Global political and financial summits are held in the name of open dialogue and mutual collaboration. Those who attend but are outside the summit are, for the most part, here for the same reason, to project their message to those at the meeting, and to the wider world.
It is possible for everyone with non-violent intent to achieve their ends in Pittsburgh. Engagement, facilitation, understanding and co-operation between parties are essential to the effective maintenance of public order. Those interested parties include the protest groups, the City of Pittsburgh and supporting organizations, the Federal Government, businesses and other stake-holders. If the parties can recognize the challenges and work together, they will succeed in delivering a Financial Summit that has not been achieved in the United States in over a decade: a summit that:
• Provides a legitimate platform for peaceful protest free of the threat of mass arrest, use of indiscriminate irritants and violence.
• Enhances security by freeing resources to direct policing towards those groups intent on committing violent acts and other serious crime.
• Arrests, prosecutes and successfully convicts those individuals intent on violence.
I briefed the Pittsburgh City Council this past week about the risks associated with hosting a Financial Summit, in particular those risks related to, and caused by, public safety considerations. Following that brief there seems to be confusion among those who openly advocate or silently support violence during protest about the Densus Group’s position and recommendations for Pittsburgh.
The bottom line is this; any management of public order at the G-20 should facilitate peaceful protest. Arrest and successful prosecution should be focused on those committing violent acts, as those acts are not only harmful in their own right, they also place the peaceful protestors at risk. Crimethinc, an anarchist collective which recently held its annual ‘convergence’ in Pittsburgh, advocate this approach on their website:
“The Bloc should not operate without either the element of surprise or the benefit of broad crowd cover, at least not unless it is expected to be of vast numbers, high morale, and great defensive experience, or unless the purpose of the action is to get a lot of participants arrested.
When direct action precedes or coincides with massive marches and gatherings, it often sets the tone for everything that follows, upping the ante and radicalizing the event in general.”
The Densus Group has a record of, and continues to promote, supporting peaceful action and equal opportunity for participation by all peace-committed parties. We do this by working with all interested parties to facilitate dialogue and negotiation, provide advice and provide training, in order to achieve our binding principles.
Our goal is that everyone’s voice is heard, that the event is safe and that those with violent intent are prevented from achieving their aims.
The Densus Group was founded in 2006 to advocate the professional and appropriate use of force. Force, in line with the UN Convention on Human Rights and other agreements, should be used only when necessary, and proportionately.
Within the management of crowds and maintenance of public order, our methodology is driven by the following:
• Proactive policing of order rather than the reactive policing of disorder.
• Engagement, negotiation and facilitation between police and protest organizers.
• Responsibility for actions taken by all parties.
• Zero tolerance for violent behavior.
Pittsburgh has a tradition of protest, and this may have affected its selection as the host for G-20. This hallowed tradition of protest is based on certain standards around limits, and is focused on peaceful protest and direct action; violence is not particularly common.
Unfortunately, some wish to come to Pittsburgh to cause violence. Whether for ill conceived perceptions that violence advances a cause or because Pittsburgh isn’t their town, so they have no long-term ramifications by fighting with the police, there are already those who would harm the chances for a peaceful exchange. PG20-RP and others are asking outsiders to join them, taking responsibility for organizing accommodation, and logistics, and arguably building on the connections and techniques, such as shield walls and reinforced banners, that were trained upon at the Anarchist Summer Camp being recommended by PG-20RP and POG. For instance, the following can be found at www.anarchistnews.org:
“This flier is awesomely thought provoking. We are so overdue for another Seattle style riot against the financial establishment in this country I am not joking. I get sick to my stomach every time I have to watch the news seeing large businesses and banks getting bailed out while the people who helped pay taxes to bail them out got screwed out of their jobs just to save the corrupt bottom line and they never got any respect from the upper management. Stop conforming already. People get treated like s*** even when they have a job because workers don’t have any rights to speak in their own defence with out running the risk of being fired and we live in a free country? Free country my hairy a**hole! And now the recession is global and these global leaders want t o save the very same system that f***s people over to save it self. F*** THIS S***! LET’S START A REVOLUTION BY BURNING THE WHOLE F***ING CITY DOWN AND BUILD A BETTER SYSTEM WHEN THE FIGHTINGS ALL OVER!”
In 1998 Seattle had a reputation as a town that encouraged legitimate protest. When was the last time you thought about protest in relation to Seattle, and thought of it as a town that was protest friendly, or whose protestors were anything other than rioters? The Pittsburgh culture of protest is at risk of being destroyed forever, and this will be driven by a very small minority with ill-intent.
It is my belief that the City of Pittsburgh is in danger of making the mistakes of Seattle, Miami, New York, Denver and St Paul. This mistake is driven by the belief that the Federally mandated system is, on its own, the best possible approach for achieving the City’s aspirations for the event. The federal system provides a series of courses and methodologies to prepare for this event, and the system does achieve what the Federal authorities aspire to, which is the protection of the dignitaries and the smooth running of the conference. However, the Federal authorities have zero exposure to the risks created by the systems they mandate. The Federal authorities do not:
• Carry the reputational risk if/when there is rioting, which has happened at nearly every significant financial conference in the last decade.
• Carry the financial risk of compensation; the Federal authorities mandate the basic systems, but provide no surety that they minimize the risk to the City.
• Carry the operational risk to businesses. If there is rioting and damage, those costs are not borne by those Federal authorities.
This is not a diatribe against the Secret Service and DHS. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of human nature that one pursues the tasks one is rewarded for when successful and punished for when not. As the DHS and Secret Service have no incentives linked to the successful management of crowds except as they relate to the security of the dignitaries attending the conference, it is low on their list of personal priorities. As their success has not been compromised at any of these events, there is no incentive to change the mandated system.
It is my assessment that the current system provides a framework, but that the framework comes with the following significant shortcomings:
• CT/PO zero sum game. The assumption that counter-terrorist security and managing Public Order are diametrically opposed. This is not true; best practice management of the Public Order environment frees up resources to support counter-terrorism concerns and denies the terrorist freedom of movement within groups that are agitated, often by police actions, during events.
• Escalatory and Indiscriminate Bias. The current system has a bias towards escalating against a single threat and retaining that bias against everyone for the duration of the conference. Mass arrests, indiscriminate use of force (including irritants), and pre-emptive strikes against non-violent protestors lead to agitating those who would otherwise be neutral and law abiding.
• Ancient Tactics. The current tactics and methodologies assume that crowds are either violent or peaceful, and do not account for individuals within a crowd that may be violent while everyone else is peaceful, or for the fact that a crowd’s mood can escalate and de-escalate. The tactics of those seeking violence have moved on significantly; US law enforcement is not fighting the last war, it’s still fighting 3 wars ago.
• Inadequate Command and Control. The Incident Command System was initially created to manage combating forest fires. While a forest fire may be unpredictable, it does not plan, it does not hide in crowds, it does not escalate and de-escalate, it does not get scared, it does not panic, it cannot be calmed, it cannot be negotiated with. The system was developed to manage other incidents, such as active shooter, train wreck, etc. All of these incidents are limited in scope and time, and are mostly retroactive – the event has happened. The current system, as it is, cannot cope with the reality of significant public order events; this has been the subject of the reports into the death of Victoria Snelgrove, the RNC in St Paul and May Day 2007 in LA.
• Over-reliance on Less than Lethal Weapons. The use of less lethal weapons provides a lack of discrimination and accountability for the use of force. The weapons are often indiscriminate, creating the possibility for lack of accuracy in some cases, and simply the effect being caused on those with no involvement in others – such as the hospital being affected in St Paul; luckily, actions had been taken by the hospital to minimize the effect. The assumption on the part of officers that the system is non-lethal does not mean that it is not dangerous; the analogy that best fits is that of a seatbelt. Research suggests that when one has a seatbelt, one drives faster, keeping the level of personal risk the same. With LTLs, a police officer has less compunction about using the system, because of the lack of lasting effect the system will have. If force is legitimately being used against someone, that person should be arrested. The habit of firing and forgetting suggests a lack of discrimination and thought applied to why someone is being fired upon.
o CS gas is potentially lethal to asthmatics, and inevitably escalates the situation. As the Chief of Police in Seattle during the protests there, Norm Stamper, said, “For the greater good, we ought not to have brought those chemical agents out. We ought not to have, I think, raised the stakes.”
o It was a FN 303 round that killed Victoria Snelgrove – the FN303 is supposed to be a discriminating round, and yet during its use a round struck and killed a bystander.
• Underestimation of the Threat. Repeatedly cities have asserted that they have seen the threats before, that they are competent to manage it. Repeatedly cities have failed, to varying degrees.
These factors will combine to increase significantly the risk to Pittsburgh of massive compensation claims, the compromise of their reputation and thwarting of their plans to regain fiscal responsibility and remake their future.
The Densus Group remains dedicated to helping the parties in Pittsburgh achieve their ends through legal means, minimizing the need for the use of force through engagement, facilitation, co-operation and negotiation.