The G20 meetings in Pittsburgh brought out thousands of protesters, although you might not know that given the little media attention they have gotten. You can see an eleven minute video over at Fluxview of a permitted protest. The city was very stingy with permits. In fact, the only reason even a bit of protest was permitted in Pittsburgh was because the ACLU took the city to court.
Even the permitted protest was surrounded by cops in riot gear, but they let the protesters be. Anyone who tried to gather without a permit was attacked. In this video, some kids who had gathered in a park for a concert (kids who look like they were expecting a confrontation) were tear gassed and possibly shot at with rubber bullets.
Massive protest is allowed, just barely. It has to be permitted. It can’t disrupt the normal day to day. It can’t pose any real challenge to order. If it does, it will be squashed immediately. And the police (and military) are very good at squashing. That is because they have spent decades developing an arsenal of “less lethal” weapons that too few Americans seem to mind being used on us.
They don’t just have batons anymore. They have pepper spray, light flashes, and rubber bullets. You can peruse a list of items commonly used by police and military in this Department of Defense Nonlethal Weapons and Equipment Review. Note, throughout the review, how it talks about “riot control” and “crowd control.” They describe these weapons as meant to be used when “engaged in missions where a noncombatant threat exists” or for “crowd control during civil disturbances.”
In other words, less lethal weapons aren’t to protect us from harm, they are to protect the authorities from unarmed challenge to the system (and to protect property, of course, which often amounts to the same thing).
Many of the less lethal weapons used by police and military have been thoroughly tested on Palestinians by the Israeli army. The sonic cannon (or something similar) that they used on Pittsburgh protesters was used on Palestinian protesters in Bil’in as early as 2005. Tear gas and rubber bullets are regularly used on Palestinians.
And less lethal weapons are dangerous. Hundreds of unarmed U.S. citizens have been killed by tasers. According to a report by Physicians for Human Rights, hundreds of Palestinians have been intentionally and seriously injured by the Israeli army, often with less lethal weapons like rubber bullets.
As Naomi Wolf points out in this video, protest works, but only if it isn’t the controlled and sanitized version that the authorities allow us.
But the authorities aren’t going to allow it. We are caught between a sea of bureaucratic permits and an army of cops with less lethal weapons. Amazingly few citizens seem concerned about the loss of freedom or the threat from overzealous authorities.
In this situation, is protest even possible anymore?