Late last night I heard that police, aided by National Guard and federal military had deployed microwave directed-energy weapons and LRADs (Long Range Acoustic Devices) against the rioters in Pittsburgh at the G-20 summit. Earlier in the day, police had been forced to use pepper spray or tear gas against the protestors. I don’t know enough about the protestor’s position, but I do suspect (according to news reports) that many of them are loosely affiliated (even if only by way of common stupidity) with those who caused the WTO riots in Seattle.
Because microwave weapons and LRADs are interesting new NLW (Non-Lethal Weapons) and much more Sci-Fi than rubber bullets, bean bags and pepper spray, I originally intended to write a “guide” to the different types of known anti-protest warfare that might be encountered. Information about many of these devices is freely available online, but I was a little hesitant to post something for educational purposes that could be construed as aiding these idiots.
I’m currently taking a criminal justice class at school. The textbook is built on the conflict between “individual rights” and the “better good of society”. Simply illustrated, this would be like the “right” of a person to get drunk, vs the right of society to be protected against drunks. Seems pretty straightforward, but since 9/11, things have become more complicated. Now we must determine whether our right to information that could be used in a threat against our society is more important than the safety of our community provided by restriction of such information (or activity). Some politicians (and I will admit, myself to an extent) have determined that yes, we do have to sacrifice some of our individual freedoms because there are a handful of folks out there who abuse those freedoms to hurt the rest of us. This really is like putting a restriction on beer or driving a vehicle because of the danger a handful of irresponsible people pose to the rest of us … except it is a little more difficult for many to understand. How is a book dangerous? A large meeting of people exercising their “free speech”? A donation to a “charity” based in the Middle East? A bottle of fruit juice in your carry-on bag, or a boy scout knife in your pocket? We found, at 9/11, that these things can be very dangerous.
After considering this, I decided against posting any detail about NLW’s on this blog. I don’t want to aid people in breaking the law – and when they are lighting garbage cans on fire, scaling buildings, and assembling in areas that they did not secure a permit for, they are definitely breaking the law. How would you like to be trying to drive to or from work, and suddenly find yourself trapped not only in the usual rush-hour traffic, but surrounded by screaming people with bandanas on their faces who are lighting fires and waving signs? I’m sure if you are a conscious liberal, trying to “prove” how enlightened you are, you’ll say something like “I would be thrilled to see fellow Americans exercising their right to free speech!” You’d be lying, though. As a liberal myself, I once found myself in exactly that situation (though they weren’t lighting fires at the location the trapped me), and I will promise you, when you mix a crowd of political zealots with some opportunistic and incendiary anarchists, the outcome is a giant monster that doesn’t care who you are if you are in their way. If you weren’t already carrying a sign and hatefully screaming about peace, they will not differentiate between you, a policeman, or a police sympathizer.
There is, therefore, a very good reason – a reason that serves the public good – for issuing permits and not issuing permits to assemble in protest. The other criminal behavior is pretty obvious: lighting things on fire is arson, breaking windows is vandalism, scaling buildings is trespassing, etc.
Over the past year I studied American History in school. America has a history of violence and armed rebellion. The Boston Tea Party, for example, would greatly offend the common person now days. They dressed up as Native Americans (race crime! bigotry!), lit some guys basement on fire (arson! robbery! destruction of property!), stole a bunch of tea (robbery! disruption of commerce!), and generally created fear in the British soldiers (terrorism)! And for what good? Our freedom? No, sadly – while this did eventually contribute to the formation of our country – they did all this to protest, in part, the lowering of taxes by the British, which forced smugglers (like John Hancock?) out of business. I’m sure there were other reasons, and no doubt there were some opportunists like today’s anarchists … who simply want an excuse to engage in violence.
Still … were it not for some similar protests over our history (and certainly there are better examples of productive uprisings in other countries who do not have the same opportunity to peaceably enact change in their governments as Americans enjoy), America wouldn’t be where we are now. Blacks might not be free or have equal rights. The balance of government might be different (due to the changes prevented or compromised for by the US Civil War). So are these protestors in Pittsburgh making a better America? Most likely they are not. But to stand by and unquestioningly accept the government’s position in such conflicts is also dangerous, because any powers used to suppress criminals could be used to suppress the rest of us. While the techniques used to prevent, prosecute or convict may be fairly consistent, it only takes a swipe of the pen to change the definition of “criminal”.