Saturday, November 05, 2005

Thoughts on Rioting

I've been digesting information on rioting in South America and Europe for the last week and have concluded that the police model of "letting the rioters get it out of their system" doesn't work.

Last night, rioters doused the inside of a bus full of riders and a 56 year old disabled woman with petrol jelly. They then set the bus on fire. The victim is alive (but terribly burned) because the bus driver stayed to help her when the rest of the passengers fled.

Police in the West seem to be following a model of unreasonable restraint that leaves the rioters in control of the streets. This is an odd choice because street cops exist to provide for order and safety. This course of action leaves common people, in most cases the members of society least able to absorb the losses, as victims for as long as the rioters (mere criminals in my book) see fit.

A riot is an orgy of criminal behavior that we would never tolerate in an individual.

We would arrest, charge, and incarcerate any individual who set alight a nursery school, threw rocks at police officers, or beat up the elderly. But, since such individuals are in a group, we tolerate the behaviors under the guise of intelligent policing.

In one sense, the choice of permitting mayhem is an inherently cowardly one. (For the record, I am NOT calling my fellow officers cowards, by "cowards" I mean the whole of society.) Concerned about repeat civil rights violations such as were experienced during the Civil Rights Era or increasing the number of rioters by perceived over-reaction, we require that our officers stand on the sidelines and prevent riots from "getting out of control."

The problem with this line of reasoning is that "rioting" is already out of control. (It would be a "protest" if it weren't.)

There seems to be two questions that have to be addressed in any charge that this model is wrong: 1) when does a demonstration pass from permissible/protected free-speech to "Riot" and 2) what should the authorities do about it.

[I did a Lexis/Nexis search on free speech as it relates to demonstrations (this ties in nicely with ConLaw topics at this point in the semester) and came up with precious few that address the question of when a demonstration is no longer protected. If anyone out there has a cite that addresses this topic, I would be indebted to you to pass it along. So, in absence of SCOTUS reasoning to apply to the problem, I'll take a stab at it.]

1) When does a demonstration pass from permissible/protected free-speech to "Riot?"

It seems to me that this occurs with the first non-regulatory offense by more than a single individual in a group.

Positing a group that has obtained the requisite permission for such an assembly, as long as the violations are merely regulatory (i.e. blocking a sidewalk, carrying offensive signs, noise violations, etc.) such assembly is protected under the 1st Amendment.

It is the violation of non-regulatory offences that moves an assembly from a protected activity to that of criminal conduct. Since any permission to assemble was granted with the express or implied constraint that such assembly would remain peaceful, any destruction of property or of threatened harm by two or more members of the protest group, acting in concert, renders such permission void.

2) What should authorities do when a protest becomes a Riot?

A violation of a non-regulatory offence by an individual(even one not considered particularly serious such as vandalism or threatening of passers-by) should yield arrest and removal from the area of protest. A violation of non-regulatory offences by a few in concert should yield individual arrest and the voiding of permit. A refusal to honor the voiding of the permit should lead to mass arrest. The coordination of activity for violation of non-regulatory offenses should yield conspiracy and racketeering charges.

The problem with this approach is that the arrest of an individual will often incite other like-minded persons in the group, thereby leading to further arrests and the, almost inevitable, voiding of peaceable assembly permits. It is not a perfect solution.

However, the voiding of permits and arrest of vandals and violent offenders that masquerade as the "righteous protestors" will preserve property and promote security. Since I believe that the first duty of the state is security, such policy supports the underlying goals of civil society. The arrest of those who engage in blameworthy behavior and any others who identify more with criminals than with the society at large seems an acceptable cost for security.

The West cannot continue to permit and encourage the kind of protests as have been seen in Seattle, Washington, Philadelphia, Italy, France, Argentina, and Spain. It is important that we address the challenges of poverty and social dislocation, but, without security, the best of social designs must fail.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?