Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

There’s a price to pay for civil disobedience

Post by Brian O'Neill on Oct. 6, 2011 at 10:18 pm with 36 Comments »
October 7, 2011 10:15 am
MPDC Riot Police gearing up for the National Socialists Movement (NSM) March Against Illegal Immigrants . National Mall between Constitution Avenue and Madison Drive and 15th and 14th Streets, NW, WDC . Saturday afternoon, 19 April 2008 . Elvert Xavier Barnes Photography

Several years ago I was a cop on the front lines of an increasingly hostile strike, an action conducted by a certain local aerospace company. The group had ignored the request to stop blocking traffic and continued chanting- something about being underpaid and the fact that management and the cops, to use the vernacular, sucked.

The first rock arrived with the phrase, “%$#& you cop!” Then it got ugly.

Not much has changed since then. We have witnessed the mob mentality in Los Angeles (Rodney King riots), Seattle (WTO) and Vancouver, B.C. (Stanley Cup riot). More recently we have watched the protests from the somewhat ambiguously entitled, “Take Back Wall Street.”

An offshoot of this last protest likewise got ugly in Seattle’s Westlake Mall (Post-Intelligencer). Police arrived en masse to move along a large group that had been camping in the mall for several days. It was time to leave, the cops told the protesters. It’s a city park and not a KOA campground.

The result was typical. Some of the protesters who refused to leave began flailing their limbs like adult children having tantrums, and wailing “Police brutality!” like a glee club chorus.

Is this what passes for protest today?

Before we go further down this road here’s a principle we can all agree on: Civil disobedience is an American birthright. Our collective outrage at perceived injustice is an inherent trait with roots in colonial times when the notion of America was little more than theoretical. Without this willingness to rise against tyranny (and with all due respect to Great Britain) we would be drinking tea instead of coffee, eating biscuits instead of cookies, and answering our smartphones to the tune of “God Save the Queen.”

From John Paul Jones to modern day war protesters, from early American abolitionists to Martin Luther King, Jr., we are a country that has fought for our beliefs in the trenches and in the streets. And fortunately, our founding fathers built a unique government whose very nature allowed it to bend before breaking.

So on this issue we should all be in agreement: You gotta stand up for your rights.

To an extent it is also true that the police, who represent authority, act on behalf of the government. But government is not always the target, and police officers don’t make policy.

It is also true that many police officers may harbor sentiments very similar to the protesters themselves (we’re part of the 99% after all). But no one asks a cop’s opinion before the slur, egg or rock is hurled. Cops make good targets.

Rather than make this a pity party for police–especially those of us in Civil Disturbance Units wearing the latest in black stormtrooper outfits–it is more about the behavior and expectations of protesters.

When you choose to exercise your freedom of speech and assembly, in a public area, within a legal system with rules, then you must be prepared for the consequences of civil disobedience. In a constantly escalating progression you may be asked to move, directed to move and pushed along. If you fail to comply, or you resist, you will be arrested. Someone will grab you, force your hands behind your back and restrain you with cuffs. The level of force used for your arrest will usually be one level above your response.

Instead of understanding and accepting this outcome, protesters increasingly seem appalled that a police officer would have the gall to put hands on them. I’m exercising my rights, they say. You can’t touch me, they say.

Wrong. Democracy isn’t pretty, and changing a society can be a painful process.

I’ll give you this- we can and should demand that police officers behave professionally and show respect for our rights. We should also recognize that civil disobedience comes with a price tag.

Just be ready to pay up.

Leave a comment Comments → 36
  1. leehallfae says:

    Here is another example of why this reader prefers The News Tribune: They were so savvy, they found Brian O’Neill. whose opinions are often irritatingly (tongue firmly planted in cheek. Mr. O’Neill) spot on.

  2. tacoman1 says:

    I have no problem with the writers comments , just as long as he understands that civil disobedience goes both ways.
    Just because you work for the government and have a weapon does not make you enforcing the actions any less culpable.
    Therefore your example of using force one level up from that of the protestor is applicable to you , and other paid henchmen doing the bidding of the government. You can’t have it both ways, sorry.
    Regarding being part o the 99% well you may or may not be. We all have seen the benefit package and incentives/perks you receive.
    May god bless you and keep you safe , but let’s keep it real ok!.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thank you both for your comments. As I mentioned in my article the police who enforce the laws at riots walk a fine line between enforcing the law and being heavy-handed. But please understand the rationale behind “one level of force up.” If you pull out a knife on a cop don’t expect to have a knife fight. We don’t get paid fight fair, we get paid to keep the peace and go home at night.

  4. Earth_watch says:

    Ugh. If the TNT is going to continually allow for these kind of one-sided “police do no wrong” columns, then equal time should be allowed for the ACLU to offer counter-information. That title could be: There’s a Price to Pay for Allowing Police to Apply Unnecessary Physical Force, Unchecked.

    It’s troubling that more and more emphasis seems being put on police looking for specific “behavior and expectations of protesters” as any excuse to use escalated force (as opposed to diffusing a situation, non-violently, instead)… and this article’s inflammatory and stereotypical descriptions of demonstrators appears to be setting up our acceptance and encouragement of the next clash. If protesters are really such “children having tantrums” then maybe we should bring in day-care workers who apparently are more skilled in dealing with people than our police force.

    Certainly, if demonstrators are breaking the law, there’s a judicial system in place to address that. I know of no law, however, which allows for immediate punishment of being physically accosted by police in the minorly disruptive situations being addressed here… and it’s notable that no reference is made, in this peice, to the many instances where police have, indeed, overstepped their bounds for which the taxpayers pay the price, not the police.

    This is about the only thing in this article I can agree with:
    “…we can and should demand that police officers behave professionally and show respect for our rights.”

  5. Earth_watch says:

    Brian, please provide links to the training manuals which direct that police are to use a greater “level of force” than protesters are exhibiting. Please also comment on how much training is put toward de-escalating issues instead, as opposed to immediately responding with force.

    Just because a citizen may not instantly comply with police direction to immediately “move along” is not reason enough (unless innocent bystanders are somehow being put in grave danger, which doesn’t seem to be the case) to man-handle demonstrators.

    Consider: police are armed, have back-up and (as you say) are “wearing the latest in black stormtrooper outfits”; police should be able to shrug off verbal comments and be capable of moving unarmed demonstrators down the street (if really necessary) without responding overly-physically. Many other options could and should be attempted first, including simply issuing citations if some law is really being broken.

    Police are not, as you say, keeping the peace, by escalating situations. Police should protect and assist in our First Amendment right to protest, and physical force at public gatherings should only occur as a last resort. If you really believe otherwise, please direct me to the law asserting this inevitable “outcome” which you state citizens had better be “understanding and accepting” of.

  6. mjcrites says:

    Marching and having a rally isn’t civil disobedience, it’s marching and having a rally.

    Civil disobedience is: the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power. It’s not civil disobedience if the protestors are doing what the police say, hence the word disobedience (no need to throw stuff or call anyone a pig or whatever.).

    In America, historically the point WAS to get arrested so that you can argue against the governments laws or actions in court. This seems to have been forgotten by protestors, the police, and the media.

  7. Brian, someone from the TPD had a knife pulled on them at a protest?
    A few years back I remember the TPD saying protesters were throwing a few barricades around and had to be stopped, yet provided no evidence to support the accusation. Here is a video of the event I refer to. If you have a video to support the TPD claim, I’ll stand corrected. The TPD were video taping everything during this series of protests, so if protesters were acting as accused, there must be hours of police video to support the claim. I doubt there is however.

  8. swade2569 says:

    I think that most police do act professionally during protests. As a former Guardsman trained in riot control; I am aware of the heightened sense of danger at these events and I completely respect those who are charged with keeping life and property safe.

    We as protesters AND the police need to look closely within our own ranks for those who are behaving without respect to life and property, and correct that immediately.

    Maybe a little outreach from law enforcement to protest group facilitators to HELP keep these events safe would go a long way to defuse the possible wariness protesters have about police and vice versa.

    Help us keep our events safe and keep the communication lines open.

    Thank you for your service.

  9. smokey984 says:

    I think the problem lies with the corrupt politicians making unreasonable laws to which the spoon fed police are told to enforce. As a man of our society you have to make a reasonable decision. Do i enforce these lame-duck laws or use some officer discretion.

    When it comes to protesting the politicians will always direct your local first responders (Chief of Police), who have been brainwashed, into enforcing dumb ass laws while said politicians exit stage right…

    In the near future when this recession turns into a permanent depression the first responders will have an unfortunate choice to make based upon what Ive previously written. Good luck boys!

  10. LibertyBell says:

    And when democracy isn’t pretty, get ready to pay up O’Neil.

    In a Republic, the Seattle Police did pay up, for the false arrest, and jailing of many during the WTO riots, that confusing 1st Amendment from 1789, really isn’t confusing in a Republic, or the Klan Act of 1871, used to enforce it ether.

    This Republic, was formed by an act of Civil Disobedience, as M.L. King Explained, in that Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

  11. LibertyBell says:

    “The problem with too many people is they believe the realm of truth always lies within their vision.”
    Abraham Lincoln

  12. Earth_watch says:

    Brian, I would sincerely appreciate your reply regarding my previous three questions:

    1) Please provide links to the training manuals which direct that police are to use a greater “level of force” than protesters are exhibiting.

    2) Please comment on how much training is put toward de-escalating issues instead, as opposed to immediately responding with force.

    3) Please direct me to the law asserting this inevitable “outcome” which you state citizens had better be “understanding and accepting” of.

    Thank you.

  13. LibertyBell says:

    There is no training manual for a Washington State Lawman EarthWatch.

    Training comes from outside the State of Washington, and law enforcement from the criminal syndicate, a statewide issue of filling up our overcrowded prisons, with “understanding and acceptance” of hiring the criminal, shown best with law enforcement from the “OTHER” Washington.

  14. LibertyBell says:

    Can we get a David Brame Ignorance of Any LawTraining Manual Update, ONeill?

    Theres a price to pay for civil and criminal “understanding and acceptance.”

    TheKu Klux Act of 1871, and the Criminal Laws for the confused under 18 USC 241 and 242.

    Working wonders across Washington State,…and filling our overcrowded prisons with the true criminal syndicate, of Mayor’s, Police Chief ‘s and Prosecutor too…oops?

  15. plain_old_Dave says:

    Let’s be clear – the police are armed with multiple kinds of weapons, any one of which if displayed, much less brandished, by a protester, would be grounds for immediate use of overwhelming force by the police.

    Peaceful protest needs to be tolerated, especially in public places like parks where it is obvious there is concerted free speech behavior happening, as in the Occupyxxxxx movements.

    The decisions to clear the parks of campers, or disallow horn-blowing or the presence of umbrellas comes from the top, usually to shove the dissent out of the way so ‘business as usual’ may proceed.

    Well, I’ve had enough of business as usual, and so have a lot of others. The guys at the top of the force, and the politicians from who those top officers take orders need to sit back, be quiet, and let the People be heard without interference.

  16. Brian O'Neill says:

    I appreciate the healthy exchange of ideas regarding the civil disobedience column. I will try to answer a few questions posed on the matter.

    First, I am not aware of any public link to police training manuals because such publications are not typically available for public dissemination. This is not a disingenuous excuse for not answering the question. Consider an issue routinely faced by law enforcement: video clips taken from the exercise yards at state prisons show inmates doing scenario based hand-to-hand combat drills. In these clips one of the inmates will pose as a police officer and the trainee will attempt to disarm him. The group will then offer suggestions and recommendations following each attept. Given this you may understand why police agencies usually require a court order to provide our tactics handbooks. If you have further questions I would recommend calling the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (this entity runs our two state police academies) and request information on defensive tactics.

    Second, our training on de-escalation is extensive. From the police academy onward, we routinely conduct simulations where we test an officer’s ability to recognize a subject’s intentions. On the street a new recruit is judged on their ability to handle situations in this manner. Many can’t, and they are weeded out. Our goal is to give increase our awareness of situations that can be resolved without the use of force. The key issue here is that police officers respond to the actions of subjects, not the other way around.

    Also, there appears to be a misperception on Earthwatch’s understanding of the term inevitable “outcome” as used in the column. An arrest is only inevitable after a law has been violated, AND, in the officer’s discretion (in cases where discretion is allowed), the matter should result in arrest. From that point on there will be an inevitable escalation from verbal commands to physical force to affect an arrest.

    Lastly, police officers are not “brainwashed into enforcing dumbass laws.” They are people who have been hired and trained to professionally enforce the laws as voted on by citizens in this democratic society.

  17. Brian O'Neill says:

    Plain old dave- Thanks for your comment. I think you would find many cops back your sentiments on the combined frustration over “business as usual.” You may not be surprised to know that many decisions regarding enforcement originate at City Hall rather than the police department. In the case of the Westlake Mall protesters, who resorted to camping out in the park for a week, the openly liberal mayor chose to have the police step in and make arrests. As always, the issues of liberty and freedom of speech are measured against society’s need to keep running on a smooth track. For myself, I don’t care to see a large group of campers hanging out at Westlake Mall, but I do recognize that our country appears to rapidly be heading towards a financial climax.

    It’s an ugly scene no matter how you look at it. But then, democracy ain’t pretty.

  18. Brian O'Neill says:

    ipsut- If the incident to which you alluded, a knife attack against a TPD officer at a protest, actually occurred I seriously doubt whether it would have been made public. Such a video would immediately become evidence and thus unavailable for public perusal without a specific court order. I have not heard of this incident and can’t comment further.

  19. smokey984 says:

    Brian sias: Lastly, police officers are not “brainwashed into enforcing dumbass laws.” They are people who have been hired and trained to professionally enforce the laws as voted on by citizens in this democratic society.

    I beg to differ…maybe your talking about a society of yesteryear…where the laws are voted by citizens. I’m curious to the statistics of what percentile of laws these days are voted by the people? Nowdays those laws are legislated from the bench..or voted by the people and overturned by the bench? and i know your trained to professionally enforce the laws. That’s not my argument… and a blind faith toward enforcing laws that defy common sense? Hey Ive got a piece of property i lawfully paid for right? and i have to get the local governments permission to cut down a tree on my property! Theres democracy for ya!

  20. smokey984 says:

    oh and pay for the permits to do it!

  21. smokey984 says:

    And my HOA sais i cant have a fence over 4 feet high on the property i own! Come take me to jail!

  22. Brian O'Neill says:

    Good luck with the homeowner’s association, Smokey. Can’t help ya there.

  23. smokey984 says:

    Thank you. Anyways my point being i understand the general public’s frustrations within our society. Its the over-legislation that’s built up over the years and folks are starting to get all fessed up over it. This is just the beginning folks…And i hope and pray our politicians and first responders show some patience within reason.

  24. Brian: It was not me that alluded to the pulling of a knife, rather it was you in your first response as an example of “one level up”. I was quite sure no such event had happened at a tacoma protest. As to one level up, could you please explain the need for one level up at this Tacoma protest shown in the video below.
    Your department, if memory serves, said protesters were acting in a way that had to be stoped, yet never provided evidence to support the claim. Is this an example of police de escalation training you mentioned, or proffesional conduct?

  25. I seem to remember another example of Tacoma police de escalation recently when a cop reportedly according to the New Tribune article, released his dog on a young man hiding in the bushes, the young man was not the fellow the cop was looking for yet was severely mauled. The young man was hiding apparently to avoid the experience of one level up. From this experience, I’d bet he will feel the need to hide again when police are approaching. This example is off topic a bit however, as your article is refering to protests.

  26. smokey984 says:

    Our First Responders Use of Force ladder allows for the “One up” thingy. And i support it.
    As a brief scenario…
    If i, as a cop, had responded to a situation and someone had a knife, i surely wouldn’t pull out my pig sticker to take on the bad guy. The gun would be drawn and then verbal commands would be used to de-escalate the situation hopefully.
    The bad guy would have to present opportunity (presence), capability (knife in hand) and intent (the raising or thrusting in my direction at a close range) before i am allowed to use deadly force. The firearm being used as a last resort when all lesser means have failed. Its a tough job our police have and their extensive training, for the most part, is spot on.

    BTW…” A riot is the language of the unheard” – Dr. Martin Luther King.

  27. Brian O'Neill says:

    ipsut- Thanks for bringing this video to my attention. If you look at the front line of the protesters as the police advance, you will see a man wearing tan-colored clothing shoving against the line of police officers. This aggressive move was likely what prompted the police officers to step up their response. It was clear that this crowd was not going with the program. It was also clear that the police were (and usually are) outnumbered.

    What I also noticed was the number of people capturing the action on film. I don’t have a problem with this in these circumstances because, unlike in-progress crimes like car chases and drive-by shootings, the video is not necessarily valuable as evidence. I’m sure the cops were videotaping as well. They need to identify any assaultive behavior and also to critique their own performance.

  28. Brian: A police officer at 34 seconds into the video tossed a tear gas canister of some sort into what sure seemed like a very peaceful. How many seconds into the video do you see the fellow in tan clothing pushing into the police line? It seemed to me that what started the chaos was the event at 34 seconds. If cops can’t handle one fellow pushing against them by arresting him, with out tear gas, well what can I say.

  29. BlaineCGarver says:

    The Childred sure are pissed they can’t do what they want, when they want. MLK understood he would be arrested and went peacefully, and urged others to do the same. The same wihh Ghandi. The Children are misguided, and I hope they stay home lest their ignorance gets them hurt. BTW, all those slings being wielded at WTO were deadly weapons….I’m surprised those Anarchists were not shot… Good Article, Brian….

  30. Brian O'Neill says:

    I might have been commenting on a different video. I looked at several from that link. The picture of the teargas tossing was very narrow in scope, and there is absolutely no way to judge what prompted the officer to deploy tear gas. In other words, coulda been bad, coulda been good. Unless we had a very broad overview of the incident there’s no point in being the Monday morning quarterback.

  31. And no one from TPD could explain as well, even the very next day. The police were videoing everything during these protests. I’m sure that if there were evidence of any real disturbance they would have gladly produced it or arrested someone for it. Ok, enough of the Monday morning quarterback. I’ll see you in your next article.

  32. Earth_watch says:

    Brian, I did not “misperceive” your reference to “outcome”. It’s your article which refers to our needing to “understand and accept this outcome” immediately following this sentence:

    “The level of force used for your arrest will usually be one level above your response.”

    So, I wasn’t questioning if a person should be arrested, if appropriate (in fact, I stated that if a crime appeared to have been committed, the person should be arrested and have their day in court) but what I am questioning is the necessity of “greater force”. I see you have moved on to your next article, though, so I’ll continue my question there.

  33. smokey984 says:

    Again another example of getting permission to build something on a property a man has bought…friggin pathetic. Enjoy

  34. smokey984 says:

    Count one up for some competence with the First Responders!

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