How It Ought To Be Done

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Via the comments, here’s an account of how police dismantled the Occupy encampment in St. Louis. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but if true, praise, credit, and commendation to St. Louis law enforcement officials.

The first thing they did was the one that baffled me the most, at first: they gave the protesters nearly 36 hours notice, as opposed to the 20 to 60 minutes’ notice other cities gave. It has taken me almost a week, and the mistakes of several other cities, to see why that was a good idea, because here’s how they did it. Early afternoon on Thursday, they gave the protesters 24 hours’ notice: as of 3pm on Friday, the no structures in the plaza rule was going to be enforced, and as of 10pm, the curfew was going to be enforced. So, unsurprisingly, Occupy St. Louis put out a huge call for as many people as possible to come to the plaza by noon, to be trained in peaceful civil disobedience; local civil liberties lawyers showed up to brief them. Needless to say, the cops did not oblige them by showing up at 3pm. Heck, I knew they weren’t going to show up at 3pm; no way were they going to snarl downtown traffic during rush hour; I told my friend not to expect them any earlier than 7pm at the very earliest.

So, when no cops showed up anywhere near 3pm, the protesters had their biggest rally to date (as I suspect the cops were thinking, “getting it out of their system”), and then started to drift away. Rally organizers advised people to be back before 10pm, to block the enforcement of curfew. Sure enough, by 10pm, they had 350 people down there. And scant minutes later, people were jazzed up and ready to go, because outlying scouts reported that the police were gathering, en masse, with multiple cars, multiple buses, an ambulance, and a firetruck, only a couple of blocks away!

And sometime around an hour, hour and a half later, the cops just disappeared, dispersed, without ever having gotten within two blocks of the plaza. So the confused protesters declared victory, let most of the troops go home, and fewer than a hundred of them bedded down for the night in their tents. An hour later, somewhere around 150 cops showed up. I’m sure people in those tents tweeted and text messaged and phoned for reinforcements. But between the late hour, and the fact that people were exhausted after having been out there all day, and that it was the third call-up of the day? Nobody showed.

Ah, but the cops did more than just show up after two head-fakes and with sufficient numbers … they did right exactly what the Obama administration told everybody else to do wrong. They didn’t show up in riot gear and helmets, they showed up in shirt sleeves with their faces showing. They not only didn’t show up with SWAT gear, they showed up with no unusual weapons at all, and what weapons they had all securely holstered. They politely woke everybody up. They politely helped everybody who was willing to remove their property from the park to do so. They then asked, out of the 75 to 100 people down there, how many people were volunteering for being-arrested duty? Given 33 hours to think about it, and 10 hours to sweat it over, only 27 volunteered. As the police already knew, those people’s legal advisers had advised them not to even passively resist, so those 27 people lined up to be peacefully arrested, and were escorted away by a handful of cops. The rest were advised to please continue to protest, over there on the sidewalk … and what happened next was the most absolutely brilliant piece of crowd control policing I have heard of in my entire lifetime.

All of the cops who weren’t busy transporting and processing the voluntary arrestees lined up, blocking the stairs down into the plaza. They stood shoulder to shoulder. They kept calm and silent. They positioned the weapons on their belts out of sight. They crossed their hands low in front of them, in exactly the least provocative posture known to man. And they peacefully, silently, respectfully occupied the plaza, using exactly the same non-violent resistance techniques that the protesters themselves had been trained in.

Instead of brute force, cunning and creativity. Lo and behold, it worked. The Occupy encampment is gone. No one was sprayed or beaten. No horrifying photos or cell phone videos. No public funds spent defending lawsuits. No public relations nightmare. If it has to be done, this is how you do it.


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73 Responses to “How It Ought To Be Done”

  1. #1 |  S/A | 

    I live in Saint Louis and know a fair number of people who engage in activities that normally cause you problems with police. They all say (and I agree with them) that the police generally leave you alone here. If you go to the suburbs it’s a different story but in the city the cops are generally pretty alright… except when they’re acting at the behest of the incredibly corrupt aldermen.

  2. #2 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    I think #50 Les and Radley are right on this one.

    One common slogan heard at Leftish protests–in addition to the now overused “this is what democracy looks like”–is the following: “whose streets-our streets”. In this case you might amend that and make it “whose park-our park.” But what some of the more self-centered protesters don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, is that “our streets” or “our park” means EVERYONE’S streets, sidewalks, parks, etc. So, if your occupation of said park is interfering with everyone else’s use of the park, then it’s time for you to SHARE, like (most) of us learned in kinderarten. I don’t know if that is what happened here, or if it involved legit health/safety issues, but I think Radley is basically correct on this one.

    OWS may counter that they would be more than happy to share. But what would happen if a group that many OWS folks are hostile to shows up. Would OWS share the park with reporters from FOX? How about some Tea Partiers? Anti-abortion protesters? What if counter protesters from banks wearing pinstripe suits showed up? Oh that would be some shit! Or what about a regular family who just wanted to come to the park and not hear about fucking politics for an hour.

    I am sympathetic to the complaints of OWS, though not necessarily their solutions. All I am saying here is that OWS needs to learn to make their point without literally occupying their communities. If they infringe to much on the daily life of those communities, they will experience backlash, and not just from the police.

  3. #3 |  Omri | 

    “OWS may counter that they would be more than happy to share. But what would happen if a group that many OWS folks are hostile to shows up.”

    Debate is what happens. I’ve seen it first hand. Occupier protests get crowded, but they won;t exclude you from the space they’re occupying, unless you’re drunk or violent.

    And frankly, until libertarians and agitatortots actually succeed in effecting a substantive policy change, anywhere, about anything, you’re in no position to lecture to the Occupiers about how to protest. You don’t know how to make change happen. They don’t know either. But at least they’re exploring new tactics. You’re in a rut.

  4. #4 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #52 Omri:
    “Debate is what happens.”

    I hope you are right. If they are allowing people to go about their business, and if there were no actual health/safety issues, then it may not have been necessary to clear the park. I don’t know. I’m just saying that they need to make sure they are not infringing too much on their neighbors.

    Look, as I alluded to I am sympathetic to OWS, and being a native of Central IL, I recently spent some time with a handful of Occupy Peoria protestors. They seemed like good people, we had an interesting conversation and I am glad my wife and I went to hang out with them for awhile, in spite of the cold. But keep in mind that only a handful of people are actually occupying space in downtown Peoria. I don’t see any reason whatsoever to move those protesters off of the plaza they are “occupying”. The case may be different at more populated OWS encampments.

    “But at least they’re exploring new tactics. You’re in a rut.”

    I’m glad they are exploring new tactics and I am paying attention to those tactics. But I am also married and I work forty hours a week. I cannot spend every night hanging out on a downtown plaza freezing my nuts off pretending that I’m part of the “vanguard” of the revolution. I do what I can, Omri. I write editorials, I sign petitions. Just as importantly I talk to people I meet to persuade them that we don’t have to be slaves to the state OR our employers. I hardly think I am in a rut. And I don’t think Radley is in a rut either. Look at the impact his reporting has had. Suffice it to say his writing, and libertarian influence, has had more impact than you have noticed.

  5. #5 |  Omri | 

    ” And I don’t think Radley is in a rut either. Look at the impact his reporting has had. Suffice it to say his writing, and libertarian influence, has had more impact than you have noticed.”

    Radley sprang an innocent man out of prison. I take my hat off to him for that. But has he succeeded in putting an end to militarized police tactics of the kind that caused the Corey Maye tragedy? No. That is still going on. Radley’s work was necessary, but not sufficient. It will also take large numbers of people making pests of themselves for long periods of time, e.g. the Occupiers.

  6. #6 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Omri–
    No, Radley’s work has not ended militarized police tactics. However, more people are talking about these tactics now. That is progress. There are many forms of activism, Omri. Street protest is just one method. Personally, I have never been convinced that it is particularly effective. It is more or less a ritual where people people wave signs and shout then go home. OWS has changed that, of course, by not going home.

    The drawback of street protest, IMHO, is that it seems bring out annoying and even dangerous tendencies in both protesters and police. Street protests favor the extroverted, the shrill ideologue, mundane slogans and occasionally, rioters just looking for an excuse to smash shit up. These occasions also prove that some of the worst riots are police riots. Policing of protests has often been unecessarily provacative and brutal. For the most part, I would rather avoid this form of protest.

    Yes, long term change will require that “large numbers of people” make “pests of themselves.” I would just caution OWS to avoid pestering their fellow citizens in the process. Life goes on outside the protest, and they must remember that. Pissing off people driving to work or walking through a park or shopping would be a great way to lose any support they have gained this fall. I may join my local OWS group again sometime soon, but until then I would rather advocate change in my own way, if that’s ok with you.

  7. #7 |  Omri | 

    “. I may join my local OWS group again sometime soon, but until then I would rather advocate change in my own way, if that’s ok with you.”

    Oh, I’m fine with that. I’d just ask you to not support any heavy handed tactics against them in the mean time, and to make it known that you don’t support it. I think we need to push against thinking trampled grass in the park justifies breaking hippie bones.

  8. #8 |  D. Murphy | 

    “And they peacefully, silently, respectfully occupied the plaza, using exactly the same non-violent resistance techniques that the protesters themselves had been trained in.”

    On the other hand, the protesters were told that any resistance during arrest (even passive) would correctly be grounds for charges of resisting arrest. So who were the cops resisting as they made it a police-occupied park?

  9. #9 |  Les | 

    And frankly, until libertarians and agitatortots actually succeed in effecting a substantive policy change, anywhere, about anything, you’re in no position to lecture to the Occupiers about how to protest.

    I also sympathize with the OWS movement. I know where it comes from and I appreciate people expressing themselves.

    But your argument basically boils down to an assertion that if you aren’t improving things, you have no right to criticize people who are trying.

    By this logic, people shouldn’t criticize Rick Perry’s big prayer rally. By this logic, people shouldn’t criticize the “Black Bloc” vandals, people shouldn’t criticize Glenn Beck’s rally on the anniversary of MLK’s speech. I can just hear Beck whine, “Unless you’re out there fighting for change, you’re in no position to criticize people like us who are.” It’s quite obviously nonsense.

    It’s true that beyond educating myself about the issues and refusing to vote for political hacks who work to maintain the injustices we read about every day (which is more than many in the OWS movement can say), I am not out protesting (I did, however, do a lot of that in the late 80’s). But it is absolutely not true that this means I shouldn’t be critical about a movement which claims some moral authority to assert control over public spaces designed for everyone.

  10. #10 |  How To Break Up a Peaceful Protest Peacefully - Forbes | 

    […] Via Radley Balko, Brad Hicks describes how the eviction of Occupy St. Louis went down: The first thing they did was the one that baffled me the most, at first: they gave the protesters nearly 36 hours notice, as opposed to the 20 to 60 minutes’ notice other cities gave. It has taken me almost a week, and the mistakes of several other cities, to see why that was a good idea, because here’s how they did it. Early afternoon on Thursday, they gave the protesters 24 hours’ notice: as of 3pm on Friday, the no structures in the plaza rule was going to be enforced, and as of 10pm, the curfew was going to be enforced. So, unsurprisingly, Occupy St. Louis put out a huge call for as many people as possible to come to the plaza by noon, to be trained in peaceful civil disobedience; local civil liberties lawyers showed up to brief them. Needless to say, the cops did not oblige them by showing up at 3pm. Heck, I knew they weren’t going to show up at 3pm; no way were they going to snarl downtown traffic during rush hour; I told my friend not to expect them any earlier than 7pm at the very earliest. […]

  11. #11 |  Omri | 

    “But your argument basically boils down to an assertion that if you aren’t improving things, you have no right to criticize people who are trying.”

    No, my argument boils down to an assertion that if you haven’t a protest method that succeeded in effecting change, you don’t have standing to tell the Occupiers to stop what they’re doing and follow your example instead.

  12. #12 |  Les | 

    No, my argument boils down to an assertion that if you haven’t a protest method that succeeded in effecting change, you don’t have standing to tell the Occupiers to stop what they’re doing and follow your example instead.

    You’re just repeating yourself with slightly different words. I don’t have a protest method that succeeded in affecting change, so I can’t tell “Black Bloc” vandals to stop what they’re doing? I don’t have a protest method that succeeded in affecting change, so I can’t tell Glenn Beck that he’s misguided to have a rally on the anniversary of MLK’s “I have a dream…” speech? Really?

    Also, let’s note that while I appreciate a lot of the OWS message and their bringing to light terrible police practices and policies, there’s little evidence that they have “succeeded in affecting change.”

    And simply saying, “You can’t criticize OWS because your protests don’t work,” completely ignores the central fact that it is wrong for one group of people to assert control over a public space which is intended for all people.

  13. #13 |  Les | 

    I should change that last sentence to say, “total control,” instead of merely, “control.” Lots of groups should be able to control public spaces at different times. As long as they’re willing to share and be considerate of the public at large.

  14. #14 |  Omri | 

    ” I don’t have a protest method that succeeded in affecting change, so I can’t tell “Black Bloc” vandals to stop what they’re doing?”

    The only change the Black Block has effected was a change in insurance premiums for storefronts in Seattle.

    OWS, on the other hand, may (may, this remains to be seen) wind up being the reason our police forces learn to act like police forces once again.

    Notice the difference?

  15. #15 |  This is how you know OWS has had an effect « A Man With A Ph.D. | 

    […] Via Radley Balko, Brad Hicks describes how the eviction of Occupy St. Louis went down: […]

  16. #16 |  Les | 

    OWS, on the other hand, may (may, this remains to be seen) wind up being the reason our police forces learn to act like police forces once again.

    What the huh? The suggestion that police forces were, at one time, less corrupt than they are now is laughable and demonstrably false. It would be nice if police policies were changed because of all this, but only time will tell.

    Even if something that OWS is doing has some positive effect (and there is, so far, no evidence of this), you are still wrong as wrong can be that people who aren’t in OWS can’t criticize it.

    Is it okay for a scholar today to point out the racism in the labor movement of the early 20th century? Is it okay to point out the infighting and sexism in the civil rights movement, the injustices committed by the allies in WW2? Of course it is. The alternative is to childishly ignore valid criticisms with the shallow excuse of, “You’re not fighting for justice, so you can’t judge.”

    Which is, I guess, easier than admitting that it is wrong for one group of people to assert total control over a public space which is intended for all people.

  17. #17 |  Omri | 

    “What the huh? The suggestion that police forces were, at one time, less corrupt than they are now is laughable and demonstrably false. It would be nice if police policies were changed because of all this, but only time will tell.”

    DId I say corrupt? The context is clearly the militarization of the police, which has been going on for decades. OWS has had a major role in turning public opinion against the militarization.

  18. #18 |  Les | 

    Pepper spraying non-violent protesters has nothing to do with “militarization.” Removing protesters from parks has nothing to do with “militarization.” In fact, it could be argued that even though they are frequently terrible, the riot police of today are an improvement over the riot police of years ago.

    And not only don’t we know if OWS has had a major role in turning public opinion against anything, there are few signs that police militarization will decrease soon, and several signs indicating that it will get worse before it gets better.

    Now, can we at least finally agree that it’s wrong for one group of people to assert total control over a public space which is intended for all people?

  19. #19 |  Matthew House | 

    I’m neutral. I don’t care for republicans or democrats. The OWS people really -really- shot themselves in the foot. Badly. Regardless of what the law might be, inhabiting the local park, blocking traffic, defecating all over the place, spreading parasites and disease, and being a place where crime rates spike due to your presence is not doing yourself any favors. Sure, they’re ‘not part of the movement’. The tea party people didn’t seem to have that problem. Which brings me to my second point. OWS, if they have a coherent message, I’ve not heard it. They’ve been causing trouble for weeks, and I -still- don’t know what they want. So, from my little corner, All the OWS has done is cast suspicion on anything they protest in favor of.

  20. #20 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Good link, Radley. When I read it on Brad Hicks’ blog a few weeks ago I was impressed by the unusual common sense that the SLPD seemed to have shown. I’ve read a number of Brad’s other posts as well, and he seems pretty damn savvy.

    Re: #31: UC Davis PD’s Lt. Pike made a cameo appearance in today’s Non Sequitur comic strip, riot gear, spray can, casual stance and all. P.J. O’Rourke has said that he reads comic strips (“and I don’t mean the ones that try to be hip, like Doonesbury”) to keep an eye on societal trends and determine whether they’ve really gone mainstream (“I’m still waiting for Dennis the Menace to be put on Ritalin. I mean, the kid needs it!”). By that measure, Lt. Pike has really made the big time. It’s one thing to have one’s likeness photoshopped into paintings of George Washington crossing the Delaware and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and then to be followed by the same people who read Chuck Norris facts, but another entirely to show up spraying a child’s protest booth in a nationally syndicated comic strip that is often apolitical.

    In circumstances like these, smart police chiefs and commanders try to find ways not to be compared to Lt. Pike. In pretty much every sense–keeping officers and protesters safe, abiding by the law, avoiding bad press and civil liability–what the SLPD did sounds like intelligent and simply good policing.

    Re: #23: That’s another reason to be optimistic about the NOPD under Ronal Serpas. When I first heard about Serpas being hired as Superintendent, all I could think was that the city’s leaders weren’t really interested in cleaning house at the NOPD because they’d hired yet another insider. An NOPD veteran, even one who had done time as a police commissioner out of state, sounded like a bad idea in light of the perennial corruption on the force and after the tenures of Warren Riley, a seeming mediocrity, and Eddie Compass, who was ironically a disoriented buffoon. I’ve been impressed for some time that Serpas isn’t beholden to bad actors on the force, as I’d feared, and NOPD’s peaceful removal of the Occupy camp is evidence that real discipline is being imposed for a change. Even with my positive impression of Serpas, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear about some knuckleheads under his command using the Occupy encampment as a pretext for assault or another Danziger Bridge massacre.

  21. #21 |  Andrew Roth | 

    The thing I can’t figure out about the NYPD is why an agency with so many intelligent, well-spoken, decent beat cops and detectives, including “Hipster Cop” Det. Rick Lee, its main liaison to the Occupy protesters, would ever send goon squads staffed with its knucklehead minority to harass or break up a high-profile protest, or allow DI Anthony Bologna to get away with violent jackassery. Ray Kelly isn’t an idiot, nor are most of his officers, and yet these total morons keep stealing the show. This also applies to constitutional outrages like stop-and-frisk, which goes to hell in a particular hurry when it’s implemented by bigoted beat cops who have no street smarts.

    It seems that the NYPD has spent almost two decades allowing the bottom decile of its sworn staff to fuck things up for the upper nine deciles by being stupid assholes. I understand why a creep like Giuliani or a haughty oddity like Bloomberg might encourage this, but I don’t understand why Ray Kelly or most of the precinct-level brass would go along with it. It’s not as if the city’s mayors don’t have access to shitty commissioners if they don’t like Kelly’s relative professionalism; after all, Giuliani is the one who gave his city Howard Safir and gave his country, albeit briefly, Bernie Keryk.

  22. #22 |  demize! | 

    Im late on this one, but these are the threads that seem to separate the libertarians from the “libertarians”. If you are at this late time still stressing over the property concerns of camping on public property, than im afraid you fall into the latter category as does Radley in this case unfortunately . That latent conservatism starts showing from under the petticoat. But then I’m an anarchist and I say lets start burning shit. ymmv.

  23. #23 |  demize! | 

    Andrew where on earth did you get the impression that Kelly is professional? Unless you mean professional asshole. He should have stayed with Customs and continued to let live cows be smuggled through JFK.