Thursday, September 4, 2014

Urban Kettling in the 21st Century

Author: Albert Goldson

The definition of kettling is to control large crowds within a limited area who are prevented from leaving. It’s controversial because this tactic includes the forcible detention of both protestors and innocent bystanders. The purpose is to prevent the larger group from splintering into several groups which are more difficult capture and control. The restrictive tactic of kettling is to tire out the most violent and active protestors.  It’s been challenged as a human rights violation and upheld in several European courts.  This tactic was utilized systematically in NYC during the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Should there be a much greater sense of urgency to control the population, NYC’s geography makes it ideal for a larger scale usage of kettling.  NYC consists of five boroughs of which 4 are islands with limited bridge and tunnel connection, and surrounded by rivers that are easy to patrol. Public transportation can be shutdown and vehicular traffic limited to law enforcement or emergency vehicles. Any movement would be only within the boroughs on foot or bike. Manhattan would be particularly vulnerable and isolated because it’s a small island measuring only 13 miles long and 2 miles wide at its widest point – 14th Street.

The reason for concern is that natural disasters are becoming more commonplace against an aging infrastructure. A big enough storm or close occurring series of regular storms can overwhelm the urban infrastructure resulting in a loss of utilities for an extended period. Now imagine what the municipal government may consider with a militarized law enforcement at the ready to maintain crowd control and prevent looting. Despite the misgivings of many, militarized law enforcement will not go away because politically there’s too much invested in this new arrangement for it to be disbanded. The beast is unchained and can’t be defanged. Local law enforcement will hold the line until reinforcements (a.k.a. the National Guard) arrive.

For comparative purposes, Ferguson MO has a population of 21,000. Most NYC neighborhoods have significantly more residents than Ferguson. The difference is in NYC’s population density, geography and law enforcement’s ability to control movement and services. Urban lockdowns are far easier to apply in NYC because of greater urban density during the past 10-15 years. During a lockdown sophisticated urbanites can easily turn into urban jungle beasts forming large roving groups and impromptu urban warlords which sounds like the abandoned society in the cult classic film Escape from New York (1981). It sounds comical yet most Americans in this highly mobile society are unaccustomed to extreme depravations and restrictive movements for any length of time. And unlike West African countries attempting to quarantine neighborhoods rife with the Ebola virus, reasonably well-paid law enforcement in the US can’t be bribed for escape unlike the poorly paid West African troops.

Additionally, an electronic noose can be applied to cut-off of communication services to mobiles, internet and the ability to pay for goods using credit cards. Besides, in a crisis the few, brave open establishments will not accept credit card payments even if their transaction devices work.

A brief, mini-version of this happened recently in Detroit, a city with a demographic few people think or care about. Imagine how you might have felt if you were a minority and poor in Detroit in the “wrong” neighborhood without water for an extended period. Even under the most ruthless developing world regimes the population at least has rolling utility blackouts and can survive. In Detroit, the powers that be cut off supplies completely despite a vast reservoir of available water from their source, the Great Lakes, solely due to economic considerations.

Disturbingly despite historically lower crime rates nationwide, federal, state and municipal governments, and importantly with the support of the courts, have ramped up and by de facto deputized local law enforcement with substantial experience to apply aggressive tactics to deal with any upcoming crisis. In the meantime, we’re a free society that’s a hair’s breath away from being physically controlled and contained.

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