When all is said and done, some will argue that Denver PD had a hand in fueling the violence that ensued while the world’s attention was focused on the political drama unfolding in their city.
Though we haven’t seen (much of) anything yet, violent conflicts seem increasingly likely. When the critics voice their concerns about how the Denver PD handles the situation, I will be one of them; regular readers will know that this will not be a sudden volte-face, but the continuation of months of related commentary leading up to the Democratic National Convention.
We are only entering Day 2 of the Convention, and already there is footage of police violence, the threats of lawsuits and the very negative PR stories of the elderly being gassed. Footage on YouTube clearly shows the deployment of the media in amongst the crowd rather than with the police (always a mistake that pre-positions the media response to be pro-rioter), the police equipped with long batons (harder to control the strike) but without shields. The prominent inclusion of less lethal weapons is concerning but understandable given their tactics. However, the inclusion on the base line of lethal weapons (particularly in the hands of a very-nervous looking officer who appears seriously out of his depth) is not only tactically inadvisable, it is almost asking for a panicked, bad shoot.
The lack of shields means that the police must go forward or back – they cannot simply block a crowd and allow them to burn themselves out, or create a stand-off zone. In effect, the police are pre-disposing the protestors towards violence. There are protestors who clearly want a fight and are willing to start one; the lack of shields means that as soon as bricks or worse start being thrown we will be straight into Denver PD using less lethal, or possibly given what we saw today, lethal, weapons. This will be a PR disaster for both them and the Demoorats. The mounted police look great, and are intimidating, but only up until that first brick is thrown, at which point they become a quarter ton of squealing, kicking drama that poses as much threat to the police as to the protestors.
Most worrying is that there are no police outfitted with basic equipment, keeping the policing profile low until escalation is required. Instead, the police are causing the escalation. By reacting offensively to every incident and expecting violence, they are simply inciting more violence. This will inevitably lead to a general increase of antagonism through the next few days, and a major standoff is becoming more and more probable by the hour.
The Denver PD have already created the rod for their own back – we can only hope that they analyze the events so far, take a deep breath and act proactively to de-escalate the situation. This is not to say that they retire the riot-equipped police, but that they deploy a first line that is not fully equipped and reacting violently to protestors.
There are serious storms on the horizon – the Denver PD should be keeping the protests as peaceful as possible in order to prevent their attention being distracted. I worry, however, that is not going to be the case.