Nora Miralles Crespo: Journalist. Master of Gender, Conflict and Human Rights from Ulster University (Belfast) and Master of International Relations, Security and Development from UAB. Researcher on gender, security, militarism and human rights at the Observatory for Human Rights and Business in the Mediterranean (ODHE) and Shock Monitor, as well as at the Delàs Centre for Peace Studies. Advisor and researcher in the Alternatives of Security area of the Institut Català Internacional per la Pau (ICIP). Grassroots activist in different social movements.
1. What strategies are being used by the police in the field of public order?
In general, I believe that there are two strategic trends that are in opposition or diverging at the same time in the field of public order. One of them is the openness to other visions of security, which gains shape and momentum with the introduction of tools such as mediation, community or neighbourhood policing or youth mentoring programmes. These activities have an impact on order but are based on a preventive approach and a deeper understanding of the causes of social conflicts. The other, on the contrary, would be aligned with the process of uncritical expansion of police functions and the securitarian approach to phenomena that were not previously considered problems or challenges to public order. The latter trend has resulted, among other things, in an evident impairment of citizens’ rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of protest and demonstration. A trend that is also taking shape is the introduction and standardisation of mass surveillance and biometric technologies that permanently control our lives and reduce our privacy, without their use being justified, nor properly regulated, and in the expansion of the use of (supposedly) non-lethal weaponry in more and more contexts.
2. Is it possible to adopt a predefined approach, taking into account the different types of protests and the different ways in which they may develop?
Undoubtedly, if the objective is to respect citizens’ human and fundamental rights online, it does not seem advisable to establish an invariable approach that does not arise from a prior analysis and reflection on how to address the conflict in the most proportionate and least harmful way possible, in each specific scenario. Social protests are natural reactions to the decisions of those who make public policies; they are a normal and democratic way of expressing discontent or divergence. The first problem, in my view, is demonising social protest in such a way that it becomes logical and commonplace for any demonstration or political event in public spaces to have a large presence, not of citizen security patrols, but of public order maintenance units, as if demonstrating were in itself a disturbance of public order. Secondly, violent actions at protests are in the minority and almost never directed against other persons, and yet it does not often appear that the response is commensurate with the number and severity of the incidents.
3. What are the conditions that must be fulfilled for the right to demonstrate that is being exercised to be taken away or restricted in the course of a rally or demonstration?
For me, the difference is undoubtedly putting others’ lives or integrity in danger. I am talking about real danger, not an arbitrary scale by which to interrupt all those demonstrations that criticise the established order or that emit messages that are of no interest, in a broad range of senses.
4. Should the organisers of a protest be held responsible for control during the demonstration, and for the consequences they themselves did not want?
I believe that it is dangerous and even hypocritical to hold citizens who organise protests responsible for everything that happens, while on the other hand, in the last few decades, their responsibility for practically everything related to social and community intervention has been taken away, because it was already in their interest that everything collective be guided and controlled by the Administration. Either you give responsibility to the citizens, or you totally take it away, but doing so only when it is in the interest of charging someone with a riot is clearly a way of limiting civil liberties. This will lead to the ounce of collectivity left disappearing for fear of criminal and administrative repression.
5. What instruments do you think are acceptable to use with a certain degree of violence in demonstrations to restore social peace with the least possible damage? For example, what about water cannons?
Obviously, a water cannon will be less damaging – in principle, of course – than blast balls, but well-managed mediation will always be less incendiary than any repressive mechanism. Social conflict, including violent expressions in demonstrations, must be addressed as a matter of priority on a prior and structural basis, since they arise as a reaction to the discrimination and violence generated by an increasingly unequal socioeconomic system. Therefore, repressive responses in the specific context of a demonstration are an impotent reaction to a much deeper problem; they build a false social peace, considering this as the lack of conflict in the public space, only. But social violence does not disappear, it simply becomes entrenched, is channelled into other spheres such as the private sphere or crystallises in an increase of violence in the community and the family. Regarding the misnamed “non-lethal weapons”, I really like the reflection made by Paul Rocher in his book Gazer, mutiler, soumettre. The politics of non-lethal weapons, recently published by Katakrak, on how these types of mechanisms considered less harmful, besides being questionable in terms of the damage they can cause (mutilations and, yes, even death), end up being used not to manage conflicts in which more dangerous weaponry was previously used, but to manage those in which no weapons were used at all.