Sunday, December 6, 2009

Copenhagen and Militarization

According to a report in the NYT, Danish officials, anticipating detention of protesters at the U.N. climate meeting, have constructed a holding facility at an abandoned beer warehouse.  The facility consists of three dozen steel cages.  The holding pens are only part of the government's security preparations.  From the report:
Officials have made it clear that they aim to keep the peace during the 12-day conference, organized under United Nations’ auspices. From new laws rushed through Parliament allowing stiffer fines and extended detentions for those deemed unruly, to public displays of newly acquired anti-riot and emergency equipment, leaders here say they are preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. Meanwhile, a variety of protest and advocacy groups — some with obscure political lineage — have signaled in online postings and other public statements that they will not be cooperating. . . .
On Thursday, police set a car ablaze in a dramatic demonstration of a newly acquired water cannon that is also capable of dispersing crowds. Police officers from various parts of Denmark have been reassigned to Copenhagen, bringing the force here to somewhere in the vicinity of 6,500 officers, or more than half of the nation’s police corps.
Chapter 7 of my book refers to this set of circumstances as the "militarization" of public places.  Shows of force, mass detention, and aggressive enforcement of public order laws are now quite common during critical democratic moments like world summits.  In the U.S., militarization became prevalent after the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.  Officials are determined to maintain public order, often at great cost (over $120 million so far in Copehhagen).  Protesters confronted with militarization tactics are either chilled or perhaps emboldened, depending on their goals.  Police claim that militarization is necessary owing to some protesters' plans, often announced via the Web (which police monitor), to disrupt the proceedings.  Protesters often claim that militarization increases the potential for violent confrontation and generally exacerbates tensions on the ground, leading to more disruptive protests. 

For the run mine protester -- i.e., one not affiliated with an organization committed to disrupting the proceedings -- it is hard to imagine a more chilling prospect than being faced with a water cannon and prolonged detention in a steel cage.  Where possible, police ought to focus on the disruptive elements or groups rather than rely upon militarization tactics that may suppress even lawful public demonstrations.  Given the militarization of public places during episodes of mass public contention, however, that may be much easier said than done.       


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