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News Link • Police State

The Making of a Prison Society

• Grigg

"That's why you shouldn't bring kids to protests."

This taunt, which issued from the sneering lips of an armored riot policeman, struck Don Joughin with the force of a billyclub as he tried to comfort his children – a three-year-old and a newborn – after they had been showered with a chemical agent by a riot policeman.

That assault did not take place during any of the recent "Occupy"-inspired protests. It occurred in August 2002, during a fundraising visit by then-President George W. Bush to Portland, Oregon. 

In keeping with then-recently established "security" protocols, local police were deployed in riot gear to keep demonstrators confined inside "free speech zones" located several blocks away from the motorcade route. Joughin, who was accompanied by his wife and three children, was present when police unleashed a pepper-spray fusillade against a small group of protesters who had taken a few steps outside the designated protest zone.

After the police attack began, Joughin and his family attempted to leave, but found themselves penned in. Acting on the tragically innocent assumption that the police were present in order to keep the peace, Joughin politely asked the officer obstructing an exit how he and his family could leave the turbulent intersection. "He pointed and said to exit to the [northeast], into the spraying police opposite him," Joughin recalled. 

With his family in danger of being trampled by protesters fleeing the chemical barrage, Joughin asked the officer to let him and his family through. "He looked at me, and drew out his can from his hip and sprayed directly at me," Joughin recalled. He didn't bear the brunt of that criminal assault, but his three-year-old caught some of the blast. The assailant then turned on Joughin's wife and the infant "and doused both of their heads entirely from a distance of less than three feet," Joughin testified.

As his children were screaming in agony, Joughin pleaded with the cops to allow him and his family to leave and seek help. They responded by closing ranks and blocking the Joughin family's escape. They didn't relent until someone in "authority" gave them permission to set them free. The last thing Joughin and his traumatized family heard as they left the scene was the sadistic taunt hurled by one of the tax-devouring thugs who had assaulted the children with a chemical weapon. 

While millions of Americans have been horrified by recent incidents of armored police officers beating and pepper-spraying unarmed, unresisting protesters, those nauseating spectacles are neither novel nor particularly rare. In "Securitizing America: Strategic Incapacitation and the Policing of Protest Since the 11 September 2001 Terrorist Attacks," a heavily sourced paper recently published in the journal Sociology Compass,  Patrick F. Gillham of the University of Idaho observes that current police doctrine dictates that public protests are to be treated as "security threats," and dealt with using methods inspired by "a new penology philosophy."

From that perspective, every public demonstration – however peaceful and orderly it might be –   is to be treated as the equivalent of a prison riot. This means that police are free to employ every available means – pre-event surveillance, pre-emptive arrest, hostage-taking, and the use of incapacitating "less-lethal" weaponry – in order to "neutralize" people suspected of being "disruptive" elements.

Under the "strategic incapacitation" model, Gillham notes, "police often refuse to communicate at all with possible or actual transgressive protesters except to issue commands once protest events have already begun." (Emphasis added.) It’s not enough to confine protest to "free-speech zones"; the right to assemble itself is subject to modification or revocation without prior notice – even in the absence of disorderly behavior on the part of the protesters.


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