With the unabated acceleration of the Arab Spring beginning in late 2010, law enforcement agencies found themselves ill-equipped to deal with the masses of protesters that would soon emerge. In many of the countries where these protests erupted, namely Libya, Yemen, and Syria, this kind of political activity was hardly welcome. Being unprepared for a mass political movement of this magnitude, governments and their law enforcement agencies resorted almost immediately to violent methods of control. Having suffered an embarrassment like this, I would argue that governments and law enforcement agencies around the world have decided to beef up their protest “diffusion” skills by relying heavily on increasingly violent, reactionary tactics.
We as Americans have seen this kind of aggression here at home, most recently with the Occupy Wall Street movement. This homegrown protest movement has been created to oppose many important issues: corruption, bailouts, human and animal rights violations, labor issues and unemployment, to name a few. The Occupy protests are not explicitly anti-government; they are more squarely against the abuses suffered by forces outside (and penetrating into) our governmental structures. These protests have been consistently non-violent, yet have been greeted by multiple counts of police violence. Journalists, legal observers, protesters, and bystanders have all suffered from unnecessary police brutality, such as being shoved, punched, and hit by batons, run over by scooters, and having bones broken.
Two more grievous examples of police brutality against peaceful protestors can we seen in the last week in Turkey and Brazil. In Turkey, a peaceful protests arose from an effort by its citizens to protect a public park. In Brazil, citizens protested against the increase in public transportation costs. In both cases, local law enforcement resorted quickly to violent crowd control techniques (like tear gas) in order to wrangle crowds which were not previously causing a commotion. Only after these actions by law enforcement did these two protests move from a peaceful outcry for protection of simple rights and privileges to a full blown anti-government showdown.
Governments fear being overthrown. Just like anyone else in power, the people ruling our governments worldwide are threatened by the kinetic energy of a mass uprising. Protests like the ones we’ve seen in America, Turkey, Brazil, and many other places may appear to them to be a threat. Where they go wrong is in their analysis of these situations: they are responding to the perceived threat rather than the situation that is actually present. Governments and the law enforcement agencies they dispatch to “control” these situations are turning peaceful protests into violent ones by establishing an aggressive and offensive tone. It is because of the brutality inflicted by those in power that peaceful protests that turned radical.
To governments and law enforcement agencies, all those in power: listen to your citizen protestors. They are out in the streets because they want to start an open dialogue. Don’t punish their statements with tear gas and beatings. Keep calm and carry on–constructively!
Original Photo: Il Journal via Alex Almeida/Reuters