Are Cops Like Bulls? Are Protests Like RUnning With the Bulls?
By Kirsten Anderberg Copyright 2004
I wrote an article called “What Does Legal Self-Defense From Riot Police Look Like?” It got many responses, but one intrigued me most. It was from someone using the name “Officer Friendly” and the domain of their email was “USA.gov” (check out www.usa.gov, by the way). His response to my article was “You mess with the bull, you get the horns, you know what I’m saying?” He reflects the sentiments of many Americans regarding protests. If you are going to go out and PROTEST, you deserve whatever VIOLENCE you get from POLICE. But how does that sit with the ideal of free speech in America? It is odd that those who defend the war in Iraq most passionately, also most vehemently reject the concept of free speech at home in America in the form of protests, while touting it as one of our great liberating purposes in Iraq!
In law, there is a concept called “reasonable force.” It is an objective standard at best, and one that communities vary upon, due to community standards, much like obscenity standards. But there is an overall agreement in American law that deadly force is not acceptable in defending personal property, or chattel, alone. One example of this would be spring-loaded shotguns in homes, which have been banned everywhere, or nearly everywhere, for years. Spring-loaded shotguns were placed facing doors and when someone opened the door, they went off. Many an innocent fire fighter, family member, and child, was killed by accident this way. But we studied one case where someone was using the spring-loaded shotgun as protection of self, feeling they were going to be hurt in their home. So when the suspect did enter the home, and was shot, this was not about defending property, but about defending what the victim perceived to be his life. But it set a bad precedent to allow that. I cannot remember the outcome of the case, but I still remember the valid parts of the debate. (Many people think law school is about remembering cases and the conclusions, but most of law school was not as concerned with the conclusions of individual cases, but rather the legislative intent and reasoning that went into the decisions, and trends running through those directions, as that is what will be used in the next cases forward). This discouragement of deadly chattel defense is also exemplified in looting situations. Sometimes in riots, storeowners will try to shoot looters. That has not been accepted as valid most times. One’s physical being has to be in danger, basically, to have a good defense after seriously hurting someone who was trying to steal chattel of yours. It gets a little weirder when we get to defending land. That has other political aspects to it, around taking of land by the government, and the rights to defend that, but that is very objective in standard, also. You most likely cannot get away with killing someone for simple trespassing, for example. So let us apply this reasoning to other scenarios of similarity.
At the Democratic National Convention (DNC) held in Chicago, in 1968, protests and famous police riots exploded. We are about to have DNC protests in Boston in July, 2004, and we need to look at history. Then, as now, the debate raged about what is NECESSARY or REASONABLE FORCE by police upon protesters. Some felt that the 1968 anti-war demonstrators’ open contempt for the police, and use of “extreme” obscene language towards them, “provoked” the police violence, and justified it. In the Official Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, coordinated by Daniel Walker in Nov. 1968, right after the event, reports indicated that most of the taunts to police were verbal only. Is there legal justification for physical violence, on the part of police, in reaction to verbal taunts? Should police beat a teenager’s head bloody, for taunting him verbally? Is that OKAY with America’s societal standards? That, to me, seems UNNECESSARY force. Do police have a DUTY to RESTRAIN ALL VIOLENT BEHAVIOR until their own physical safety, or the physical safety of others, are endangered? Who are police protecting when they beat up youth who utter epithets towards police officers, such as perhaps calling them “fucking pigs?” And in 1968, as police rioted on youth who “assaulted” them with words, the official report by Walker says, the Chicago police were reported as taunting protesters, and yelling for them to come down where cops would beat them. So police can taunt the protesters, but if the protesters verbally taunt the police, they get beaten, shot at, toxified with chemicals…it is so bizarre to have this heavy military presence on our streets posing as police forces to protect the public, yet they can taunt and assault protesters all they want, without legal recourse. They did it to anti-war protesters in Seattle, Wa. on March 22, 2003, and they did it again on June 2, 2003, in Seattle, at the LEIU protests. I was at both the March and June riots in Seattle, and both had police verbally assaulting and taunting protesters, and then police hurting nonviolent protesters who were endangering no one and nothing. And they got away with it all too, even though we made many, many complaints to proper officials. The officials somehow are acting like “We messed with the bulls, and we got the horns,” as Occifer Friendly quipped in his comment.
The press was attacked and assaulted in 1968 at the DNC police riots, as police tried to destroy evidence of their behavior. Mainstream nightly news reports called it a “bloodbath.” The Walker report says in its summary, “Newsmen and photographers were singled out for assault, and their equipment deliberately damaged. Fundamental police training was ignored.” “Cries of “get the camera” preceded individual attacks on photographers.” “Individual newsmen were warned, “You take my picture tonight, and I’m gonna get you,” by police. “A photographer from a news magazine said that finally, “I just stopped shooting, because every time you push the flash, they look at you and they are screaming about, “Get the fucking photographers and get the film.”” Out of 300 mainstream news reporters assigned to cover the 1968 Chicago riots, 63 were physically attacked by police, says the Walker report. So, let’s review this. If protesters use epithets toward police, they risk physical assault and violence, even if the police are yelling epithets at the protesters. Then, if the press tries to document the police brutality, the police attack the press violently. DOES ANYONE HAVE A PROBLEM WITH VIOLENT FORCE USED FOR NONVIOLENT TAUNTS? And the attacking of the press to hide all evidence of the events? This same tactic of violent physical attacks on verbal free speech and protest, and the subsequent attacking of the press, especially photographers, for trying to document the violence, occurred at Seattle’s WTO riots in 1999, and also at the FTAA riots in November last year. What is it the police are so afraid of being documented, if their violence is justified so and protesters deserve what they get?
Which brings me to Occifer Friendly’s statement, that going to a protest is “playing with the bull,” and asking for “the horns.” I think his analogy of police and bulls needs exploration. Yes, bulls, as well as police, seem to charge at the sight of red and black! Both are full of bullshit. Yes, bulls have horns, and “Satan” has horns! I suppose police probably have horns too. Or maybe their horns are their weapons they carry strapped to their bodies. They have artificial horns. And artificial horns can be removed…(oh my, illegal thoughts, delete, delete). And yes, going to a protest often resembles running with the bulls once police decide to riot…I guess the bull analogy is not so bad. We use bullhorns and cameras, while police act like crazed bulls with strap-on horns…charging us. I think we should contact those who run with the bulls and learn some of their tactics.