The Fraternal Order of Police has announced that it plans to disrupt the premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight, in response to comments made by Tarantino criticizing police violence and in conjunction with a planned boycott of the film by other police unions, officers, and their supporters. Police are often charged with suppressing or containing protesters in order to prevent them from disrupting “business as usual,” but in this case they will be participating in protest and disruption themselves. If the protest goes forward, it will be interesting to see how it plays out, how police officers act and frame their actions when the tables are turned and they are themselves the protesters, and as unlikely as it may seem, whether other police officers will be called to control the protesting officers.
Mass protests about civil rights and dissatisfaction with our current racialized system of mass incarceration (for a great resource see Alexander’s The New Jim Crow) are arising all over the country. Hamilton College is no exception. See here how a student sponsored protest unfolded through a series of phases.
Stage 1: The Preparation
Students confided on Tuesday they were planning a walk-out of classes on Thursday at 2:00. But they deliberately did not inform most faculty.
Stage 2: The Die-In
Students and some faculty stage a die-in on the school’s crosswalk in the center of campus.
Radley, Balko. 2013. Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. Public Affairs.
For the past several years the month of May has borne witness to The Purple Hatter’s Ball, a music festival at Suwanee River State Park, FL, that celebrates the life of Rachel Hoffman. Rachel is a relatively well known victim of the USA’s “war on drugs.” She was murdered in May, 2008 on a rural road in Tallahassee, FL by two young men who were not drug dealers, but had nonetheless been approached by Rachel because a friend had told her they could sell her $13,000 worth of drugs and guns. The Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) had used a minor marijuana possession charge to pressure Rachel–who used, but did not sell drugs–to participate in this “sting” operation, and on that night in May she had $13,000 of U.S. taxpayer money in her possession. Her communication with the TPD’s officers running the sting failed, and the teenagers who had made no attempt to obtain either the drugs or guns they told Rachel they could provide her ended up shooting her, taking the money, and escaping (they were eventually arrested, several days later, as they began spending the cash). In short, the TPD created a drug buyer who did not exist, allowed her to locate drug dealers who weren’t, botched the electronics, and one person died while two petty teenage criminals became murderers, generating grieving and loss across three families, along with hundreds of friends. Continue reading
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve got a copy of LeBon’s The Crowd that I keep meaning to read. Of course I’ve internalized what we all now think he was saying—protestors are crazy!—because social movement scholars have spent the last thirty years insisting that protestors are rational actors behaving in politically salient ways. But I’ve got this nagging curiosity that I keep meaning to do something about: Maybe LeBon was writing about a fundamentally different time. Maybe protests and protestors were different. That’s not what this post is about, because I’ve not pulled LeBon back down from the shelf.
Anyway, it was with this general line of curiosity that an article from the Times of India struck me broadside: Protestors against a proposed nuclear power station were made to undergo psychological counseling. What’s this now? Seriously? The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy has been protesting for some time, but as best I can tell from a quick perusal of the web, this is the first time there’s been an attempt to brainwash them. Maybe it’s not brainwashing, maybe it’s less sinister. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has demanded an explanation from the Indian government. No other details seems to be publically available at this point. Also noteworthy: this psychological intervention follows on the heels of a government investigation of the possibility that PMANE’s work is supported by “foreign funds.” The investigation led to the detainment and deportation of a German national.
There’s no need to belabor the analysis here. India is truly a social movement society. I’ve never been to India when there wasn’t a bandt or strike or sit in or walkout or protest that effected trains, taxis, rickshaws, airplanes, government workers, women carrying water, men breaking stones, and a thousand other activities and sectors. So a protest against a new reactor is nothing new. But at a time when western security forces are developing more and more refined responses to large-scale protests, it seems that the Indian government is moving LeBon-ward. Diagnosing the protestor as patient and administering the cure.
Which brings us back to The Crowd. I wonder if LeBon got some things right about the world he lived in. Maybe, like the Fantastic Mr. Fox tells Rat, “certainly she lived, we all did. But it was a different time; let’s not use a double standard.” But then when I see the Indian government treating protest like a disorder I settle back into the conventional wisdom: LeBon was crazy. I guess I really should read his book.