Kettling is a police procedure used to control crowds. It’s named after the common kitchen appliance, one contains boiling water, the other contains violent crowds. At least that is the theory that the police have been putting forth.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the obvious answer is often wrong. Quite often disastrously wrong.
To quote Wikipedia:
Kettling, also known as containment or corralling, is a police tactic for the management of large crowds during demonstrations or protests. It involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area. Protesters are left only one choice of exit, determined by the police, or are completely prevented from leaving. In some cases protesters have been reported to have been denied access to food, water and toilet facilities for a long period.
The Kettling entry references the Crowd Control entry on Wikipedia:
Crowd control is the controlling of a crowd, to prevent the outbreak of disorder and prevention of possible riot. Examples are at football matches and when a sale of goods has attracted an excess of customers or refugee control. It calls for gentler tactics than riot control. Materials such as stanchions, crowd control barriers, fences and decals painted on the ground can be used to direct a crowd. Keeping the crowd comfortable and relaxed is also essential, so things like awnings, cooling fans (in hot weather), and entertainment are sometimes used as well. For controlling riots and demonstrations, see riot control.
The Crowd Control entry references the Riot Control entry:
Riot control refers to the measures used by police, military, or other security forces to control, disperse, and arrest civilians who are involved in a riot, demonstration, or protest. Law enforcement officers or soldiers have long used less-lethal weapons such as batons and whips to disperse crowds and detain rioters. Since the 1980s, riot control officers have also used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and electric tasers. In some cases, riot squads may also use Long Range Acoustic Devices, water cannons, armoured fighting vehicles, police dogs or mounted police on horses. Officers performing riot control typically wear protective equipment such as riot helmets, face visors, body armor (vests, neck protectors, knee pads, etc.), gas masks and riot shields. However, there are also cases where lethal weapons are used to violently suppress a protest or riot, such as the Kent State Massacre and Tienanmen Square Massacre.
In effect any large crowd can deemed by police as suspect. If a gathering is deemed suspect, Kettling is one of the crowd control options that police use.
Is Kettling a Legitimate Tactic?
Considering it’s widespread use in many countries, as documented in Wikipedia, it appears that the police forces of many nations regard it as a legitimate tactic. However there are a wide variety of issues with Kettling.
Consider the use of Kettling during the G20 meetings in Toronto. Out of those who were arrested during the G20, to the best of my knowledge, the vast majority were hold for a time, but not charged. Out of those who were charged, all have had the charges dropped.
In other words, Kettling was used against people whom the Justice system could not sustain charges against. In fact the Police were allegedly so inefficient that to date, no one has been convicted for any actions during the G20 summit. And rumors are that the violence that did happen, was perpetuated by undercover police officers. There is no proof (other than pictures) at present that undercover police were involved in the Toronto G20 protests. But other police forces have used undercover operators to track protest groups, and in some cases the undercover officer actually planned the protests (see the Guardian newspaper series in England about undercover operations).
So it appears that in Canada at least, Kettling was not justified by the results.
Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion states:
To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions.
While Newton was talking physics, the same holds true in human relationships. The Police use Kettling as a tactic. The public is devising methods to avoid Kettling. A reporter from the Guardian was on hand to report on the use of anti-kettling technology by demonstrators. The technology was conceived after the last major use of Kettling by British Police, which was widely criticized.
The aim was to help demonstrators avoid being kettled. This would also help the average person caught up in events, as if the demonstrators avoided the kettle, police would have no reason to close it.
The first test, as reported by the Guardian was a success as far as the demonstrators were concerned. Curiously it also may have been a success for the police. Since the kettle was never closed, the London police may have saved a significant amount on overtime pay, and definitely saved on equipment costs.
The Star reported on the Guardian story, with a Canadian slant – could Canadians use the same technology? The designers said that they’d be happy to teach us how.
But the police don’t seem to like the technology. Tim Dees, a former police officer wrote a piece titled Rioters using Google Maps for real-time information. Tim quotes a bunch of points that I’ve heard many times before, but never seen proved anywhere, such as that there are professional rioters who travel the world, looking for riots. While I have no doubt that there are a lot of idiots in the world, his mentioning this, in relation to a peaceful protest where no violence occurred is strange to say the least.
Effectively what we have is a culture clash. In Pierre Berton’s book ‘The Great Depression’, he wrote about a meeting that police decided to bust up at Queens Park. The cops were out to get communists. What they got was everyone. The police thought that what they were doing was justified by the evil that they were fighting.
From some of the comments made by police since the G20, it’s obvious that some of the police believed that they were fighting mad eyed anarchists. Consider Police Chief Bill Blair’s claim that the video showing the beating of Adam Nobody was edited, and that Adam was probably carrying a weapon. For those not familiar with the case, yes, Nobody is Adam’s legal last name. The Chief of Police later had to withdraw his allegation, and apologize to both Mr. Nobody, and to the videographer, who stopped shooting for a short period of time to avoid getting hit by a police baton himself.
And of course there was the press conference that Police Chief Bill Blair held just after the G20 Summit was over, in which he showed the weapons that police had seized, and made several claims that were later disproven by the Ombudsman of Ontario. If you watch the ten minute video, you’ll see a full table of weapons, but if you check the courts, you’ll find charge after charge that has been dropped by the crown.
In trying to protect the public, the police attacked the public. They didn’t arrest the rioters. They arrested innocent civilians. When they used Kettling as a tactic, it proved totally ineffective at containing violent protestors, but very efficient at corralling the innocent.
This isn’t because the police are a bunch of evil bastards, rather it’s because the police don’t understand the public. A lot of police feel hurt that Canadians don’t trust them. The problem is that they don’t seem willing to make themselves trustworthy.
Return the sound cannon. Promise to stop kettling. Then maybe, we can rebuild trust between the public and the police.