Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Baltimore Riots: Provocateurs!
Last night in Baltimore, the action followed a pattern that's familiar to anyone who's been following grassroots politics for a few decades. First came the protest march, organized by local Black churches, that plodded down the street waving signs and shouting slogans and doing nothing more disruptive than blocking traffic. Then, all of a sudden -- according to witnesses and marchers who had Twitter accounts and were carrying their phone with them -- a group of about 50 men, dressed like stereotypical Boyz In De Hood, started smashing and looting shop windows, throwing firecrackers, and attacking bystanders. A hapless driver who turned his car onto the street was promptly surrounded, and the hoodie-boys started slamming their fists on the car windows. They got as far as pulling the car doors open and starting to drag the occupants -- the driver, his wife and two children -- out into the street, and then, seeing that nobody in the rest of the march was joining them, suddenly stopped the attack and melted away into the crowd. Of course the police moved in, grabbing the protesters and arresting a couple hundred of them.
The city government declared a curfew today, and the protest organizers insisted that they'd still march -- up to the beginning of the curfew. That they did, and by the beginning of the curfew the only people on the street were just over 100 men, again wearing stereotypical Gangsta costumes. These same guys threw rocks, bricks, bottles, firecrackers, and a molotov cocktail or two. Again, the police moved in, but with only their riot-shields, tear gas and smoke grenades -- whereupon the gangsta boys faded quickly into the background. The media, who were out in force this time, noted the difference between police tactics here and in Ferguson, Missouri. The original protesters were in their churches at the time.
Now doesn't that sound a little too planned? Yes, "violent" protests get media attention when nothing else does, but in this case the difference between the protesters and the rioters is a little too clear.
For anyone who has seen provocateurs in action before, it was pretty obvious what was going on here. Starting with the Chicago Haymarket riot of over a century ago, the usual purpose of the provocateurs is
to give the police an excuse to charge into the crowd of protesters, beating and possibly crippling or killing as many as possible, and arresting all the "leaders" for later jailing or execution. Their secondary purpose is to make the protesters, and their purpose, look bad. Their tertiary purpose, if they can pull it off, is to take the lead of the protest and stampede it into running itself over a political cliff. A quick look through history can show you examples of all three of these in action. Note the aforementioned Haymarket Riot, the discrediting of the Black Panthers, and the ruining of the National Organization of Women after it was seduced into following Andrea Dworkin.
But people do eventually learn. The Baltimore protesters, after the first night, made a point of observing the curfew and getting off the streets -- and into their churches. The police also had better sense than to charge at the crowd and bop-bop enthusiastically -- or maybe their commander recognized the provocateurs and realized that nobody else was out there. It didn't hurt that some genius in city hall actually went and negotiated a peace treaty with the local street-gangs before the march started.
The ultimate solution is for the protest group to realize when it's being -- or likely to be -- provocateered, and have counter-tactics ready. The easiest tactic is to step away from the provocateurs, point to them, and loudly yell: "Imposter!" Another, requiring more warning and planning, is to surround the provos, close in on them, grab and silence them -- as in the classic movie, "The Grapes of Wrath". Better still is to identify and isolate the provocateurs, send them off to some "action" where none of the rest of the protesters will be, and leave them to face the cops alone -- as was neatly done in Baltimore. Well done, folks. Well done.