UK police kettling vs the French art of protest march management

Dear UK police chiefs and government officials,

Here’s the thing: you did it all wrong with the student protest marches. Sorry to blow your bubble, but that’s true. You had young people demonstrating peacefully against unpopular measures, with a lot of support from the generation of their parents and grand-parents, and what did you do? Treat them like dangerous rabble, using kettling and other controversial tactics.

That’s not smart.

Now, the consequences are upon you: lots of arrests, lots of anger, and rumors of forbidding more marches in the future. Oops, how undemocratic!

Now, if only you had thought about taking an interest in what goes on here, among the traditional enemy of Merry England – I mean in France. I know, I know, you don’t think much of these froggies and their seemingly permanent state of unrest. Demonstrations every other day, the horror! Talk about hampering the commerce, Maggie.

But you know what? They have evolved sophisticated ways to organize even protest marches. That’s true. It’s all about negotiating the itinerary beforehand and also putting security personnel inside the crowd. Very sneaky, you might think (making the demonstrators cooperate to their own containment? yes, it’s possible), but effective.

And I do mean negotiate. To begin with, demonstrators must always file their proposed route with the local police authority. They, in turn, can suggest modifications (for instance, don’t go too near this or that sensitive landmark). When the proposed route is agreed upon, the marchers are responsible for sticking to it. Everybody knows that if they deviate, the police can and will respond with force. The result is that the organisers of the march put voluntary « security officers » among the marchers, especially at the front, back and flanks, and they have badges or some other easily recognisable sign to distinguish them.

The police also send some plain-clothes personnel among the marchers to watch things closely and report by radio to their uniformed colleagues. Then, if someone somewhere turns violent, there’s generally either a policeman or a voluntary security person nearby, or both, and the incident is quickly handled without disrupting the whole march.

Not a magic bullet, and it needs practice, but it shows that comparatively peaceful alternatives to kettling and charges do exist.

Just thought you might be interested.

Ref.: David Dufresne, author of Maintien de l’ordre, interviewed by Article 11 (in French).

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