Op-ed: A positive solution to police response to protests

Witnessing the protests and police response as an outsider living in Berkeley, I’d like to offer a positive solution: when police respond to protests, they should have three times as many negotiators as soldiers.

There were real troublemaking individuals in the protests.  But they were a tiny minority, and protests happened everywhere across the country with troublemaking minorities in them. Only here in Berkeley did it escalate to riots. I believe that’s because of Berkeley police’s paramilitary response, before trouble ever started.

Obviously the police must keep order, and we as citizens value them for it.  But no matter how peacefully people start a protest, threatening them with battalions of troops in riot gear, batons, and armored troop carriers makes people afraid.  Fear drives violence, and violence drives fear. This is what created the downward spiral of vandalism & violence. The massive threats of force did not serve to keep order, they fanned the flames of violence to drive more property crime and destruction.

I’d like to suggest that in the future, instead of inflammatory paramilitary tactics, the police respond to protests with three times as many negotiators as soldiers. That means for every one officer in riot gear, three negotiators are:

  • dressed non-threateningly
  • either unarmed or minimally armed
  • trained in verbal negotiation and conflict resolution
  • actually talking to people to hear their concerns, rather than lining up in armored phalanxes to herd them like frightened cattle.

Even if you don’t care about people or justice, and only care about vandalism, This will help keep order for the businesses and people of Berkeley far better than the threats of battalions of shock troops. Terrifying people does not make them orderly, it makes them angry. Considering the purpose of the protests were to raise awareness of police brutality, the police’s response proved the protesters’ point much better than the protesters themselves ever could.

Again, while there were a small number of real troublemakers in some protests, the riots are as much the police’s fault as the protesters. If the police hadn’t sent battalions soldiers in to threaten people, the protesters would’ve gotten it out of their systems in one night. Now, who knows when it’ll end?

Rather than more response vs. less response, we need appropriate response. People protest to be heard. If you hear them rather than threaten and beat them, everyone gets what they want. I believe this is the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement protests of the 1960s, where exactly the same mistakes were made, and history remembers the police as villains. They don’t have to be in the future, if they have fewer soldiers and more negotiators.

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Jeremy Faludi is a PhD student at UC Berkeley, and a sustainable design strategist. His publications can be seen at www.Faludidesign.com