Repression and Policing

The article “Policing Protest in the United States: 1960–1995” by Clark McPhail, David Schweingruber and John McCathy laid out two types of policing: the escalated force and negotiated management tactics. Then they proposed five dimensions to describe these policing styles: 1) respect First Amendment rights 2) tolerance for community disruption 3) nature of communication 4) extent and manner of arrests 5) the extent and manner of using force. To demonstrate such theoretical framework, they introduced the policing practices from 1960s to 1990s. Their conclusion is that the current public order management systems are not uniform across the United States.

I am interested in their perspective of looking at the evolvement of the policing practices. For them their analysis is not only limited to identifying two types of policing, but rather they systematically examined the dynamic process of the transition from the escalated force style to negotiated management style. This approach fascinates me because their research object is no longer static but in fact dynamic. The shift of perspective can inform us that the role of the state or the police should not be treated as a fixed entity, and the mechanisms, styles and practices of repression/response from the authority also evolve as the landscape of the conflicts and activism changes. I think this co-evolvement process is exactly what researchers often neglect when they try to dig into specific concepts.

I am also thinking about how to integrate this perspective into my own research agenda. When I read their analysis of the transition from the escalated force style to negotiated management style, I thought about the radicalization of activists such as Ai Weiwei and a more negotiated style from Chinese authority. Ai Weiwei was only known as an artist before 2008 when he designed the Bird Nest Olympic Stadium, but as he became more public he began to criticize the state supported this architecture design. Then this radicalization process has begun and has a series of movements such as investigating the names of dead students during Sichuan earthquake, and advocates for release of human rights lawyers. I think the role of media is the key in the process and during the interaction with the media, he portrays himself as the human rights fighter and the effect of publicity from media further help him establish as an icon against the regime. For the authority side, their response I think is growing to the direction of a more negotiated position (not for actions like Ai Weiwei) for the domestic protests targeting practical issues, such as the case in Wukan. These types of protests are rapidly increasing as this society has been facing social issues caused by economic development, escalated force policing cost too much and higher authority positions as a more benevolent power is reasonable for protests against local authority. In my future research, the radicalization process as well as the evolvement of policing practices might be great interests to me.

Lastly, I want to raise a question: How do the mass media shape the practices of policing and the public perception of policing? I think this article neglects the discussion of the media, which is very important for the radical protest, because in many cases, the violent scenes by participants are made to attract media attention. In such situation, how does the authority respond? It becomes interesting: when both the authority and the movement organizers are aware of each other’s actions beforehand, as indicated in the negotiated management style, the media is actually the viewer of a performance. Is that truly what the public want?


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