Three Lessons from the Twin Cities’ Response to the RNC Unrest

Watching the last few days of unrest in the Twin Cities surrounding the Republican National Convention unfold, a few things have made themselves evident to me in a way that I’d heard of and thought a little about but never personally witnessed before.

  1. Law enforcement may be hurting more than they are helping.
  2. Our local independent media’s coverage has been a good complement to the traditional media’s coverage.
  3. Volunteer opportunities abound.


Law enforcement may be hurting more than they are helping.
Wikipedia’s entry on Police Riot:

A police riot is a term used for the wrongful, disproportionate, unlawful, and illegitimate use of force by a group of police against a group of civilians.

In recent incidents, the term often describes a situation where police, clad in riot gear such as armor, helmets, knee and elbow protectors, and face shields, encounter a group of civilians, such as a protest group, not engaged in violent behavior but deemed by police or police supervisors to pose a threat to public safety, is attacked by police.

Such violence, perpetrated or provoked by police or other military and security force personnel, may run the gamut from simple assault, battery, assault with a deadly weapon, mayhem, even homicide. If the riot is caused by or incited by police action, it may be labeled a police riot. This term is considered somewhat provocative, as it is normally the job of the police and similar authorities to be keepers of the peace and not inciters of riots.

Police, whose duty it is to enforce the law and prevent violent conflict, are subject to the same crowd psychology as any other group of armed men and women when in large confrontational groups, in encounters whose outcome is uncertain, and when in the grip of fear, anger, or other strong emotion. However, they are also provided with deadly weapons, and so have a special responsibility to keep their fear, anger, and similar emotions under control.

I’m particularly thinking about the psychological aspects, and about that relative handful of people who are just out to cause trouble. People do weird things when they are afraid and/or threatened.

If there had been no police — or at least no fully decked out riot police — present when the Rage Against the Machine concert let out at the Target Center last night, would anything have happened? I say no. The mere presence of police, clearly meant to intimidate, did indeed intimidate people and incited a response that otherwise would not have been there. If there’s nothing to react to, that little punk that may think he’s hot shit and can get away with chucking a rock at an officer from the obscurity of the crowd is not going to even bother.

Deploying riot police into a riot is one thing. Deploying riot police into the peaceful night is another. These are war tactics, not peacekeeping tactics. Is the police presence really keeping things from happening, or is it provoking the crowd?

We haven’t even gotten to the inevitable police brutality and unlawful detainment lawsuits.

Is putting a city on lockdown really the answer? The people that came here with the specific goal of disrupting the RNC have gotten exactly what they wanted, because the police gave it to them. What you’ve got instead is law-abiding citizens that are afraid of the people in charge of keeping them safe.

Our local independent media’s coverage has been a good complement to the traditional media’s coverage.
There’s been a lot of conversation about the independent media coverage of events. That’s a channel I happen to be plugged in to, so I know this is bigger issue to me (and probably you as blog readers) than it is to the general public.

My major takeaway from the copious, real-time video and real-time messages delivered over Twitter is that you can’t really grok how exactly riots start or why exactly the police did what they did until you watch it happen. In real time. Even if it’s after the fact and you’re not watching live.

The real-time aspect is key. This has been the next best thing to being present myself. Providing raw footage, as WCCO has done on their website, does help. The more you edit, and the longer you wait, the more you lose the raw emotion and people’s gut reactions to the situation.

The longer you stand there, the more likely you are to see the idiot hooligan who’s just trying to be disruptive do something stupid AND also see the cop who randomly pepper sprayed someone. You can paste all that together for a 30-second story, but you really need to see the cause and effect (or lack of cause, in some cases). The more edited, the more there’s potential for perception of bias in reporting.

A number of professional journalists have stated concern for the lack of “perspective” and deeper inquiry that appears to be missing from citizen journalist reporting. To be fair, it takes time and a little distance and resources to do that. Give ’em a day or two, because they’ve all been out on the street. I agree, there’s a need for that, too. And this is a situation where tradtional media still has an advantage because they still have more access than independent media. A number of folks who’ve been on the street with credentials that don’t belong to a major news outlet can attest to the differing treatment they’ve received from law enforcement.

Volunteer opportunities abound.
I’ve been really impressed with the role that volunteer peace marshals and street medics have played.

The peace marshals, always dressed in highly visible clothing, have surely prevented some police-civilian interaction by talking down both parties and calmly encouraging people to move along. It’s usually the big, organized protest groups that conduct peace marshal training. I personally would have some reservations about aligning myself with such a group as I’m sure it gets you on a watch list somewhere, but if there were a more independent group or, hell, even a police department that conducted such training, it’d be a lot more inviting to people.

The medics have been on the scene providing basic first aid for people. When you set out for a peace march or protest, you probably don’t think to pack extra Band-Aids and Neosporin, much less your portable emergency eye wash and burn gel. If you have even basic first aid certification from, say, the Red Cross, you’d be a great street medic. First responder training would be even better. Off duty EMT? Great! The Northstar Health Collective was established to prepare for the RNC, but they have longer term goals as well.

7 Comments so far

  1. Ang (angied) on September 4th, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

    I think it’s a valid argument that the police presence is provoking some of the violence, but I don’t think it ends there, either. As valuable as the media has been in this whole thing, I think their presence is also part of it.

    From a handful of quotes I’ve read in articles and heard in videos, there is a lot of concern from these hooligans that their actions are being written about by journalists. I don’t remember where I read it but one of them was asked, "Why are you doing this?" and the response was, "Well, you’re writing about it, right?" Would they have acted a lot less idiotically if nobody was paying attention? Who knows. Some people are stupid for the sake of being stupid.


  2. Erica M (ericam) on September 5th, 2008 @ 8:08 am

    That’s a good point, Ang.

    One thing that frustrates me is that the attention-seeking worst of them don’t seem to have an actual message beyond "you guys suck!" If your goal is to get on tv, you ought to be able to articulate what your beef is to the camera. Instead it’s just evidence for your trial.


  3. moe (emoeby) on September 5th, 2008 @ 8:47 am

    Excellent write-up Erica, and great point Ang. It seemed like every riot downtown was half rioters, and half media/bloggers/photographers. Sure it’s nice to have it documented, but they certainly didn’t help the situation.

    I also noticed that while Twitter was a great place to get info on what was happening, so much of it just wasn’t true. I had a hard time following certain people that would claim apocalypse, when nothing really happened.

    I’m just glad it’s over.


  4. east-lake.net · Three Lessons (pingback) on September 5th, 2008 @ 8:50 am

    […] Three Lessons from the Twin Cities’ Response to the RNC Unrest | Minneapolis Metblogs: Watching the last few days of unrest in the Twin Cities surrounding the Republican National Convention unfold, a few things have made themselves evident to me in a way that I’d heard of and thought a little about but never personally witnessed before. 1. Law enforcement may be hurting more than they are helping. 2. Our local independent media’s coverage has been a good complement to the traditional media’s coverage. 3. Volunteer opportunities abound. […]


  5. David (jacc) on September 5th, 2008 @ 9:27 am

    Great work putting this together. Now, what I wonder about is the slow burning aftermath.

    Many of the trouble makers on both sides of the legal line will be leaving the state. What’s left behind?

    A bunch of locals that may be more afraid of the police than ever and a group of police with PTSD that may be more likely to turn violent without provocation.

    This convention seems like it was a major success at only one thing, being a lose-lose proposition for everyone that lives and works in Saint Paul.


  6. Erica M (ericam) on September 5th, 2008 @ 9:41 am

    This convention seems like it was a major success at only one thing, being a lose-lose proposition for everyone that lives and works in Saint Paul.

    True dat.

    I keep seeing pictures of empty bars and restaurants. Did any downtown establishment actually see a bump from this?


  7. pfhyper on September 8th, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

    Excellent write-up, Erica.

    What I wonder is what if the police and sheriffs had initiated some dialog prior to the RNC and with the peace groups that would be legally marching and with those who wanted to be peace marshals? I think it would have helped and maybe the police would have backed off. I think the majority had a goal for peaceful protests and would have helped in reining in any violence and then alerting the police if calm deliberation failed.



Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.