When I wrote the below entry I had very little information outside of the photograph, below. The escorting of protesters, separation by distance, exclusionary zone and control zone are all basic police tactics. The makeup of crowds, motivation, and methods of dispersal are also standard procedure. The link above describes what actually happened. Some aspects of standard procedure were followed, others were ignored (no exclusionary zone) and the overall plan and scene were abandoned by the police prior to the end of festivities. Compare and contrast and discuss among yourselves.
Normally, I would jump out there with an opinion of what went wrong in Charlottesville, but the availability of credible information has made that difficult. We all know that the MSM is biased. One way to combat that bias is to check twice as many sources to tease out facts that the various sides inadvertently agree upon; that begins to build a picture of what happened. In Charlottesville, information coming out of there is compromised. If you can’t trust the data going in the data coming out is worthless.
I don’t know what happened and I don’t expect to find a credible answer soon. Both sides came looking for a fight and got one. The police were judged marginally effective. However, partisans on both sides will blame the police to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. The police will bow to their political masters, take their licks and hope the price of their silence was worth it.
Best I can tell, the KKK had a permit to demonstrate at Lee Park for a specific period. The anti crowd showed up to oppose the demonstration. The issuance of a permit represents a leg up for the police. They get to make rules, or they don’t issue the permit. We don’t know what rules were made or what information the police had. I would expect the following:
- The number of KKK members expected to participate.
- An estimate of the number of supporters.
- An agreement from the organizers for a parking area far removed from the protest site. Arrangements would be made to transport KKK protesters and supporters to and from the site.
- A limitation on acceptable and unacceptable items allowed at the protest site: no baseball bats, no poles on protest signs thicker than 1/2 inch, no pointed or metal tipped poles. No chains, slingshots, prohibited knives or weapons.
- Police would provide an escort to enter and egress to the site to minimize the chances of confrontation.
This is all long established, how to manage a demonstration protocol. Law enforcement will typically assign assembly points and routes to the event. They try to make sure that the points are sufficiently removed from one another that the groups won’t reach critical mass and explode. The police line the routes to maintain peace along the way. There will always be rabble rousers that try to disrupt the process.
Antifa did not have a permit. This means that the police had no prior agreement and very little control of Antifa supporters. Given prior examples of Antifa protests, law enforcement would have been justified in setting up a controlled area and an exclusionary zone. The exclusionary zone apparently was the curb line of E Market, shared with the Lee Park. Since the only entrances to the park were along E Market Street confrontations were guaranteed.
The police missed an opportunity by not setting an exclusionary zone for a one block radius around the park. By Exclusionary zone, I mean a no man’s land occupied by the police and cleared individuals, the press, and people whose intent is to join the rally. No hanging around outside, they are going in or leaving.
The purpose of the control area is to give law enforcement the opportunity to relieve the participants of baseball bats, two by fours, one and two-inch dowel rods affixed to signs, slingshots, plus any garden variety prohibited weapons. They can keep the sign. People armed in such a manner give up these implements, leave the area or depending on the nature of the item face arrest.
Each group winds up at their assigned demonstration point, and they do their thing without interacting with one another. Protestors are right, they have a right to free speech, but that doesn’t mean that the police have to provide the audience. The ultimate irony, of course, is Antifa potentially complaining that their right to free speech was infringed, while engaged in a protest to deny another group a right to free speech.
A note on civil disobedience is an admission that the protestor is going against established norms and may violate the law in doing so. It is an admission that the violator may be arrested and is willing to take that risk. It is not civil disobedience, to beat somebody whose views you oppose about the head and shoulders, while at the same time refraining from calling the person a “motherfucker.” That activity is called aggravated assault and is a felony.
The police and the protestors know that estimates of crowd size are meaningless. I am not sure what the press knows. A protest crowd has four components without regard to the issue.
There are the leader organizers a relatively small cadre. They are committed to the cause. More and more there are hired guns committed to whoever hires them and they are geared towards violence.
There are the supporters, and they come in two flavors. There are the true believers, and then there are the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” crowd. There are just so many causes and not enough time, what with soccer practice and the dog needs to go to the vet, what’s an activist to do? Bundle. The “Save the Whales” folks agree to show up at the “Stop Autism in Dogs Demonstration” if the Stop the Autism in Dogs group can make the Save the Whales protest in Ozona. Neither group has the least interest in a cause outside their interests, but numbers are numbers.
The vast majority of people that show up at demonstrations are the Me Toos. They don’t know what the cause happens to be and furthermore don’t care. They have been told, “Dude there’s gonna be a killer band,” “Chicks dig guys that protest, maybe we can get laid.” They are curious and looking for entertainment. For most, assault is not entertaining.
One final component of the crowd are the opportunists. Mostly criminal in inclination they go where large bodies of people are because you never know.
Question: How many protesters will stand and fight if not given an outlet to escape?
Answer: All of them.
Given the opportunity, at the first sign of trouble, most of the crowd will leave. This means an estimated crowd size of 4,000 dwindles to 400. Among the first to leave are the planners and organizers so the mob is left without a command and control element.
One of the key considerations in handling confrontations at protests is; what to do when the party is over?
The police may time the rallies so that they end at different times and they can move the crowds out. With good prior planning opposing sides are moved off in different directions. The object again is to keep them separated. Officers try to channel opposing groups away from each other. It is one thing to walk the gauntlet with fifty of your buds, it’s something else entirely to do it alone.
Look at the picture; the police could have moved the KKK and supporters to the back of the park and loaded them on buses. Even without the buses, the KKK folks would have had a block long head start. Instead, the Klan was pushed out onto E Market Street where Antifa was waiting. There seems to be some debate as to whether the rally was shut down early with an immediate order to vacate the premises. I don’t know. It seems at this point the cops just stood back and didn’t escort either group or attempt to direct their movement. And that is when everything went to hell.
Given the number of police agencies and officers involved, I would be interested in seeing the operations order. There are probably several hundred copies floating around. The Operations order would lay out the chain of command and lines of communication. It would describe the overall operation, the goals and contingency plans along the way. It would define the area of operations. It would probably describe various triggering events. If this, then that…
Another thing that would be of interest would be the recording and log of activities/events kept and maintained in the command post. With information from those two sources, it would be possible to see how the actual events varied from the plan and who gave the order to deviate from the plan.
If what happened at Charlottesville was just bad luck and poor communication then I would expect that some law enforcement elements would have stuck with the original plan while other elements implemented the new plan and charted a different course. But that didn’t happen.
Oh well, round up the usual suspects. The cops screwed up again. While you are doing so ask yourself; has there ever been a State police agency ever conceived that would roll over so completely for a small town mayor?
Paul Battaglia blogs at Porac Ponders and is a retired police officer of thirty years. He recently published his first novel The Unit. It is available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook. He resides in the San Antonio, Texas area.