The tea parties on April 15 are an important warning sign – they demonstrate the growing discontent of those middle Americans who have never demonstrated before.  Demonstrations are an important means of expression.  However, if those in shirt and ties are now willing to demonstrate, it is simply a matter of time and citizen frustration that will drive more serious and police-challenging protests.

The April 15 tea parties were organized through a website and received a large push from the Fox News Network, receiving both publicity and speakers.  Attendance across the country in numbers ranging from handfuls of people to an estimated 15,000 in Atlanta; the most common was 1,000-2,000.  A lot has been made of the fact that those attending were from middle America; blue and white collar workers – some actually wearing shirt and tie – who had never demonstrated before.  It is this element that is so important, because it indicates a growing level of frustration.

People have triggers to action; a certain level of frustration will impel them to go and protest, and a higher level of frustration and sense of personal threat will drive them to violence.  It is wrong to assume that a peaceful group will remain peaceful no matter what happens.  Police mishandling of an event can drive a calm crowd to violence if it feels threatened enough, as happened during the Poll Tax Demonstrations in London 20 years ago.

As events that demonstrate discontent with the handling of the financial crisis build, the potential for more active and violent protests increase.  It is not the mainstream protestors that pose the threat – it is those anarchist and extreme left wing groups who wish to hijack protests and create violence for their own ends that must be the concern.

The tea parties prove that more mainstream protest is likely, and it is mainstream protests that are hijacked by those determined to cause violence with law enforcement in order to draw attention to their own agendas.  Law enforcement should be actively planning for how to deal with these threats now – in particular, how to facilitate the right to protest by those intent on protesting peacefully, while punishing those determined to cause violence.  The inability to distinguish the two is not only bad policy, it is borderline unconstitutional, and must not be tolerated.

  • Matt

    The problem with the Tea Parties is reflected in this post. It is near impossible to tell what those gathered were protesting. It wasn’t taxation without representation, a la the Boston Tea Party, for most folks taxes are decreasing. So what was it all about? What about these gatherings “prove that more mainstream protest is likely.”?

  • Matt,

    I may be wrong, but my reading of your comment suggests that you are mixing politics with operations; that people are discontented is the important fact here – whether they are able to articulate why they are discontent and protesting is not relevant here. Look at it this way; if you bump a man in a bar and he starts punching you in the face (the operational problem), does it really matter whether the root cause of his anger is your bumping him, that he got fired earlier in the day or because his father neglected him (the political problem)? The issue is that he is punching you in the face.

    To take your point, so it is with the people at the Tea Parties; they have stated a clear dissatisfaction with the government – their issues are being most clearly articulated by Fox News who have their own agenda.

    What it is about these protests that prove that mainstream protest is more likely is the profile of those attending, and their growing discontent. Please don’t take most posts as being political in any way; I am not commenting on their politics, simply that this demographic is annoyed, and wish to demonstrate that fact. The economy and political situation is very unlikely to resolve itself to their satisfaction, and so discontent, and protests, will grow.

  • Bill


    Operational concerns in check, it’s hard to be alturistic about your post and believe that you don’t have a political agenda when you finsih you comment with a political statement. You’re correct that he economic situation is unlikely to resolve itself soon but that will only do so via our current political leadership. If the leadership is poor their may be further protesting. The worlds economic situation is beyond the control of a single government however if most people feel that the best steps are being taken by their leadership then chances for operational failure are mimimized.

  • Bill,

    I made no political statement, simply a judgement about the application of the Bill of Rights, in particular assembly and free speech, to the management of crowd control. If you choose to interpret that as a a political agenda, I am powerless to stop you, but I assure you that is not the case; I believe that those who support or are in government service shouldn’t have political agendas, simply to deal with the facts and assess the liklihood of future problems that should be prepared for effectively and efficiently.

    I simply believe from experience that it is most effective operational practice for law enforcement to facilitate the rights of free speech and assembly, and to only publish those with ill-intent and aspirations of violence, rather than punishing everyone that gets in their way while prosecuting an operational plan that fails to embrace such concepts as the proactive policing of order rather than the reactive policing of disorder, an effective and directed arrests policy and the embracing of tactics that prevent the police escalating the situation.

    The truth is that effective policing and a successful protest are not two, competing ends of a spectrum. Rather, they are complementary and under an effective law enforcement planning and co-ordination effort everyone’s intentions – except those bent on violence – are facilitated.

    I have to admit I don’t see the corrolary between political results and operational results the way you do. The quantity and intensity of operations (the management of crowds protesting the financial situaiton) will be driven by the financial situation, which is, only to a limited extent, under the control of the politicians. However, those financial results are only the root cause of protests – they will not affect whether law enforcement in different cities manage events – the operational context – well or badly.