Lessons from the G20 protests

The video documentation of last week’s G20 protests offers more than just proof of the ever-escalating brutality of security forces at such events. It also offers activists the chance to observe, critique, and learn from their actions.

In the following video, we are told that three masked and quasi-undercover police officers harassed protesters and even broke someone’s camera. The video then follows the officers as the crowd becomes aware of their presence and begins to shout at them. The purpose of the video is clear: to expose the dirty behavior of these cops and elicit a sense of street justice.

I see a different, unintended lesson from this video. The protesters let anger get the best of them and failed to take advantage of a situation where they could have engaged “the enemy” and diffused the situation, perhaps even explained their legitimate and peaceful ambitions. Instead, their anger and name-calling likely had an emboldening effect on the officers’ oppressive mission.

Perhaps that sounds like naive reasoning. But I got the idea from this video, taken at the G20 protests in London last April:

This video shows that there is a better way to handle security forces. And it’s not just a matter of winning the moral high ground. It’s strategic and subversive. In a sense, this British protester was able to disarm a policeman, if only for a brief moment, and get him to see that the people he’s up against, are normal people, with a sense of humor. Perhaps that will cause him some distress and even make him pause in carrying out his duty. But more importantly, for those watching, it shows far more clearly than an angry crowd chanting “F— the Police” who is in the right.