Saturday, December 31, 2011

Protesters & Police Powers

The editors of Time  chose to celebrate "the protester" as the magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2011.  The editors explained their unconventional choice (last year Time named Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg Person of the Year) this way:
No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in a public square, it would incite protests that would topple dictators and start a global wave of dissent. In 2011, protesters didn't just voice their complaints; they changed the world.

Read more about Time's selection here.  One can find similar year-end reminiscences celebrating the global protest movements in numerous other  news magazines and newspapers.

Consider how those pieces compare to the much less sanguine and much more substantive analysis of the recent protest movements offered by Alasdair Roberts (Suffolk--Law & Public Policy) in the Boston Review.  Roberts argues that Occupy Wall Street has been "contained" through use of the police power.  He also analyzes American protest movements' encounters with local police forces from a historical perspective.  Here's an excerpt:

Throughout Europe, this is the season of protest. There are massive, angry demonstrations—tens of thousands in the streets of a dozen capitals laying siege to finance ministries and parliaments, shutting down roads and rail, and seizing public spaces. ...
Americans have reasons to be outraged too. But American protests have been muted by comparison. ... After decades of increasingly sophisticated policing and changing notions about the boundaries of legitimate protest, public demonstration in the United States today is not only tamer than in Europe, but perhaps also tamer than at any time in the nation’s history.

For a challenge to the view that local police have "shut down" OWS, see this Wash. Post opinion piece by Gina Glantz.  OWS in fact has proliferated, the author argues, notwithstanding its supposed "containment" by police under color of health, safety and welfare laws.