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Lessons from Charlottesville: How police can protect peaceful protesters and prevent tragedy.

August 22, 2017

 

 

Charlottesville is a tragedy, an ugly reminder that hatred and racism remains and even flourishes in the United States. Could the police have done more to prevent the violence? “There was no police presence,” one woman told The New York Times. “We were watching people punch each other; people were bleeding all the while police were inside of barricades at the park, watching. It was essentially just brawling on the street and community members trying to protect each other.” 

 

Daylight Justice advisory council member, David Couper, veteran police officer and expert on progressive policing practices, wrote an article explaining how police officers can do a better job at keeping the peace during protests. He says, "My advice to police is that they need to get prepared, have adequate staffing and equipment, be strongly committed to set up an avenue of communication with protesters, and articulate to both “sides” what the boundaries and rules will be."  In another article he explains that the white supremacist groups are more heavily armed than ever before and policies should be passed to prevent this, such as "weapon-free zones."  But police play a crucial role and they can do better. Couper advocates for the "softly-softly" approach used in Europe and "The Madison Method" developed by Couper while Chief of Police in Madison, Wisconsin.  

 

Here is the Madison Method of Responding to Protest:

 

1. Facilitate and protect the right of people to assemble and petition their government.

2. Always use restraint and care in the use of force.

3. Dialogue before, during, and after the event.

4. Be effective and noticeable peacekeepers.

5. The focus should be on the protest, not the police.

6. Be open and communicate with the media.

7. Continuously improve this method.


Although they were not extremely effective peacekeepers, the Charlottesville Police Department had a difficult job to do.  Chief Al Thomas explained in a press conference that the officers had a "very large footprint" to patrol and that the alt-right protesters did not follow the plan they had agreed upon with police before the event.

 

Adopting the Madison Method may not have prevented all of the violent assaults by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, and it may need improvement to respond better to heavily-armed groups, but if it could prevent some of the clashes that will likely occur in future protests, it must be adopted.

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