Jacobin - January 7, 2021
... for anyone who had been on the receiving end of a police baton over the past year, the contrast was stark. The rows of militarized police that were ready and waiting for racial justice protesters last summer seemed strangely absent from yesterday’s event, their meager forces easily overwhelmed. The police that once gratuitously shoved an elderly protester to the ground and gave him a brain injury now carefully escorted a protester by the hand down the Capitol steps. Police let protesters take selfies with them, punch them, and at one point opened a gate to let them through to the Capitol, all while dutifully continuing to arrest journalists.
Over the past few decades, we’ve seen an alarming, sustained attack on and rollback of the First Amendment–guaranteed right to assemble and protest.
Peaceful anti-war protests have repeatedly featured hundreds of arrests and even charges laid against demonstrators, trends amped up in 1999 during the “Battle of Seattle,” where police responded to the anti-globalization movement by setting up a “no-protest zone” and attacking activists with rubber bullets, concussion grenades, and chemical weapons. Years later, in the post-9/11 world, the two parties established “free speech zones” — designated areas where people were “allowed” by authorities to stage easily avoidable protests — and mass arrests as a permanent part of the political landscape.
These tactics have been used by law enforcement authorities with ever-increasing frequency and ardor. We saw it in 2011, when police raided and dismantled the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, blocking, hurting, and arresting bystanders, and even journalists, as they did so, with the mayor charging that the occupation of a public space was improper and that “health and safety conditions became intolerable.” And we saw it in 2016, as police and the National Guard attacked indigenous protesters for daring to defend their own land, using sound and water cannons, automatic rifles, and more to disperse and maim protesters and members of the press, slapping them indiscriminately with felony charges. ...
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