Police militarization and effective protest tactics

The people who disrupted Mayor Hamilton’s state of the city address are right to be concerned about the city’s purchase of an armored vehicle. I opposed the purchase of a mine resistant, ambush protected (MRAP) military vehicle when I ran for city council in 2015, and I remain opposed to police militarization. Let’s be clear here: A BearCat does represent police militarization. The chief of police admitted that this is “the least-militaristic option.” Unfortunately, the way the protesters behaved harms the cause.

First, targeting the news media was counterproductive. The Herald-Times has taken an editorial position in favor of the BearCat, but they are not policy makers and the photographer is not the enemy. He is there to document the meeting. Flipping him off is unnecessary and uncivil. Worse yet, this behavior (especially the middle finger) makes the protesters look like they are angry for the sake of being angry, not like they are making an effective policy argument. Is it likely that the Herald-Times will give the protesters favorable coverage after the treatment of the paper’s photographer? Ideally, that would not slant coverage, but human nature is what it is.

Shutting down the mayor’s speech did bring attention to the cause of opposing police militarization, but that cause was already highlighted by significant coverage in the newspaper and on social media. Shouting down the mayor with a bullhorn does not increase awareness, it is overkill. That also splits Leftists, as some Democratic partisans will defend their mayor.

With that said, this is an important issue. I called for a public examination of the policies for deploying the Critical Incident Response Team (basically SWAT) and especially for the guidelines on the use of “flash-bang” grenades. While they are falsely described as “non-lethal” weapons, “flash-bang” grenades have caused fatalities and have maimed people – including the horrific case of Bounkham Phonesavanh, who was severely burned by a flash bang grenade. Rickia Russell of Minneapolis “suffered third- and fourth-degree burns” from a flash-bang grenade that exploded next to her during a drug raid in 2010.

Police militarization is an important issue, and opposition to it has the opportunity to unite both Left and Right. In addition to splitting Leftist activists and Democratic partisans, overly aggressive protest methods also cause an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction among conservatives – many of whom were horrified by the deployment of military force against American citizens in Waco, Texas in 1993. Let’s not squander our opportunity to make our case with foolishly antagonistic tactics.