last September 26, when they arrested 29 people and injured dozens of others breaking up a protest/dance party (see PPR #22). Oddly, the Council was prevented by its own rules from adopting the May Day follow-up report in an informal session, leaving the document in an un-official limbo.

Police Praise Parade Permits

During this discourse, the police repeated one major theme: There wouldn't be any troubles if those damn protesters would just get a permit for a legal march. They stressed the illegality of blocking traffic, the inconvenience demonstrations cause commuters, and the ease and affordability of obtaining permits, pointing to the October 22 March Against Police Brutality as an example of the process' overwhelming fairness and success. Somehow, they failed to mention the hundreds of dollars the permits cost the organizers of October 22, or the fact that police used the permit process to impose restraints on the crowd, or the police's attempts to use the permit process to gather intelligence on activist groups. Police gave no indication that their standards of success might differ from those of the activists.

Police Provoke Pissed Partiers

As long as they were talking about crowd control, the cops decided to address their behavior at the New Year's Eve riot as well. The police story is that a 2000-person strong inebriated mob, enraged by the absence of New Year's Eve fireworks, decided spontaneously to break windows and throw bottles at the police. The cops, meanwhile, were caught completely off guard. They were out- numbered. And, they say, they were afraid of the scrutiny that would follow if they broke up the crowd. (Though they did eventually do just that, leading to nine arrests and an unknown number of injuries--Oregonian, January 2.)

Katz and Kroeker were then quick to tour the ransacked downtown, offering assurances to business owners that the responsible hooligans would be put in jail (Oregonian, January 3). The news media was eager to help in the effort, running photos of suspects wanted by police (Oregonian, January 5).

People on the scene suggest, however, that things weren't as the police say. Witnesses told the Portland Alliance (February 2001), that Officer Dane J. Reister (DPSST #31663) and another unidentified officer attacked two drunk but passive teenagers, leaving behind a puddle of blood, several teeth, and a very angry crowd. Members of the crowd were apparently discussing this situation just before things escalated.

An Anti-Authoratarian Analysis

A certain pattern presents itself here: three times in the last year (May Day, S26, and New Year's) the police have over-reacted to a rowdy but mostly harmless crowd, escalating tensions and leading to direct confrontation. This is the predictable result of their approach to crowd control. It was exactly because police violence tends to produce riots that the "escalated force" strategy was replaced 30 years ago with a "negotiated management" strategy. With escalated force, the police arrive at the demonstration in large numbers, make a deliberate show of force, issue the crowd orders, and attack if they aren't obeyed. Under the negotiated management approach, police cooperate with demonstration leaders for the purposes of controlling the demonstration. This allows the cops to know what to expect, to gather intelligence, and to relegate demonstrations to times and places where they will be the least disruptive (and often, the least visible). If this sounds familiar, it should: it's exactly what the Portland Police are trying to achieve through the permit system.

What we are seeing, in short, is the militarization of the police (allowing for an increased capacity for violence) paired with "community policing" techniques like the co-optation of the media and the "management" of demonstrations through the permit system. By using these strategies in concert, the police can control demonstrations in advance, through the permit system, or on the streets through violence (or both). Either way, they are well poised to control dissent.

For more info, see the article by Kristian Williams of Copwatch in the December 2000/January 2001 Clamor Magazine.

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