Our recent piece, A Field Guide to Protests: The Protest Marshal, took most of its inspiration from experiences we shared apart and together – at precincts, in the streets and on highways in the Twin Cities – but we also learned much about the protest marshal from local reporting on the hidden mechanics that make demonstrations stay so regular.
The following three linked articles (their nature revealed as headlines alone) demonstrate with near crystalline perfection some of the actions, effects and possible manifestations of our local protest marshal as discussed in A Field Guide. The Twin Cities protest marshal, setting an example for protest control and management nationwide…
An informative behind-the-scenes report released two days before the Women’s March in St. Paul assuring all Twin Cities pussy-hat paraders that the ‘event’ would be crawling with more than 100 deputized protest marshals, trained personally by the St. Paul Police Department. During the Women’s March it was some of these very marshals that rushed to the aid of a homophobic counter-protester after he accidentally pepper-sprayed himself while pepper-spraying a majority women of color group that confronted him and his bigotry. Evidently the SPPD trained these marshals well. They, all white women, were committed to deescalating this potentially disorderly confrontation rather than supporting some femmes of color engaging in conflict with white supremacy and cisheteropatriarchy.
The language in this one was really insightful and inspiring though it only addresses the protest marshal implicitly. We’ll just let some of the praise of the MPD speak for itself:
“I think we share the same goal of having a peaceful and a safe environment for people to assemble,” said Lt. Gary Nelson, who organized the response to a recent demonstration in the Third Precinct. “I think in days past, it was handled more as crowd control.” … Nelson said that the approach was another example of the department dealing with demonstrations in a more nonconfrontational [sic: an absent hyphen perhaps indicating further the increasingly invisible new ‘confrontational’], friendly way, “as opposed to years prior where I think it was more trying to maintain law and order.” … “It’s important that there’s a middle ground between people who still want to advocate for change and reform and those who are out there and have a job to do.” … An image of a cop reaching for his or her baton captured on a bystander’s cellphone and beamed out via social media can change the narrative of a protest, he said. The focus should remain on the protesters and their message, he said. “It should not become a story about the Minneapolis police,” he said.
And when it is a story about the Minneapolis or St. Paul police (as it often is), is the focus of the protesters not necessarily a focus on the police? That incredible confusion aside, we are pretty sure that the police can chalk up a lot of this praise (mostly received from themselves) to the protest marshal. The protest marshal, that unspoken of “middle ground”, is the most friendly enforcer of crowd control and maintainer of law and order we’ve seen to date – a job they’ve taken upon themselves!
To end on a realistically dystopic note, let’s talk about surveillance and everyone being watched constantly by human protest “monitors” that would be enlisted as “truly” “neutral” parties to observe protests. These “protest monitors” would allegedly be “different” from other observing and marshaling parties such as those from the ACLU and NLG (and we assume those interested in deploying the protest monitor would likewise think of them as different from other much less noted protest marshals deputized by local non-profits) in their somehow different true neutrality:
They would wear recognizable clothing and carry a camera. “Part of the idea here is to have a designated, independent neutral party that’s visibly identifiable. They don’t work for the police, they’re not part of the protest. They stay on their own neutral turf but they’re monitoring both sides.”
Will the ‘protest marshal’ be replaced by the even more insidious sounding ‘protest monitor’? Are they different at all? Are there not already protest monitors everywhere already at protests? Will they be robots? The Office of Police Conduct Review and the Civil Rights Department are currently studying the idea. We are too.