I had a lot of fun, but it wasn't a riot
I have always appreciated that life allows for one to experience its wonders from many different perspectives. I would like to share one with you. I must preface this by explaining that one of my areas of expertise as an instructor is crowd control. I have not only trained classes, but I was commander of the Civil Unrest Team in La Crosse that was called upon to manage many large events and quelled a number of riots. Those experiences gave me one perspective that helped me as a trainer.
On Tuesday, March 29th, 2011, I was served up another perspective. I had just completed teaching a class of police officers and corrections officers at a great facility for doing so, Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, Wisconsin. I was heading back to the Holiday Inn, where I was staying. It just so happened, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was scheduled to speak there at the Convention Center of that facility to a group of the Chamber of Commerce. If you have been following the news, you know that the reception to his attempts to balance the budget have received a little more than a lukewarm.
As I turned my car down the one-block street leading into the hotel lot, I found myself to be the lone car bracketed by a crowd estimated by one officer at the scene to be about 1,500 protestors. As I entered their gauntlet they immediately sprung to life and began to chant loudly, “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!”
I decided to break up my tunnel vision and scan the crowd. I saw the hate and anger in their faces. Some shook their fists at me and there were others, who chose to shout that I was, “Walker’s Minion!” I must say my career as a police officer prepared me to be called many things, but never once have I ever been referred to as a minion. I found it quite disconcerting.
I am quite certain one shouted that I was a, “Republican mother [bleeper].” Although my party of preference is something I will keep to myself I can tell you I felt much more comfortable being called a “mother [bleeper],” than a “minion.”
As I drove slowly through their chants and insults I viewed hatred in their eyes for a person (me) that they knew nothing about. I was just an innocent person who had just come from teaching a class and was hoping to grab a big fat burger at Fuddruckers Restaurant. While making my way through the crowd the hatred that some of the people displayed in their fist shaking and chanting reminded me of the Reginald Denny incident. Remember the truck driver who was dragged from his truck, during the 1992 L.A Riots, who was beaten by a crowd with fists, feet, and finally a concrete block. I watched for the possibility of such an attack. I visualized first the attempt at such an assault as well as the shocking headlines that would follow my successful defense after such an assault.
As I reached the drive way to the hotel, chants were at full throttle and as I looked behind me I was still the only one they were chanting at. “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” It was there I was met by a contingent of Janesville police officers.
I must admit that if I did not know before what makes a demonstration peaceful I know now. It is not the demonstrators. They were aggressive and used what the Supreme Court would call “Opprobrious,” or fighting words. (Don’t feel bad, I had to look it up too.) It does not matter what side of the issue I am on I can tell you that while I drove through that block, book-ended by the screaming mass, their shouts could have intimidated some into shrinking away and agitated others to react violently.
The demonstration was peaceful because of the highly visible professional contingent of Janesville police officers on the scene to maintain the peace. They stood calmly in the presence of the crowd with their faces reflecting none of the emotions of the demonstrators. This aging and slightly used retired cop found another opportunity to be proud of my former profession.
The Demonstrators Made a Difference
I was able to make my way to the hotel and later determined that no arrests were made in the demonstration. Governor Scott Walker arrived and gave his speech. The demonstrators did have a bit of unintended impact, however. I decided not to make a poor delivery kid try to brave the crowd to deliver me food. I also did not want to make the police officers have to clear the crowd for my car since the crowd eventually closed off the exit to the hotel. I had been thinking of the Fuddruckers Burger all day long so I braved the crowd and cut through the throng to make my way to the restaurant.
I could taste that fat juicy burger and could almost feel the mayonnaise escaping from the corner of my mouth as I bit into it. As I stood in line at Fuddruckers it finally came my turn to order, when just outside the restaurant came the chant, “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!...”
I found myself subjugated, a minion of the crowd as the lady at the counter asked, “What will you have tonight sir?”
The chants, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” rang loudly in my ears. I avoided eye contact with the lady as I sheepishly said in a minion-like manner, “I’ll take the broiled chicken sandwich...hold the mayo please.”