In many parts of the world, May 1st is a day on which all manner of organized events and marches take place in recognition of “the plight of the working people.” Celebrated as an official holiday in more than 75 countries, International Workers’ Day — also known as May Day — has occasionally had peaceable demonstrations devolve into civil unrest and even full-scale riots.
If the organizers of the so-called Occupy movement have their way, that’s precisely what may happen in cities and towns across the United States tomorrow.
The Occupy movement has called for “A Day Without the 99%” on May 1st, with some organizers announcing that tomorrow will be the start of version 2.0. More worrisome is the fact that certain offshoot — anarchist — elements are vowing to use “new tactics” to “communicate” their message.
Mayhem on May Day?
There are a few versions of the “official” call to action being distributed on the Internet and the Twittersphere, none of which officially condone violence. On Facebook, the official line by organizers is “No work. No school. No shopping. No banking. No trading. The people of the planet will take to the streets.”
To my knowledge, there has been no official call for violence, but there seems to be a lot of discussion about “new tactics” and a desire on the part of some to “make this one really big.” The 20-year anniversary of the Rodney King riots was widely covered on TV news over the weekend, and one has to wonder whether or not the anarchists and professional protesters saw those news reels as training films for tomorrow’s events.
You certainly don’t have to do too much digging in the comments area below that Facebook announcement to find people offering advice on everything from how to use a text alert system to quickly communicate messages to a large group to 7 rules for recording police.
“Occupy organizers promise that Tuesday will be bigger than anything we saw from the movement last fall” said an article posted on the website of Mother Jones magazine. Marissa Holmes, considered by many to be an influential Occupy organizer, said in that article “May Day will be the big kickoff of Phase 2 of Occupy. I think we will see a lot of people in the streets taking more militant actions than they had in the past.”
It remains to be seen whether or not that prediction will come to fruition, but there’s little doubt that protesters are making a variety of preparations. Some in the movement are boasting of taking “direct action” tomorrow to block bridges and tunnels.
Cities Setting the Tone?
There are, according to this Occupy website, more than 125 cities and towns across America with planned May Day events, but many people are looking to two places — New York City, where the Occupy movement began on September 17th of last year, and the San Francisco Bay Area, where Occupy Oakland has frequently turned violent — as setting the tone to be followed elsewhere.
I’d add to that list Los Angeles and Seattle — the abovementioned 20-year milestone has primed the pump down there, and the 1999 WTO melee in Seattle proved just how bad things can get in the Emerald City.
In fact, the Seattle Mayor’s office issued a press release this weekend stating “evidence suggests” that people may head to that city tomorrow “with the intention of using the public demonstrations as an opportunity to commit violence, damage property and disrupt peaceful free speech activity. There has been a significant increase in graffiti and posters alluding to violence around the May 1 events. Websites have described trainings in how to conceal weapons beneath signs and banners, and how to target police officers on horses.”
Here in the Bay Area, a threat to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge has been withdrawn because organizers could not get the needed participation of the Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition.
Up until very recently, such a rush-hour nightmare appeared imminent, but the labor coalition sent out a press release mid-day Saturday saying they were backing out of the bridge closure.
With that plan foiled, one is left to wonder where those “Occupiers” will go. Back in December, Occupy protesters shut down the Port of Oakland — the fifth busiest container port in the United States — disrupting the supply chain of countless manufacturers well past the time when the last protester finally went home.
In New York, all but one of the announced events appears peaceful. A “fun and family-friendly” event in Bryant Park in the morning, a mid-day march of “1,000 guitar-playing musicians” in Bryant Park to Union Square followed by two events allegedly organized by “faith & community groups.” The one that concerns me, though, is the so-called “After party” scheduled to begin at 2000 hours local time. The details remain “to be announced” but the name itself is menacing: “The Haymarket Martyrs Memorial Resistance Rager.”
In case you don’t get that reference, let’s get a little history lesson from my friend and PoliceOne Columnist Lance Eldridge.
“The conscious choice of May 1st for the protest suggests the organizers are more interested in the political symbolism of anarchist, socialist, or communist workers' alleged unity than the responsible exercise of the protestors’ First Amendment rights,” Eldridge said to me in an email exchange we had over the weekend.
“In 1891,” Eldridge continued, “the Second Socialist International selected May 1st in honor of the violent Chicago Haymarket riots that left several protestors and seven policemen dead.
“Though the so-called Martyr’s Monument, a National Historic Landmark often referred to as the Workers’ Statue of Liberty, has remained unharmed, the statue commemorating the policemen killed has not fared so well. The City has moved the statue on several occasions to help ensure its safety. A bomb, planted by the Weather Underground, destroyed the statue in 1969. After the statue was rebuilt, the Weathermen again blew up the statue in 1970.”
Being the Good Guys
As I have previously written, police presence at all these events fulfills two totally different mission objectives:
• LEOs are present at these events to ensure First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceable assembly
• LEOs are duty bound to protect the community in the event that such an assembly turns to a violent riot
My good friend and PoliceOne colleague Dan Marcou has plenty of experience in crowd control tactics with his many years of service in La Crosse, Wisconsin (where riots were a fairly common occurrence for a while).
During a tremendous seminar session at ILEETA two weeks ago, Marcou spoke about how a chaotic scene such as a riot offers police officers the opportunity to come out looking absolutely fantastic.
I’m paraphrasing, but during that ILEETA session Marcou basically said that by being professional and precise in deploying sound police tactics, your YouTube moment will get 50 views, not 50,000.
“With this group it sounds like a great opportunity for the police to come out looking like the good guys with a trained, professional response,” Dan said to me when I asked him to comment on tomorrow’s events.
I also reached out to my friend Jack Hoban, who alongside Bruce Gourlie writes the Ethical Warrior series of PoliceOne columns.
Hoban said, in part, that police officers “have to meet disrespect with respect — not of the agendas — but of life, safety, and laws. It is irritating, but they must treat the screaming and profanity like they would treat a crying baby: overlook it and try to create calmness. This takes maturity, communication skills, patience — and physical self confidence.”
Hoban added that when the expression of these people’s opinions starts to supersede the livelihood of others, it must be stopped. If it escalates into life-threatening violence, it immediately has to be stopped.
“If the assembly turns violent, the time for talking is temporarily suspended. The violence has to be stopped immediately with the minimum amount of force necessary – which may be damn hard to calculate. But it is especially hard to calculate if the LEO loses his professional cool (protector mindset) and reacts emotionally and/or with excessive force. So they have to use their protector ethics and tactical skills with a clear and controlled mindset. That takes training,” Hoban said.
Marcou concluded, “Agencies and their partners — prosecutors and other government entities — need to be ready a variety of appropriate responses for actions these groups may take. The Constitution gives people a right to peacefully assemble and speak. There is no Constitutional right, however, to ‘militancy’ in all of its forms.”
Occupy groups remained relatively dormant though the winter months despite widespread proclamations made in the late fall announcing intentions to “stick it out” even through the most inclement conditions. Now that spring has sprung, however, we can be assured that these events will be back — and possibly back with a vengeance.
We can hope for the best, but we must prepare for the worst.