Po­lice will aim to ‘defuse sit­u­a­tions’ dur­ing protests

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JANE WESTER AND FRED CLASEN-KELLY [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg po­lice, po­lit­i­cal or­ga­niz­ers and na­tional law en­force­ment ex­perts are pre­par­ing for huge protests and a mas­sive po­lice pres­ence when the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion ar­rives in 2020.

Fore­casts of wide­spread vi­o­lent protests at past con­ven­tions have proven un­founded, in­clud­ing the 2012 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion hosted in Char­lotte.

Some Char­lotte pub­lic of­fi­cials and com­mu­nity ac­tivists say what makes the RNC dif­fer­ent is that past ral­lies for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump have been marred by al­ter­ca­tions be­tween his sup­port­ers and op­po­nents.

In March 2016, Trump can­celed a cam­paign speech in Chicago af­ter vi­o­lence erupted, and that same month, an an­tiTrump pro­tester was punched at an event in North Carolina. In Au­gust 2017, po­lice used tear gas to dis­perse crowds in Ari­zona that had gath­ered out­side a

con­ven­tion cen­ter where Trump gave a speech.

Law en­force­ment ex­perts told the Ob­server that the pas­sion Trump evokes among both op­po­nents and sup­port­ers presents a spe­cial chal­lenge for po­lice.

Since he took of­fice in Jan­uary 2017, tens of thou­sands of peo­ple around the coun­try have par­tic­i­pated in marches against poli­cies on im­mi­gra­tion, women’s rights and a travel ban tar­get­ing peo­ple from some Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries.

White su­prem­a­cists evoked Trump’s name dur­ing a demon­stra­tion in Char­lottesville, Va., last year that re­sulted in clashes with coun­ter­protesters and left three peo­ple dead and dozens in­jured.

At the 2012 DNC, po­lice wor­ried about pro­test­ers con­fronting of­fi­cers. Now they must fig­ure out how to re­duce the chances of vi­o­lence be­tween pro- and anti-Trump de­mon­stra­tors, said Eugene O’Don­nell, a na­tion­ally known ex­pert on policing and pro­fes­sor at the John Jay School of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice in New York.

“This is go­ing to be the mother of all protests,” O’Don­nell said. “Who in their right mind would want to po­lice this?”

The 2016 Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Cleve­land also prompted warn­ings about clashes be­tween pro- and an­tiTrump pro­test­ers. Duel­ing demon­stra­tions, how­ever, turned out mostly peace­ful.

Ear­lier this year, CMPD Chief Kerr Put­ney told re­porters he be­lieved safe­guard­ing a po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tion would present dif­fer­ent wor­ries in 2020 than it did in 2012.

“Hope­fully not, but what we see is a lot more vi­o­lence this time,” Put­ney said May 31 at the end of a town hall meet­ing on com­mu­nity safety. “Last time, it was peo­ple talk­ing about be­ing heard — this time it’s ‘Let’s be ac­tu­ally seen com­mit­ting vi­o­lence.’ So we’ve got to be able to keep peo­ple calm and defuse sit­u­a­tions and use good dis­cre­tion.”

He also said the de­part­ment would pre­pare for the worst-case sce­nario and was al­ready watch­ing events un­fold around the coun­try to help get ready.

CMPD would not make Put­ney or other com­man­ders avail­able for an in­ter­view for this story, but in min­utes from a June 25 closed-ses­sion City Coun­cil meet­ing re­leased Fri­day, he told city lead­ers he had “all the con­fi­dence in the world” in CMPD’s abil­ity to keep Char­lotte safe dur­ing the con­ven­tion.

Be­cause pro­test­ers want to be seen, Put­ney said the de­part­ment would change its strat­egy from the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, when pro­test­ers were kept away from main routes in the city. The DNC drew far fewer pro­test­ers than ex­pected and demon­stra­tions were nearly all peace­ful.

In 2020, Put­ney said, the key will be keep­ing op­pos­ing groups of pro­test­ers sep­a­rate.

“If their goal is to come to­gether, to fight, then we are go­ing to pre­vent that,” Put­ney said, ac­cord­ing to min­utes from the meet­ing.

Thou­sands of po­lice of­fi­cers from CMPD, the Se­cret Ser­vice, FBI and other city and state forces will en­sure ad­e­quate man­power dur­ing the RNC, Repub­li­can City Coun­cil mem­ber Ed Driggs said.

“We gave this a lot of thought and Chief Put­ney ex­pressed con­fi­dence,” Driggs said.

“With the $50 mil­lion fed­eral grant (for se­cu­rity) we re­ceive, he can triple the size of the po­lice force for the con­ven­tion. They have two years to pre­pare.”

Driggs said city and RNC of­fi­cials also dis­cussed the se­cu­rity plan dur­ing meet­ings.

“We all reached a level of com­fort,” he said. “Con­ven­tions are an es­sen­tial part of our elec­tion process. We need to not make this all about one per­son. The show must go on some­where.”

RECIPE FOR VI­O­LENCE?

The de­ci­sion to host the RNC re­mains con­tro­ver­sial among Char­lotte Democrats and their sup­port­ers.

On Mon­day, the Demo­cratic-con­trolled City Coun­cil voted 6-5 to ap­prove con­ven­tion-re­lated con­tracts in front of a large crowd split be­tween con­ven­tion sup­port­ers and op­po­nents.

The Rev. Rod­ney Sadler, a leader for the Char­lotte Clergy Coali­tion for Jus­tice who has ad­vised CMPD in the past, urged city coun­cil mem­bers to re­ject the RNC be­cause Trump’s poli­cies are of­fen­sive to the poor, racial mi­nori­ties and im­mi­grants.

Anger over eco­nomic in­equal­ity, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and other is­sues im­por­tant to those groups helped spark vi­o­lent protests fol­low­ing the po­lice shoot­ing of Keith La­mont Scott in 2016, Sadler said.

“You are invit­ing a brute into a city that just had an up­ris­ing,” he said. “It is not a recipe for suc­cess. That will in­cite the po­ten­tial for vi­o­lence.”

Demo­cratic city coun­cil mem­ber Matt New­ton op­posed Char­lotte host­ing the RNC. New­ton said the pos­si­bly of vi­o­lent protests was among his chief con­cerns.

But now that Char­lotte is the host city, New­ton said, of­fi­cials need to turn their at­ten­tion to mak­ing the con­ven­tion a suc­cess.

“We have to shift gears and start prepa­ra­tions so that our worst fears are not re­al­ized,” he said.

A DIF­FER­ENT CON­VEN­TION

Specifics about se­cu­rity for the RNC likely will re­main se­cret un­til shortly be­fore the event.

In 2012, a perime­ter fence with se­cu­rity check­points en­cir­cled part of up­town and ac­cess to some streets was re­stricted or closed.

For the RNC, po­lice will have to get ready for po­ten­tial clashes be­tween pro-Trump and an­tiTrump pro­test­ers, said Mark Michalec, a CMPD of­fi­cer and pres­i­dent of the Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg chap­ter of the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice.

Of­fi­cers an­tic­i­pate a long, stress­ful week, and based on the ways the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate has changed since 2012, Michalec said, they ex­pect a “very dif­fer­ent type of con­ven­tion” com­pared with Char­lotte’s DNC.

“We’re not re­ally look­ing for­ward to it,” he said.

Ken­neth Wil­liams, a na­tion­ally known ex­pert on policing and a pro­fes­sor at the South Texas Col­lege of Law Hous­ton, said author­i­ties will likely set up se­cu­rity mea­sures that try to keep pro­test­ers far away from the main con­ven­tion site — the Spec­trum Cen­ter — and keep Trump op­po­nents sep­a­rated from sup­port­ers.

“Trump evokes so much pas­sion that you have to an­tic­i­pate vi­o­lence even if that means over­do­ing it,” Wil­liams said.

Robert Dawkins, a leader of N.C. SAFE Coali­tion, a so­cial jus­tice group, said groups like Black Lives Mat­ter, Char­lotte Up­ris­ing and other pro­gres­sive de­mon­stra­tors will not re­sort to vi­o­lence.

Dawkins plans to meet with mem­bers from protest groups to help en­sure demon­stra­tions are peace­ful.

“There will be acts of dis­obe­di­ence, but that is noth­ing the city should be afraid of,” Dawkins said.

THIS IS GO­ING TO BE THE MOTHER OF ALL PROTESTS. Eugene O’Don­nell, na­tion­ally known ex­pert on policing

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