FREE ASSEMBLY — When the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Police Department deployed against a crowd of demonstrators a long-range deafening gun used previously by our forces in the streets of Iraq, the "non-lethal" arms escalation became the latest example of using military weapons and principles against civilian demonstrators, writes Justin Rogers-Cooper in the City University of New York Graduate Center's newspaper, the Advocate.
The policies of the new homeland security state reflect
a consensus between law enforcement officials and the military
about the use of new technological weapons against citizens and
non-citizens. The Pittsburgh security forces used non-lethal weapons
to disperse crowds, including the Long Range Acoustic Device, or the LRAD.
This large sonic gun radiates short bursts of sound waves that are
audible over very long distances. Firing it up-close creates a very
loud and powerful noise that is capable of causing hearing loss
and great levels of pain. These LRAD
devices have previously been used in Iraq for similar purposes. It
was also used as a defensive weapon on the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit in 2005 off the coast of Somalia to fend off a group of pirates. The
pirates were repelled despite having rocket-propelled grenades and
And now the use of the weapon domestically against
non-violent crowds of American citizens is taking place, arguably
not only a violation of their civil liberties but also
a violation of basic human rights.
The device is meant to inflict non-lethal injury. In this sense it
echoes the enhanced interrogation techniques that the military
uses to torture enemy combatants in places like Iraq, Afghanistan,
and the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. Like the Taser gun, which has become popular with local police departments, the LRAD
is yet another law enforcement weapon thats supposedly non-lethal
but also relatively unstable in live trials. Like Predator spy
planes that shoot Hellfire missiles at suspected targets in
Pakistan, the Taser and the LRAD are
weapons that fundamentally change the new laws of security powers.
These weapons modulate wide ranges of before unheard of force in
order to subdue individuals and crowds.
Equally problematic is the increase in the use of the 1968 Riot
Act to criminalize the use of social networking technologies
such as Facebook and Twitter. Local authorities in New York took
major steps to circumscribing the effects of public protests in
2004 through mass arrests, but they went a step further in Pittsburgh
by targeting the use of communications devices by protesters.
Elliot Madisons arrest by the Pennsylvania State Police in
Pittsburgh for Tweeting the location of police to protesters is
symptomatic of a campaign to prevent crowds from intelligently
organizing. The subsequent search of Madisons apartment by an FBI
counter-terrorism unit confiscated pictures of Marx and Lenin as
evidence. A grand jury trial is still open. The police are using the
Riot Act as legal precedent.
This is an orchestrated attack on
legitimate forms of political dissent.
These actions send a chilling message to potential political
activists and everyday citizen protesters, that public authority
will use any means necessary to control individuals and crowds.
This includes authorizing the use of violent new instruments of
control. Each new tool reflects a unique technological
breakthrough in the science of controlling human bodies
efficiently. These on-going assaults are tolerated because of
little compromises that individuals make about the social
contract and the ethical responsibilities one has toward the
suffering of others. Each little compromise has required a denial
that returns as a form of fear and anxiety in much of the American
Not coincidently, the American public has reacted
passively against these new technologies of immobilizing bodies.
Anxiety paralyzes ones ability to think clearly about the real
movements in American politics.
These movements reflect essential changes in the technology of
crowd control. Companies that provide emergency training for
local authorities use computer simulations that construct
scenarios of natural disasters, fires, terrorism, and civil
disturbances. A simulation video advertised on YouTube boasts
that every block in New York has been digitally reproduced for that
The expression of these policies in physical
confrontations reveals an organized, methodical, and potentially
dehumanizing approach toward all bodies present in declared
emergency and disaster zones. In much of the military
literature, for instance, protests are also classified as civil
disturbances. Civil disturbances are, in turn, defined as man-made
disasters. As a result, strategic responses to natural disasters
and protest disasters are very similar. They involve suspending
civil liberties for the purposes of protecting public order and
private property. Crowds are managed, whether they have gathered
to loot, commit violence, or just to protest.
In a parallel development, a federal appeals court recently concluded that members of a marching crowd of demonstrators heard to be cheering on the isolated vandalism of a few individual members can be arrested and charged with rioting without an order to disperse.