|09/09/2020 | US - The art of war: Portland protesters find tactics old and new in strange nightly battle with police
Shield walls have been used on battlefields from ancient Sparta to Hastings in 1066 — and now on the streets of Portland, Oregon.
come nightly carrying homemade shields and protective armor, forming a wall in
the streets, ready to test police officers who stand between the demonstrators
and their targets for mayhem.
protesters also combine the Space Age with the medieval, arming themselves with
lasers, used to dazzle cameras and distract police officers. Green lasers are
most common, but blue lasers are the most dangerous. They are hot enough to
ignite paper and, according to police, to scorch an officer’s skin.
tactics of protest have evolved greatly since the peaceful marches of the civil
rights era and the more violent days of the 1970s. They also have gone
worldwide, with anti-police protesters in Portland and Seattle learning from
the anti-communist protests in Hong Kong and others elsewhere.
means black clothing, which helps create anonymity in the crowd, making it
tough for authorities to pin a particular act on a particular person. Umbrellas
are used to block cameras, and fireworks and smoke are deployed to confuse.
Even leaf blowers have a use: to push tear gas away from protesters. All those
tactics got their start elsewhere but have been used to great effect on the
streets of the U.S.
haven’t done a systematic analysis yet, but clearly there is a lot of diffusion
happening, particularly in terms of defense against less lethal weapons,” said
Lesley Wood, a sociologist at York University in Canada who studies protest
movements and policing.
majority of demonstrations this year in the U.S. have been peaceful.
Fisher, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland who studies protest
movements, conducted a survey of the crowd reliving Martin Luther King Jr.’s
historic march on Washington on Aug. 28. She found that only a third said they
had engaged in “direct action” demonstrations over the past year.
Portland, while thousands have marched for racial justice, those committed to
chaos number only a couple of hundred, though they turn out night after night
prepared to battle police. It’s usually easy to tell who they are.
who are expecting to get arrested, they gear up, they write numbers for people
to bail them out on their arm,” Ms. Fisher said.
the gear has been standard for decades, such as bottles filled with gasoline
and covered with a wick — the Molotov cocktail. Throwing rocks from the street
has been a mainstay of protests for far longer.
say they also have confiscated stun guns, batons, knives and the occasional
firearm. Federal authorities, who deployed agents and officers to Portland,
reported facing sledgehammers, metal pipes and improvised explosive devices.
filled with urine or feces also have been lobbed.
there are the lasers.
green. Although they are sold as laser pointers, they are often powerful enough
to injure the eyes. The Department of Homeland Security said its agents and
officers deployed to Portland have sustained more than 100 eye injuries.
have nabbed some laser operator suspects.
prosecutors last week charged Hugo Ryan Berteau-Pavy, 26, with firing a laser
at the Multnomah County Justice Center during a June 13 demonstration.
officer on the roof of the center tracked Mr. Berteau-Pavy through the crowd,
according to court documents, and then watched as he and other protesters
marched to Mayor Ted Wheeler’s home and shone the laser at his residence and
other homes in the neighborhood. Mr. Berteau-Pavy was arrested with a green
laser in his pocket.
prosecutors did not pursue the case, so federal officers stepped in.
local district attorney did pursue charges in a case accusing Bryan M. Kelley
of firing a blue laser into officers’ eyes as protesters broke into Portland
City Hall in late August.
enforcement found the laser was so powerful that it would burn through paper
and cause dry material to catch fire,” the district attorney’s office said.
said Mr. Kelley admitted he knew the laser was advertised as capable of
“burning,” and he knew it could damage eyes.
and mayhem continued in Portland this weekend with what police described as a
“large fire” set Sunday night on mattresses in the street near a police station
and demonstrators chanting “Burn it down.”
fire became a danger, police alerted protesters that they were bringing in the
fire department. Most demonstrators made way for the firefighters to extinguish
the evening, 15 people were arrested.
described the equipment they confiscated, including a stun gun, a baton, body
armor, a sling shot and a prepared Molotov cocktail — a dish detergent bottle
with a wick taped to the top, ready to be lit and thrown.
police regularly say the unruly crowd is full of people wearing body armor and
gas masks or goggles and carrying homemade shields, seemingly singling them out
from more mundane protesters.
Wood, the professor at York University, said there is a long history of police
trying to divide “good” and “bad” protesters.
this perception of ‘bad’ protesters relies on stereotypes and assumptions —
often targeting young, Black, countercultural activists, and those who won’t cooperate
quickly with police,” she told The Washington Times.
atmosphere of distrust and polarization, many more protesters may be unwilling
to cooperate and are thus perceived as ‘bad,’ escalating the conflict,” she
Sunday, police in Portland said they tried to deescalate the situation by, for
example, pulling back officers after the fire was extinguished.
say that is not always the case. They complain of hair-trigger responses by
officers and use Twitter to identify those they believe are more likely to
become aggressive with demonstrators.
typical evening will start with the committed demonstrators gathering at a park
and picking a destination for the evening. Police stations and public buildings
have been prominent targets, but so was the Portland mayor’s apartment
through a loudspeaker, will tell the protesters to remain peaceful and stay off
certain property or fences. But protesters will rattle a fence or encroach on
the off-limits property. Officers respond either by marching in force or by
deploying less-lethal weapons, sometimes including tear gas.
almost like a dance between protesters and law enforcement,” said Ms. Fisher,
the University of Maryland professor.
moment comes when protesters lob rocks or toss tear gas canisters back at
something’s been thrown at police, things escalate from there,” she said.
Fisher said the mayhem sometimes is a miscalculation. Fireworks aren’t used
intentionally to set fires, but it can happen, and “once something gets on
fire, everything escalates.”
weaponry can spur a kind of arms race.
rioters targeted the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, federal agents
and officers were quick to deploy tear gas. A group dubbed the Portland Dads
soon brought leaf blowers to push the tear gas cloud back toward the police.
coordinated, the strategy worked perfectly. The officers were limited by their
need to defend a specific piece of ground, making them vulnerable to the
couple of days, though, federal authorities brought leaf blowers of their own
to control the direction of the gas cloud.
has pioneered some moves such as the Wall of Moms, a group of self-proclaimed
mothers who stood as a first line of protesters, singing lullabies and hoping
to serve as protection for those behind them. Ms. Fisher said she could see
that tactic spreading to other protests.
are shared online, sometimes through social media posts but also through
websites such as CrimethInc.com, which serves as a kind of Consumer Reports guide
with articles such as “A Demonstrator’s Guide to Helmets” and “Protocols for
Common Injuries From Police Weapons.”
you’re choosing a leaf blower, make sure it has a good fan and a wireless power
source,” the site advises. “Leaf blowers work well in combination with
umbrellas and shields. While the shields protect demonstrators against impact
munitions, the leaf blowers keep the gas moving away from protesters until
someone can run up and extinguish the canister or throw it back at the
assaulters who shot it. Teamwork!”
which calls itself “a decentralized network pledged to anonymous collective
action,” also gives advice on how to hold a shield to absorb a police charge
and how to use a lacrosse stick to pick up and fire tear gas canisters back at
irony of the protests is that demonstrators, whose stated goal was to draw
attention to policing tactics, have brought much scrutiny on their own moves.
debate tactics among themselves, even in the heat of a protest, arguing with
one another over megaphones over whether to attempt some action such as tearing
down a fence.
times, the debate happens online.
this weekend’s arrests in Portland — Saturday’s 59 arrests was a one-day record
during the 100 days of mayhem — the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front
questioned why protesters always marched straight at police.
of marching straight to the riot line, head-first into clouds of tear gas and
violent arrests, let’s move AWAY from the cops,” the outfit said in a Twitter
suggested picking other targets: “There are certainly hundreds of corporations
that fund or profit off of policing, prisons, ICE, etc., that haven’t received
enough attention at protests.”
Fisher said police in Portland, including federal officers, used
confrontational tactics to disperse crowds and hoped to dissuade people from
coming out to protest.
times when people are feeling really outraged and upset, that doesn’t actually
work,” she said. “Research shows us when a crowd has hit a certain boiling
point with dissatisfaction with the status quo, if you try to disperse by being
more aggressive, you end up with larger crowds.”
Washington Times (Estados Unidos)
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