What We’ve Learned (and failed to learn) About Handling Crowds and Protests

“Authorities, and in particular the police, can often have a profound role to play in producing the very violence that they pretend to stop” — Prof. Clifford Stott.

My interview and others with Alan Yu on “The Pulse” at WHYY/NPR. Yu has done a great job of integrating past experiences into present-day Hong Kong.

Now in the U.K., it’s more common to see police liaison officers, who wear blue vests and specialize in communicating with protesters. (Jonathan Brady/AP Photo). Similar to “The Madison Method” used by police in Madison, Wisconsin in the early 1970s.

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The Madison Method 

“Here in the United States, in Madison, Wisconsin, more than 40 years ago, a young police chief had reached similar conclusions about how to handle crowds.

“David Couper was in his 30s, and he came face-to-face with the antiwar protests of the 1970s. He started in 1972, after the Ohio National Guard shot unarmed college students at Kent State University in 1970. Four students died, and nine were injured.

“Tensions were high.

“Before Couper got to Madison, some of the protests there went notoriously out of control. In 1967, students threw rocks at police. The police used tear gas, and beat students with clubs.

A stick-swinging Madison riot police officer beats back an angry throng of University of Wisconsin protesters, Wednesday, October 19, 1967 on campus. Squads of riot officers broke up a sit-in intended to disrupt the Dow Chemical Company. Dow makes Napalm for the War in Vietnam. (AP Photo)
A stick-swinging Madison riot police officer beats back an angry throng of University of Wisconsin protesters, Wednesday, October 19, 1967 on campus. Squads of riot officers broke up a sit-in intended to disrupt the Dow Chemical Company. Dow made Napalm for the War in Vietnam. (AP Photo)

“When he arrived, Couper told his officers not to do any of that.

“’We passed out handouts and said, ‘We’re here … to accompany this protest, our job is to facilitate your ability to protest, to regulate traffic around you … and we want to work with you.’

“He asked his officers to wear blue blazers, hide their weapons and just talk to the protesters, instead of going in with force. Some officers disagreed and even tried to get him fired. But the mayor and the younger officers supported him. Couper served as police chief in Madison for 21 years. His crowd-control tactics are now known by police as the Madison Method.

Are police officers just resistant to change? 

Yet many police departments are not using this science-based approach, instead choosing to deal with protests in a more heavy-handed way. Protests still get out of control sometimes, as the 2011 London riots did, or the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri…”


Read more HERE.