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Ugh, but not ugh everywhere.

Your Humble Blogger notes that the Oakland OWS/99% rally clashed with police (quoting from the headline there) in a series of terrible, violent skirmishes. Charlie Pierce makes a national connection in Occupy Oakland and the Militarization of America's Police, and he certainly has a point, but I think it's important to think about it locally. The trend to militarization is nationwide, but not every city is an Oakland.

Here's the thing: The Bay Area has a long history of the police and the citizenry viewing each other with hostility. There are times of rapprochement, of course, and things are different not only city to city but neighborhood to neighborhood, but in a general way, the police are not viewed as being there to protect the interests of the residents, and the residents appear to be viewed by the police not only as potential criminals but as some sort of unarrested perpetrators, under suspicion and only temporarily allowed to walk free. Do I exaggerate? I do, but not by all that much, and there are probably some neighborhoods that it's every bit as bad. I know this has been true in parts of Greater Boston, in parts of the District of Columbia, in parts of Los Angeles, in parts of some other cities—but it isn't true of everywhere, doesn't seem to be true of Hartford (oddly enough), or of Albany, or of Austin. I could be wrong about those, sure—I was going to put Atlanta as one of my As when somebody told me different. And, of course, where the police and the residents get along pretty well, it's largely due to a deliberate policy on the part of the elected city officers and the police officers. The community policing effort was successful-ish, in places, as were some other efforts (actually including zero-tolerance in some places, I understand, tho' YHB remains skeptical about that).

Anyway, here's (as I say) the thing: whenever there is a large protest on hand in a city where the police feel themselves surrounded by hostility, they prepare themselves for a riot. They need to—there were bound to be people at the rally who resented and feared the police (possibly different police, it not always being easy to remind yourself in the heat of the moment of the bureaucratic divisions in law enforcement), and even a half-dozen angry people can tip a rally into a riot. Of course, another thing that can tip a rally into a riot is a hostile police force turning up with their riot gear looking for one. You know? I blame the police, of course, for their actions, but I also feel sympathy for them, both for the officers making decisions this week and for the cops on the ground, who know they are in the middle of something not easily controllable.

The only reason I'm bothering telling you so is that bit about deliberate policy I was talking about above. Reconciliation in the Bay Area is a long way off, but in your city or metropolitan area now is the time to support politicians and community leaders who are working toward it. Now is always the time, of course, but as a counterweight to that trend of militarization that Mr. Pierce is on about, now is especially the time. You'll have to figure out what that means in your town—encouraging good practices already in place or reining in bad ones that are entrenched, investigating bad apples or developing contacts, supporting youth leagues or just smiling and shaking hands and introducing yourself. I'm not saying it's easy, or that any one technique is the right one for your town. And believe it or not, there are places worse than Oakland. But most of us don't live in them, and don't have to let our towns get like that.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Sadly, we eliminated our community policing effort. We use cops to do dispatch and answer 911 calls, and they resent it tremendously, which does no favors to 911 callers. They have spent years refusing the local administration's demands that they engage in parking enforcement and traffic enforcement, as well as flat-out refusing to take reports about vandalism, and this fall have told residents that it would also be a waste of their time to respond to ongoing drug dealing and car break-ins. They do have a spiffy television that several of them sit around watching in the dispatch room pretty much all the time. It's hard to believe that they could possibly be bothered to show up to hassle/abuse/mock protestors at an Occupy Medford rally unless it was going to be approved for paid overtime, and that's unlikely in this current fiscal climate. They may have military-style hardware available, and many may have the right sort of violent streaks, but they just don't have any unit cohesion and they definitely don't have a command structure.


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