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A Right to Assemble Chaos--Why American Police Incite Riots

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"Management Service: DR11" is an episode of popular nineteen-fifty and sixties American docudrama Dragnet, chronicling the aftermath of the assassination of civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Airing October 10, 1968, the episode centers on officers Joe Friday and Bill Gannon, as they are assigned with devising a police response to possible Los Angeles protests. 

Sergeant Friday decides it's wiser to limit police presence, but keep a riot force on standby, and concludes if the situation is treated like a riot from the start, that's exactly what they're going to get.

"Chief wants no excessive show of force, and don't act on rumors," he barks.

Dragnet, of course, is fictional, but as with most television programs, it reflects the values and thinking of a given era.

The nineteen sixties was turbulent enough of a decade and most certainly there was police brutality, but it was recognized that citizens had the right of public assembly and protest.  Law enforcement reserved excessive show of force for situations that required it and it wasn't policy to incite riots over traditional, college-student customs.

Prior to the University of Wisconsin's men's basketball Final Four game, a Wisconsin State Journal headline announced; "Police preparing for another big post-game crowd on State Street." The article goes on to predict an even larger crowd than the "10,000-person party that erupted there last weekend."

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How do Madison, Wisconsin, police handle a pumped-up crowd of 10,000 college-aged, and probably alcohol-fueled, revelers?  Apparently, the chief has seen season 3-episode 4, as he "prepared" with only 50 officers in standard "soft gear" and kept the riot force on standby.

Thousands of drunken, loud and rambunctious students crammed State Street. Several threw bottles or firecrackers, some climbed light posts while others stood atop bus stop shelters, shouting at the top of their lungs.

The State Journal mused the following morning, "A Madison police officer told one man, 'I'm not gonna put a Band-Aid on your head' when he saw him hanging from a tree."

There were no arrests and just a few citations issued to the overly rowdy, as police spokesperson Joel DeSpain happily reported. "We didn't have any serious issues and we're really proud of how our fans reacted."

Tucson, Arizona, police, however, don't view the antics of college students the same as the fictional Joe Friday or Madison police. Following the very same game, the several hundred students taking to the streets were outnumbered by police in gas masks and full riot gear.

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The Tucson police's own overreaction and show of excessive force when it really wasn't necessary created the very conditions in which a riot was the most likely outcome. In fact, they pre-planned and instigated a riot themselves, as verified by CBSSports.com:

"Police were prepared in riot gear, then forced to use pepper grenades when certain segments of the aggravated horde began verbally opposing the presence of law enforcement."

The students were completely justified in opposing such a heavy-handed police presence, because it wasn't necessary to begin with. This wasn't a riot; there were no rumors or any indication that a riot was even going to take place. These were neither protesters nor radicals; rather this was a group of forlorn students lamenting their team's loss.

The police had instigated the very riot they were there to avert, by their own unwarranted excessive force.

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http://www.jamiewendland.wordpress.com

Jamie Wendland is a Sociologist known for well-researched political and cultural analysis. A contributing columnist for Russian Pravda.RU his articles and commentary also appear in a variety of international publications and journals. Feel free (more...)
 

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