Towards a Formal Theory of the “Police Riot”

Let’s define a “police riot” as any incident in which the force used by the police to end a “disturbance” in supposedly the interests of ordinary law-abiding citizens makes the street unusable by ordinary law-abiding citizens. This is what former Illinois governor Otto Kerner called police actions in 1968 in which a previous generation had demanded access to the Democratic convention.

Then as now, different standards had been imposed on previous right wing protests and other actions. The earlier 1960s saw attacks on Adlai Stevenson (another liberal former governor of Illinois who’d run for President in 1952 and 1956) and noisy demonstrations by the right at the 1964 Republican convention in favor of the nomination of the unelectable Barry Goldwater…even as, two years ago, the police did not react when guns were openly carried at Tea Party protests.

In Chicago 1968 and Oakland 2011, the disproportionate police response and NO action by the protestors had made the streets unusable. Passersby such as Hugh Hefner had been attacked by police in 1968 and today, the police at Occupy protests make no distinction between protestors and people trying to get home.

One YouTube video, for example, shows a woman in NYC, an ordinary bank customer, being arrested merely for objecting that she is not part of the protest.

In the Youtube video, the well-dressed woman who appears half way was obviously not part of the protest. Nonetheless she is arrested by one of the Dickless Wonders (the greasy little plainclothes cop in the hat). At this point, we have a police riot, since the announced purpose of clearing the streets is to serve and protect “ordinary decent hard working people” such as her. Mass and indiscriminate arrests go beyond this point.

If the goal is the safety of the streets for the citizen, police riots violate the First Amendment rights of peaceful protestors and Ninth Amendment rights of passersby and the woman in the YouTube video.

Police riots expose what’s already there. The woman probably had made her own peace with normalized deviance and normalized violence. She’s probably paid less than she’s worth: she probably works a ten or twelve hour day in an office to meet deadlines while being paid only for eight hours: she’s probably at a glass ceiling and may be subject to sexual harassment.

The protesters in the bank had de-normalized the situation so the cops immediately showed the thug face of authority.


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