By Joey LeMay and Katie Rucke (MintPress) – Perhaps it’s a sign of the times. Or maybe it’s a slight overreaction if history serves as an indicator. At any rate, largely peaceful demonstrations or political uprisings in the United States have a history of being quashed by police officials. But the 2012 Republican National Convention […]
By Joey LeMay and Katie Rucke
(MintPress) – Perhaps it’s a sign of the times. Or maybe it’s a slight overreaction if history serves as an indicator. At any rate, largely peaceful demonstrations or political uprisings in the United States have a history of being quashed by police officials. But the 2012 Republican National Convention (RNC) and Democratic National Convention (DNC) are taking a hard-lined approach not seen since the DNC of 1968 in Chicago.
Police at this year’s conventions, in Tampa, Fla. and Charlotte, N.C. respectively, will have personnel from the military and Department of Defense on hand, according to a Northern Command Spokesman in an email. The last time the military was involved to reign in security at a political convention, a multi-day conflict of historical proportions was wagered between largely peaceful protesters and authorities.
During the convention, 11,900 Chicago police, 7,500 Army troops, 7,500 Illinois National Guardsmen and 1,000 Secret Service agents were called in to quash the 10,000 protesters who made their way to a central location in Chicago. In the authorities’ attempts to stifle the law-abiding crowd, demonstrators began to push back by throwing rocks and food. The sides went back and forth throughout the span of the convention, with police using tear gas at quantities high enough that its effects could be felt inside hotels.
In an interview with the Tampa Tribune, former U.S. Army Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Gary Huber shared his experience in combating the protesters during the convention.
“My job was to shoot to kill as directed,” Huber said. “I’m surprised we were issued ammunition because that normally wasn’t the case except when I was assigned along the East German Border.”
No deaths were reported from the conflict, though hundreds of authorities and demonstrators were treated for injuries.
A copy of the Army’s 1968 “Garden Plot” in Chicago, which was once classified as confidential, listed equipment and weapons given to military personnel as rifles, pistols, shotguns, M60 machine guns and grenade launchers. The document also described indicators of potential violence as “high unemployment and increased crime rates among minority groups” as well as “protests by minority groups to conditions such as slum conditions, segregation in housing and schools, lack of jobs, lack of recreational facilities, police brutality and local overpricing practices.”
Very few details are known about the military presence at this year’s conventions. U.S. Navy Lt. Cdr. William G. Lewis said, “For operational security reasons we do not discuss the numbers of military personnel and resources that are involved. Additionally, we do not share our operational plans.”
Blurring the lines
But police forces across the country have already hinted at what an increased military presence looks like. Since 2006, police tactics have blended with military arsenal to create a hybrid force capable of both rupturing eardrums with military-like acoustic devices and placing one under arrest. In 2006, the U.S. issued the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, the groundwork for a new approach to combat domestic and foreign terrorism threats.
“The paradigm for combating terrorism now involves the application of all elements of our national power and influence,” the document read. “Not only do we employ military power, we use diplomatic, financial, intelligence and law enforcement activities to protect the Homeland and extend our defenses, disrupt terrorist operations, and deprive our enemies of what they need to operate and survive. We have broken old orthodoxies that once confined our counterterrorism efforts primarily to the criminal justice domain.”
Police now have a wider array of weaponry at their disposal than any other time in history. Last summer, the Albuquerque Police Department added shotgun-style Taser projectors to its arsenal, which have the capacity to hit targets more than 100 feet away. Assault Intervention Systems (AIS) concentrate a beam of heat on its victims, creating an extreme sense of burning. Police also dress the part now, as full-on riot gear and shields are commonplace, along with military helmets and communication devices.
Since 2002, the Pentagon has handed out nearly $34 billion to state and local law enforcement agencies to offer them the means to afford new equipment.
Legislation over the past year has also made it easier for the military to police everyday society. The highly-controversial National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contains a provision that would allow the U.S. military to indefinitely detain persons they suspect of terrorism-related activities.
John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, who has been called to testify to Congress on military affairs, speculates that a paranoia has settled itself over America since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and that increased militarization of local police is a reflection of that paranoia. Pike acknowledged that the military was called upon for the political conventions in the instance of a terrorist attack, but he admitted that the likelihood of one is remarkably small.
“I would say that 9/11 increased the threat perception,” Pike said. “People have been worried about al-Qaida jumping out of manhole covers.”
Like Chicago in 1968, however, the possibility of police and military intervention as it pertains to political protest groups seems far more likely than any act of terrorism. The local police force in Tampa, the RNC’s host city, has already spent nearly $14 million on bicycles, all-terrain vehicles and one armored truck. The city is anticipating 15,000 protesters to hit the area between August 27-30 and has already restricted areas for where protesting is allowed, much to the dismay of civil rights groups.
The last major demonstration to occur in the U.S. took place in in May during the NATO Summit in Chicago. Police and protesters routinely clashed over marching routes through the city’s labyrinth of streets and the tactics used to make protesters disperse. The NATO Summit was a demonstration of how largely peaceful protesters have been targeted by police departments who routinely send swaths of officers to protest events.
During the rise of America’s protest movement, demonstrators have been the target of questionable police crackdowns and brutality. Members of the Occupy movement have commonly been at odds with police since their inception, which has resulted in nearly 7,500 arrests.
In an interview with the Examiner, a police official who wished to remain anonymous said local police agencies receive tactical and planning advice from national authorities on how to deal with protesters, even if demonstrations are peaceful. The official said local agencies are encouraged to evict or arrest protesters during the night because there is a less likely chance that the media will capture it. Police were also told to demonstrate a “massive show” of police force, both in quantity of officers and large numbers of police in riot gear.
Political activist Naomi Wolf said constant surveillance of the Occupy movement is unwarranted and gives police a faux reason to assume the worst from the group.
“Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like,” Wolf wrote.