Thousands of Iranians join counter-protests after week of unrest

Footage shows demonstrators chanting in support of regime at cities across country

Thousands of pro-government counter-protesters have taken to the streets of Iranian cities after nearly a week of unrest.

Footage broadcast on national television and images published by state news agencies showed a high turnout in pro-establishment rallies, in cities that have seen turbulent scenes since Irans biggest demonstrations in nearly a decade began on 28 December.

State television aired a rally from Ahwaz, the capital of Khouzesan province, which showed thousands of people marching on a long bridge connecting two parts of the city, while holding up pro-regime placards and chanting in support of the establishment.

It broadcast similar footage from Ilam, also in the west of the country, as well as from Arak, in the centre of Iran.

Clerics
Clerics hold up pro-regime placards in Qom. Photograph: Ali Marizad/EPA

The semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated to the elite Revolutionary Guards, forces involved in the crackdown on protesters, described the rallies as the revolutionary outburst of Iranian people against lawbreakers.

The commander of the Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday it had deployed forces to three provinces – Isfahan, Lorestan and Hamadan, where most of the casualties have occurred – but claimed the anti-government protests were over.

Today we can announce the end of the sedition, said Mohammad Ali Jafari. A large number of the trouble-makers … have been arrested and there will be firm action against them.

Iran protests

During violent clashes between protesters and the security guards, in a week of demonstrations that has seen both sides becoming increasingly confrontational, at least 21 people have lost their lives mostly protesters but also some security guards, according to officials.

Iranian authorities have claimed that the protests, which began over economic grievances before taking a political turn, have been hijacked by the countrys foreign enemies. The theory has also been repeated by some figures within the reformist camp, who are critical of Irans rulers but wary of regime change.

Anti-government protests continued for a sixth consecutive day in provincial cities on Tuesday evening, whilst Tehran was relatively calmer, with a heavy presence of riot police.

Mohammad, a protester from Karaj, a city just west of the capital Tehran, told the Guardian that the protesters had clashed with the security guards in its Gohardasht neighbourhood on Tuesday evening.

A lot of basij militia used electric shockers to confront protesters, and arrest them I saw them filling at least six buses full of those detained, he said. The protester claimed the security guards also damaged public properties to find a pretext to step up their crackdown. This could not be independently verified the authorities have made similar accusations against protesters.

People are fed up with unemployment and being poor. There is no job security, he added. The protesters dont have a leader, its a leaderless movement, and I call it the movement of the hungry, the starved people.

Milad, from Shahinshahr, a city in the province of Isfahan, which has seen violent clashes in recent days, said people were unhappy with the way the city was run. Theres a deficit in the citys budget because of mismanagement and the authorities have instead cut down public salaries, he said.

It is not possible to compare the size of the crowds at the anti-government protests with the counter-demonstrations approved by Tehran. No independent journalists are permitted to film the anti-government protests, while Iranian authorities have on similar occasions bussed in supporters.

Major European countries have resisted pressure from the US president, Donald Trump, to sign a joint statement condemning the Islamic Republic, but have instead issued separate statements warning the Iranian government to allow peaceful protests and not resort to mass arrests.

Irans mission to the UN has accused the US ambassador, Nikki Haley, of shedding crocodile tears for the Iranian people.

EU states are concerned that Trump is trying to use the demonstrations as a vehicle to place further pressure on the EU to abandon its support for the Iran nuclear deal signed by Trumps predecessor Barack Obama in 2015.

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The genesis of Trumps particular antipathy to Iran is hard to pin down. Before entering office he had been sceptical of Irans regional rival, Saudi Arabia. But during the 2016 election campaign all his closest foreign policy advisors, such as Michael Flynn, shared a worldview that portrays Iran as an uniquely malign actor in the Middle East and beyond. After the election, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were successful in capturing the ear of Trump and his son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner.

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The EU remains convinced Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal, but continued US-imposed sanctions, mainly on banks, are making it hard for Iran to gain the expected economic benefits from the deal. Trump is eager to see the deal abandoned, and sees the protests as a means of resisting what Washington sees as Iranian expansionism in the Middle East.

Trump on Wednesday pledged support for Iranians trying to take back their government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time! he said, without offering any specifics on what or when that might be.

Nevertheless, faced by reports that more than 400 protesters have been arrested, European leaders have become more vocal in their criticisms. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, on Tuesday and called for restraint, his office said.

Macron also decided to postpone this weeks planned visit to Tehran by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, which was intended as a precursor to a visit by Macron himself.

Macrons office said the French leader underscored that fundamental rights including freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate must be respected.

Rouhani in turn asked Macron to take action against a Paris-based Iranian opposition group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (the Peoples MujahideenOrganisation of Iran, PMOI), which he accused of fomenting the recent protests.

 

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/03/iranians-counter-protests-week-unrest

The new horsemen: how American riot police embraced the bicycle

As a new digital era of protest has dawned under Occupy and Trump, riot police across the US have embarked on a fundamental shift in crowd control

Early last Saturday afternoon, under clear blue skies, a sparsely attended anti-sharia rally left the grounds of City Hall in Seattle, Washington.

Until then, the attendees had been facing off against a much larger group of anti-fascists. The two sides had been exchanging chants and taunts across a wide, fenced-off area, manned with riot police.

As they left the grounds, however, the two sides came into direct contact at the corner of 4th and Cherry. A group of young men some wearing red Donald Trump Make America Great Again hats, others in masks spilled from the pavement out onto the street. Punches started flying.

Immediately, 10 fit, muscular police officers on black mountain bikes who had been watching from across the intersection in two columns of five, leaped into action.

Dismounting as they closed in, they pushed their bikes directly into the heart of the melee. Yelling instructions Move BACK! they used the bikes, and their bodies, to create a line, pushing back the crowd and separating the antagonists.

They held the line. As people began to disperse, the police gradually expanded the perimeter. After 20 minutes or so the crowd had noticeably thinned, and the riot bicycle unit left for a nearby park where more fighting had kicked off.

If it all looked smooth and efficient, its partly because Seattles bike squad gets a lot of practice. Seattle has 200-300 protests a year, says Sgt Jim Dyment, the squads lead trainer. Although theyre not all as contentious as todays.


Riot
Riot police use bikes in downtown Seattle at the anti-sharia rally in June 2017. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

Its also the remarkable product of a fundamental shift in crowd policing in the era of Occupy, Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump. When you think of riot police, the typical image is of them spilling from armoured vehicles with truncheons to face off against a large mass.

But American protest in the digital age is changing. Protests are mushrooming across the country in larger numbers than ever before, with social media allowing protesters to easily organise, form and disperse. Mobile communication allows instantaneous tactical redeployment when things get heated, video and photography now capture every movement, and public relations have become paramount.

In response, riot police have enthusiastically embraced a surprisingly low-tech mobility solution: the bicycle.

Bike-mounted cops are everywhere you look, from last years Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio when Trumps coronation attracted scores of protesters to the rallies of alt-right groups who have staged a series of provocations in urban centres throughout 2017.

They have also attracted controversy, with some observers calling them evidence of the militarisation of policing: the introduction of counterinsurgency techniques into the management of legally formed crowds. It gives them tactical advantages, says Kristian Williams, a critic of American policing. Theyre more mobile, they can more easily create physical barriers and the bikes can be used as weapons.

They used blogs. So we used bikes

 

Midtown
Midtown South Precincts new bicycle patrol hits the streets in July 1995. Photograph: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

It was here in Seattle back in 1999 that Dyment himself first pressed bicycles into use for crowd management, when 50,000 people showed up to protest at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation. Their numbers overwhelmed the citys mid-size police department but this was also a more sophisticated group of protesters than Seattle had ever seen. They were highly mobile, and they used new technologies to coordinate their actions.

They had great command and control, says Dyment. They used blogs and Nextels [a cellular phone with a push to talk function like a walkie-talkie]. Out of necessity, we used the bikes.

Though this was the first time riot police took to two wheels, bike-based policing has a long history in the US. What Dyment calls the golden age came early in the 20th century. Bikes were introduced in the late 1880s to police departments looking for more mobile patrolmen, and to New York City in 1895 under then Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, an avid cyclist. By 1907, a bicycle trade magazine estimated 50,000 bicycle police across the country, with 1,200 in New York City alone.

Over the 1920s and 1930s, however, bikes were gradually replaced first with motorcycles, and then by cars controlled by dispatch systems.

In the 1980s, policing took another turn with the era of community policing. This was about restoring police legitimacy after the civil unrest of the 1960s and 1970s, and the professional isolation of police, says Alex Vitale, a sociology teacher at Brooklyn College and author of the forthcoming book The End of Policing.

The concept was: get police out of cars and closer to the community. It was an attempt to respond to accusations of brutality and racism with a new professionalism, to show that police could talk to the public and respond to community concern.

Vitale calls the twin use of the bicycle increasing officers tactical advantage while trying to win the hearts and minds of the public a tactical dance between protesters and police that has played out over the course of American history.


Motorcycle
Motorcycle police in Berkeley, California wait in preparation for an anti-war rally in 1965. Photograph: Anonymous/AP

The new horses

By and large, the bike-led era of community police didnt happen, Vitale says. The bikes stayed piled up in police stations until 1987 when two officers in Seattle proposed using them in traffic snarls, caused by construction in the downtown area. The idea worked brilliantly, the department began using them in general patrols, and by 1993 the bike squad had 70 officers.

The bikes had one clear advantage; police can be quickly deployed in force to wherever they are needed.

It allows you to be mobile as a group, says Dyment. Bikes also allow you to have constant presence with the group.

This mobility is useful both in ordinary patrol and in first responder situations. In June 2014, when a shooter opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, bike officers were one of the first ones there. They were the only ones who could make it through the downtown traffic.

The bikes also turned out to be a highly effective and cheap tool for crowd control, allowing relatively few officers to form a relatively long line. They provide a natural barrier, Dyment says. The European model is more on foot. The London Met or the NYPD can just throw resources at situations like that. For mid-majors like Seattle, this is a way of controlling large crowds with minimal resources. (Historically, horses have played an analogous role, Vitale notes.)

A 2002 article written by the late Mike Goetz, a Seattle bike squad officer, describes manoeuvres including the crossbow and the barrier technique.

In the first, the bike squad forms a double column behind the line, far enough behind so they can get a little speed up, Goetz wrote. On command, the line makes a gap in the center and the bikes ride through this gap. In the second, officers focus on lining the bikes, front wheel to rear wheel, across the area to be blocked or protected.


Police
Police use bicycles to create cordons around protesters ahead of 2016s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Photograph: Reuters

Dyment also believes bike squads strike a less confrontational pose than massed platoons of officers in riot gear.

The bikes are a form of de-escalation in themselves. If you go into any group of people, almost everyone has ridden a bike. It means you have something in common, something to talk about.

Vitale agrees that bikes provide a combination of operational flexibility with a softer appearance. Bikes look friendlier to the press and other observers. But, he says, there is nothing inherently de-escalating about them.

Police on bikes might not be likely to involve themselves in baton charges, but they have pepper-sprayed people. He also notes the bikes themselves are sometimes weaponised. Accusations of police using bikes to attack often backed up by YouTube videos have been levelled against bike squads in Portland and Seattle.

The fact that bikes seem innocuous is a way of masking a weaponised potential, says Williams. Cops on bikes are less alarming than cops on horses, or in an armoured personnel carrier until youve been penned in by by a dozen cops on each side using the bikes as barriers.

Though there are disadvantages to bicycles an officer is more likely to be pushed back by a crowd than one on a motorcycle Williams argues that bicycles allow riot police to have their cake and eat it. Bikes allow police to assert a threat but not be seen as threatening by some parts of the public, he says. They obscure the fact that police have arrived on the scene with helmets, body armour, and clubs.

Not your casual BMX

 

Sgt
Sgt Jim Dyment (R) directs Seattles bike squad at the anti-sharia protest last in June. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

There is certainly a Robocop feel to the outfits Seattles bike squad wear: despite the polo shirts and (optional) shorts, the officers wear Bell Super 3R helmets and body armour. Nor are the bikes themselves your casual BMX. They have a custom-built hardtail mountain bike frame from Volcanic, a company in Bellingham, Washington that specialises in catering to law enforcement.

Mountain bikes are best because of the durability factor, Dyment says. You may need to ride them down stairs. Officers have to carry equipment including radios and full armament, and they are on average heavier than most people.

Field repairs are carried out by a bus that follows the riot police around, loaded up with parts and eager mechanics. Almost everything that goes wrong with a bike can be fixed within half an hour, he says. More intensive maintenance is carried out in a vast basement under the downtown west precinct building, where the squad is based.

The bikes enduro wheel set features custom DT Swiss rims with a wide inner width of 25mm. They use Fox Float 32 front forks and Serfas 2.1 cross tires, and a NoTubes liquid latex sealing system that patches punctures as they occur. We ride through a lot of broken glass, Dyment says.

They use 3×9 gears but they will soon switch to 1×11, to further cut down maintenance. And they have mechanical disc brakes, which was the whole reason the department chose a local company: back in 2005, when they were shopping for the bikes, the big companies such as Kona could only provide hydraulic disc brakes.

The officers themselves are all keen cyclists, which underlines the fact that cycling really is a point of commonality between them and the public. Protesters themselves sometimes approach to ask about the bikes and discuss the gear. Dyment thinks the relationship between police and Seattles long-term protest community isnt entirely unfriendly; he compares it to the Warner Brothers cartoon Ralph Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog. We all know each other. They yell stuff at us at protests, but we see each other on the street and nod.

They never trade secrets about tactics, though.

The evolution of their tactics and ours, and the evolution of our bikes, go hand in hand. Unless they have bikes too, they cant keep up with our mobility, Dyment says. They have better and better communications technologies, but we have the bikes.

Guardian Cities is dedicating a week to exploring the future of cycling in cities around the world. Explore our coverage here and follow us on on Twitter andFacebook to join the discussion.

Accept our challenge to have a conversation with a fellow city cyclist? Tell us about it here, or on Twitter or Instagram using #cycleconvo, and well feature the best at Guardian Cities

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jun/15/the-new-horsemen-why-american-riot-police-embraced-the-bicycle

The new horsemen: how American riot police embraced the bicycle

As a new digital era of protest has dawned under Occupy and Trump, riot police across the US have embarked on a fundamental shift in crowd control

Early last Saturday afternoon, under clear blue skies, a sparsely attended anti-sharia rally left the grounds of City Hall in Seattle, Washington.

Until then, the attendees had been facing off against a much larger group of anti-fascists. The two sides had been exchanging chants and taunts across a wide, fenced-off area, manned with riot police.

As they left the grounds, however, the two sides came into direct contact at the corner of 4th and Cherry. A group of young men some wearing red Donald Trump Make America Great Again hats, others in masks spilled from the pavement out onto the street. Punches started flying.

Immediately, 10 fit, muscular police officers on black mountain bikes who had been watching from across the intersection in two columns of five, leaped into action.

Dismounting as they closed in, they pushed their bikes directly into the heart of the melee. Yelling instructions Move BACK! they used the bikes, and their bodies, to create a line, pushing back the crowd and separating the antagonists.

They held the line. As people began to disperse, the police gradually expanded the perimeter. After 20 minutes or so the crowd had noticeably thinned, and the riot bicycle unit left for a nearby park where more fighting had kicked off.

If it all looked smooth and efficient, its partly because Seattles bike squad gets a lot of practice. Seattle has 200-300 protests a year, says Sgt Jim Dyment, the squads lead trainer. Although theyre not all as contentious as todays.


Riot
Riot police use bikes in downtown Seattle at the anti-sharia rally in June 2017. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

Its also the remarkable product of a fundamental shift in crowd policing in the era of Occupy, Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump. When you think of riot police, the typical image is of them spilling from armoured vehicles with truncheons to face off against a large mass.

But American protest in the digital age is changing. Protests are mushrooming across the country in larger numbers than ever before, with social media allowing protesters to easily organise, form and disperse. Mobile communication allows instantaneous tactical redeployment when things get heated, video and photography now capture every movement, and public relations have become paramount.

In response, riot police have enthusiastically embraced a surprisingly low-tech mobility solution: the bicycle.

Bike-mounted cops are everywhere you look, from last years Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio when Trumps coronation attracted scores of protesters to the rallies of alt-right groups who have staged a series of provocations in urban centres throughout 2017.

They have also attracted controversy, with some observers calling them evidence of the militarisation of policing: the introduction of counterinsurgency techniques into the management of legally formed crowds. It gives them tactical advantages, says Kristian Williams, a critic of American policing. Theyre more mobile, they can more easily create physical barriers and the bikes can be used as weapons.

They used blogs. So we used bikes

 

Midtown
Midtown South Precincts new bicycle patrol hits the streets in July 1995. Photograph: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

It was here in Seattle back in 1999 that Dyment himself first pressed bicycles into use for crowd management, when 50,000 people showed up to protest at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation. Their numbers overwhelmed the citys mid-size police department but this was also a more sophisticated group of protesters than Seattle had ever seen. They were highly mobile, and they used new technologies to coordinate their actions.

They had great command and control, says Dyment. They used blogs and Nextels [a cellular phone with a push to talk function like a walkie-talkie]. Out of necessity, we used the bikes.

Though this was the first time riot police took to two wheels, bike-based policing has a long history in the US. What Dyment calls the golden age came early in the 20th century. Bikes were introduced in the late 1880s to police departments looking for more mobile patrolmen, and to New York City in 1895 under then Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, an avid cyclist. By 1907, a bicycle trade magazine estimated 50,000 bicycle police across the country, with 1,200 in New York City alone.

Over the 1920s and 1930s, however, bikes were gradually replaced first with motorcycles, and then by cars controlled by dispatch systems.

In the 1980s, policing took another turn with the era of community policing. This was about restoring police legitimacy after the civil unrest of the 1960s and 1970s, and the professional isolation of police, says Alex Vitale, a sociology teacher at Brooklyn College and author of the forthcoming book The End of Policing.

The concept was: get police out of cars and closer to the community. It was an attempt to respond to accusations of brutality and racism with a new professionalism, to show that police could talk to the public and respond to community concern.

Vitale calls the twin use of the bicycle increasing officers tactical advantage while trying to win the hearts and minds of the public a tactical dance between protesters and police that has played out over the course of American history.


Motorcycle
Motorcycle police in Berkeley, California wait in preparation for an anti-war rally in 1965. Photograph: Anonymous/AP

The new horses

By and large, the bike-led era of community police didnt happen, Vitale says. The bikes stayed piled up in police stations until 1987 when two officers in Seattle proposed using them in traffic snarls, caused by construction in the downtown area. The idea worked brilliantly, the department began using them in general patrols, and by 1993 the bike squad had 70 officers.

The bikes had one clear advantage; police can be quickly deployed in force to wherever they are needed.

It allows you to be mobile as a group, says Dyment. Bikes also allow you to have constant presence with the group.

This mobility is useful both in ordinary patrol and in first responder situations. In June 2014, when a shooter opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, bike officers were one of the first ones there. They were the only ones who could make it through the downtown traffic.

The bikes also turned out to be a highly effective and cheap tool for crowd control, allowing relatively few officers to form a relatively long line. They provide a natural barrier, Dyment says. The European model is more on foot. The London Met or the NYPD can just throw resources at situations like that. For mid-majors like Seattle, this is a way of controlling large crowds with minimal resources. (Historically, horses have played an analogous role, Vitale notes.)

A 2002 article written by the late Mike Goetz, a Seattle bike squad officer, describes manoeuvres including the crossbow and the barrier technique.

In the first, the bike squad forms a double column behind the line, far enough behind so they can get a little speed up, Goetz wrote. On command, the line makes a gap in the center and the bikes ride through this gap. In the second, officers focus on lining the bikes, front wheel to rear wheel, across the area to be blocked or protected.


Police
Police use bicycles to create cordons around protesters ahead of 2016s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Photograph: Reuters

Dyment also believes bike squads strike a less confrontational pose than massed platoons of officers in riot gear.

The bikes are a form of de-escalation in themselves. If you go into any group of people, almost everyone has ridden a bike. It means you have something in common, something to talk about.

Vitale agrees that bikes provide a combination of operational flexibility with a softer appearance. Bikes look friendlier to the press and other observers. But, he says, there is nothing inherently de-escalating about them.

Police on bikes might not be likely to involve themselves in baton charges, but they have pepper-sprayed people. He also notes the bikes themselves are sometimes weaponised. Accusations of police using bikes to attack often backed up by YouTube videos have been levelled against bike squads in Portland and Seattle.

The fact that bikes seem innocuous is a way of masking a weaponised potential, says Williams. Cops on bikes are less alarming than cops on horses, or in an armoured personnel carrier until youve been penned in by by a dozen cops on each side using the bikes as barriers.

Though there are disadvantages to bicycles an officer is more likely to be pushed back by a crowd than one on a motorcycle Williams argues that bicycles allow riot police to have their cake and eat it. Bikes allow police to assert a threat but not be seen as threatening by some parts of the public, he says. They obscure the fact that police have arrived on the scene with helmets, body armour, and clubs.

Not your casual BMX

 

Sgt
Sgt Jim Dyment (R) directs Seattles bike squad at the anti-sharia protest last in June. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

There is certainly a Robocop feel to the outfits Seattles bike squad wear: despite the polo shirts and (optional) shorts, the officers wear Bell Super 3R helmets and body armour. Nor are the bikes themselves your casual BMX. They have a custom-built hardtail mountain bike frame from Volcanic, a company in Bellingham, Washington that specialises in catering to law enforcement.

Mountain bikes are best because of the durability factor, Dyment says. You may need to ride them down stairs. Officers have to carry equipment including radios and full armament, and they are on average heavier than most people.

Field repairs are carried out by a bus that follows the riot police around, loaded up with parts and eager mechanics. Almost everything that goes wrong with a bike can be fixed within half an hour, he says. More intensive maintenance is carried out in a vast basement under the downtown west precinct building, where the squad is based.

The bikes enduro wheel set features custom DT Swiss rims with a wide inner width of 25mm. They use Fox Float 32 front forks and Serfas 2.1 cross tires, and a NoTubes liquid latex sealing system that patches punctures as they occur. We ride through a lot of broken glass, Dyment says.

They use 3×9 gears but they will soon switch to 1×11, to further cut down maintenance. And they have mechanical disc brakes, which was the whole reason the department chose a local company: back in 2005, when they were shopping for the bikes, the big companies such as Kona could only provide hydraulic disc brakes.

The officers themselves are all keen cyclists, which underlines the fact that cycling really is a point of commonality between them and the public. Protesters themselves sometimes approach to ask about the bikes and discuss the gear. Dyment thinks the relationship between police and Seattles long-term protest community isnt entirely unfriendly; he compares it to the Warner Brothers cartoon Ralph Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog. We all know each other. They yell stuff at us at protests, but we see each other on the street and nod.

They never trade secrets about tactics, though.

The evolution of their tactics and ours, and the evolution of our bikes, go hand in hand. Unless they have bikes too, they cant keep up with our mobility, Dyment says. They have better and better communications technologies, but we have the bikes.

Guardian Cities is dedicating a week to exploring the future of cycling in cities around the world. Explore our coverage here and follow us on on Twitter andFacebook to join the discussion.

Accept our challenge to have a conversation with a fellow city cyclist? Tell us about it here, or on Twitter or Instagram using #cycleconvo, and well feature the best at Guardian Cities

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jun/15/the-new-horsemen-why-american-riot-police-embraced-the-bicycle

The new horsemen: why American riot police embraced the bicycle

As a new digital era of protest has dawned under Occupy and Trump, riot police across the US have embarked on a fundamental shift in crowd control

Early last Saturday afternoon, under clear blue skies, a sparsely attended anti-sharia rally left the grounds of City Hall in Seattle, Washington.

Until then, the attendees had been facing off against a much larger group of anti-fascists. The two sides had been exchanging chants and taunts across a wide, fenced-off area, manned with riot police.

As they left the grounds, however, the two sides came into direct contact at the corner of 4th and Cherry. A group of young men some wearing red Donald Trump Make America Great Again hats, others in masks spilled from the pavement out onto the street. Punches started flying.

Immediately, 10 fit, muscular police officers on black mountain bikes who had been watching from across the intersection in two columns of five, leaped into action.

Dismounting as they closed in, they pushed their bikes directly into the heart of the melee. Yelling instructions Move BACK! they used the bikes, and their bodies, to create a line, pushing back the crowd and separating the antagonists.

They held the line. As people began to disperse, the police gradually expanded the perimeter. After 20 minutes or so the crowd had noticeably thinned, and the riot bicycle unit left for a nearby park where more fighting had kicked off.

If it all looked smooth and efficient, its partly because Seattles bike squad gets a lot of practice. Seattle has 200-300 protests a year, says Sgt Jim Dyment, the squads lead trainer. Although theyre not all as contentious as todays.


Riot
Riot police use bikes in downtown Seattle at the anti-sharia rally in June 2017. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

Its also the remarkable product of a fundamental shift in crowd policing in the era of Occupy, Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump. When you think of riot police, the typical image is of them spilling from armoured vehicles with truncheons to face off against a large mass.

But American protest in the digital age is changing. Protests are mushrooming across the country in larger numbers than ever before, with social media allowing protesters to easily organise, form and disperse. Mobile communication allows instantaneous tactical redeployment when things get heated, video and photography now capture every movement, and public relations have become paramount.

In response, riot police have enthusiastically embraced a surprisingly low-tech mobility solution: the bicycle.

Bike-mounted cops are everywhere you look, from last years Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio when Trumps coronation attracted scores of protesters to the rallies of alt-right groups who have staged a series of provocations in urban centres throughout 2017.

They have also attracted controversy, with some observers calling them evidence of the militarisation of policing: the introduction of counterinsurgency techniques into the management of legally formed crowds. It gives them tactical advantages, says Kristian Williams, a critic of American policing. Theyre more mobile, they can more easily create physical barriers and the bikes can be used as weapons.

They used blogs. So we used bikes

 

Midtown
Midtown South Precincts new bicycle patrol hits the streets in July 1995. Photograph: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

It was here in Seattle back in 1999 that Dyment himself first pressed bicycles into use for crowd management, when 50,000 people showed up to protest at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation. Their numbers overwhelmed the citys mid-size police department but this was also a more sophisticated group of protesters than Seattle had ever seen. They were highly mobile, and they used new technologies to coordinate their actions.

They had great command and control, says Dyment. They used blogs and Nextels [a cellular phone with a push to talk function like a walkie-talkie]. Out of necessity, we used the bikes.

Though this was the first time riot police took to two wheels, bike-based policing has a long history in the US. What Dyment calls the golden age came early in the 20th century. Bikes were introduced in the late 1880s to police departments looking for more mobile patrolmen, and to New York City in 1895 under then Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, an avid cyclist. By 1907, a bicycle trade magazine estimated 50,000 bicycle police across the country, with 1,200 in New York City alone.

Over the 1920s and 1930s, however, bikes were gradually replaced first with motorcycles, and then by cars controlled by dispatch systems.

In the 1980s, policing took another turn with the era of community policing. This was about restoring police legitimacy after the civil unrest of the 1960s and 1970s, and the professional isolation of police, says Alex Vitale, a sociology teacher at Brooklyn College and author of the forthcoming book The End of Policing.

The concept was: get police out of cars and closer to the community. It was an attempt to respond to accusations of brutality and racism with a new professionalism, to show that police could talk to the public and respond to community concern.

Vitale calls the twin use of the bicycle increasing officers tactical advantage while trying to win the hearts and minds of the public a tactical dance between protesters and police that has played out over the course of American history.


Motorcycle
Motorcycle police in Berkeley, California wait in preparation for an anti-war rally in 1965. Photograph: Anonymous/AP

The new horses

By and large, the bike-led era of community police didnt happen, Vitale says. The bikes stayed piled up in police stations until 1987 when two officers in Seattle proposed using them in traffic snarls, caused by construction in the downtown area. The idea worked brilliantly, the department began using them in general patrols, and by 1993 the bike squad had 70 officers.

The bikes had one clear advantage; police can be quickly deployed in force to wherever they are needed.

It allows you to be mobile as a group, says Dyment. Bikes also allow you to have constant presence with the group.

This mobility is useful both in ordinary patrol and in first responder situations. In June 2014, when a shooter opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, bike officers were one of the first ones there. They were the only ones who could make it through the downtown traffic.

The bikes also turned out to be a highly effective and cheap tool for crowd control, allowing relatively few officers to form a relatively long line. They provide a natural barrier, Dyment says. The European model is more on foot. The London Met or the NYPD can just throw resources at situations like that. For mid-majors like Seattle, this is a way of controlling large crowds with minimal resources. (Historically, horses have played an analogous role, Vitale notes.)

A 2002 article written by the late Mike Goetz, a Seattle bike squad officer, describes manoeuvres including the crossbow and the barrier technique.

In the first, the bike squad forms a double column behind the line, far enough behind so they can get a little speed up, Goetz wrote. On command, the line makes a gap in the center and the bikes ride through this gap. In the second, officers focus on lining the bikes, front wheel to rear wheel, across the area to be blocked or protected.


Police
Police use bicycles to create cordons around protesters ahead of 2016s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Photograph: Reuters

Dyment also believes bike squads strike a less confrontational pose than massed platoons of officers in riot gear.

The bikes are a form of de-escalation in themselves. If you go into any group of people, almost everyone has ridden a bike. It means you have something in common, something to talk about.

Vitale agrees that bikes provide a combination of operational flexibility with a softer appearance. Bikes look friendlier to the press and other observers. But, he says, there is nothing inherently de-escalating about them.

Police on bikes might not be likely to involve themselves in baton charges, but they have pepper-sprayed people. He also notes the bikes themselves are sometimes weaponised. Accusations of police using bikes to attack often backed up by YouTube videos have been levelled against bike squads in Portland and Seattle.

The fact that bikes seem innocuous is a way of masking a weaponised potential, says Williams. Cops on bikes are less alarming than cops on horses, or in an armoured personnel carrier until youve been penned in by by a dozen cops on each side using the bikes as barriers.

Though there are disadvantages to bicycles an officer is more likely to be pushed back by a crowd than one on a motorcycle Williams argues that bicycles allow riot police to have their cake and eat it. Bikes allow police to assert a threat but not be seen as threatening by some parts of the public, he says. They obscure the fact that police have arrived on the scene with helmets, body armour, and clubs.

Not your casual BMX

 

Sgt
Sgt Jim Dyment (R) directs Seattles bike squad at the anti-sharia protest last in June. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

There is certainly a Robocop feel to the outfits Seattles bike squad wear: despite the polo shirts and (optional) shorts, the officers wear Bell Super 3R helmets and body armour. Nor are the bikes themselves your casual BMX. They have a custom-built hardtail mountain bike frame from Volcanic, a company in Bellingham, Washington that specialises in catering to law enforcement.

Mountain bikes are best because of the durability factor, Dyment says. You may need to ride them down stairs. Officers have to carry equipment including radios and full armament, and they are on average heavier than most people.

Field repairs are carried out by a bus that follows the riot police around, loaded up with parts and eager mechanics. Almost everything that goes wrong with a bike can be fixed within half an hour, he says. More intensive maintenance is carried out in a vast basement under the downtown west precinct building, where the squad is based.

The bikes enduro wheel set features custom DT Swiss rims with a wide inner width of 25mm. They use Fox Float 32 front forks and Serfas 2.1 cross tires, and a NoTubes liquid latex sealing system that patches punctures as they occur. We ride through a lot of broken glass, Dyment says.

They use 3×9 gears but they will soon switch to 1×11, to further cut down maintenance. And they have disc brakes, which was the whole reason the department chose a local company back in 2005, when they were shopping for the bikes, the big companies such as Kona couldnt provide them.

The officers themselves are all keen cyclists, which underlines the fact that cycling really is a point of commonality between them and the public. Protesters themselves sometimes approach to ask about the bikes and discuss the gear. Dyment thinks the relationship between police and Seattles long-term protest community isnt entirely unfriendly; he compares it to the Warner Brothers cartoon Ralph Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog. We all know each other. They yell stuff at us at protests, but we see each other on the street and nod.

They never trade secrets about tactics, though.

The evolution of their tactics and ours, and the evolution of our bikes, go hand in hand. Unless they have bikes too, they cant keep up with our mobility, Dyment says. They have better and better communications technologies, but we have the bikes.

Guardian Cities is dedicating a week to exploring the future of cycling in cities around the world. Explore our coverage here and follow us on on Twitter andFacebook to join the discussion.

Accept our challenge to have a conversation with a fellow city cyclist? Tell us about it here, or on Twitter or Instagram using #cycleconvo, and well feature the best at Guardian Cities

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jun/15/the-new-horsemen-why-american-riot-police-embraced-the-bicycle

‘Science for the people’: researchers challenge Trump outside US conference

Scientists rally in Boston amid alarm over presidents views and fears for the future of the EPA, as ecologist likens current struggle to Galileos

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/19/epa-trump-boston-science-protest

Disappearances spark fears of crackdown on leftwing dissent in Pakistan

Four prominent online campaigners with anti-military views believed abducted since Friday

Four social media activists with outspoken, secular and anti-military views have gone missing in Pakistan in recent days, sparking fears of a crackdown on leftwing dissenters.

Pakistans intelligence agencies have a history of illegal detentions and of not notifying relatives about where they are or why they are being held. However, such forced disappearances are usually directed against those suspected of involvement in terrorism or violent separatism.

One of the four men, Asim Saeed, was abducted from his home in Lahore on Friday after he had returned from working in Singapore. Ahmad Waqas Goraya, another online activist who is usually based in Holland, was detained on the same day, his friends say.

According to a statement given by Saeeds father to the police, four men arrived at the house in a pickup truck and forcefully took him away.

I made all efforts to locate my son but I have been unable to trace him, his statement said.

At the time of Saeeds abduction, the IT worker was carrying his laptop and two mobile phones.

Both Saeed and Goraya help run the Mochi Facebook page critical of Pakistans powerful military. The page has recently criticised the armys heavy-handed crackdown on political groups in Karachi, alleged corruption amongst senior officers and accused the military of interfering in national politics.

We respect Armed Forces of Pakistan as much as they respect the constitution of Pakistan, runs the text on the Facebook pages banner.

Salman Haider, a lecturer at Fatima Jinnah Women University, failed to come home on Friday. His wife received a mysterious message from his phone saying he was abandoning his car on the Islamabad-Rawalpindi motorway. The car was later recovered by police.

On Saturday the interior minister said he had urged police to find Haider, a playwright, poet and editor of Tanqeed. The online magazinehas criticised army counter-insurgency operations in the southern state of Balochistan.

Relatives of the fourth man, Ahmed Raza Naseer, say he was taken from his familys shop in the Punjab district of Sheikhupra on Saturday.

Human Rights Watch asked authorities to investigate the apparent abductions as a matter of urgency.

The Pakistani government has an immediate obligation to locate the four missing human rights activists and act to ensure their safety, said Brad Adams, HRWs Asia director.

The nature of these apparent abductions puts the government on notice that it can either be part of the solution or it will be held responsible for its role in the problem.

Shahzad Ahmad, director of Bytes for All, a human rights group focused on online security, said the disappearances had spooked social media activists, and several had deactivating their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

We are concerned over the recent roundup of social media activists, which we see as a threat to freedom of expression, association and assembly in online spaces, he said.

The arrests were designed to silence and smear those who challenge the establishment and speak against human rights violations in the country, he said.

Security sources have denied any involvement, while a group of MPs have called the disappearances highly concerning.

The pattern of these disappearances suggests that it is a planned and coordinated action, undertaken to silence voices which are critical of prevalent socio-political issues in Pakistan, they wrote in a parliamentary resolution.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/10/pakistan-military-critics-dissapearances-dissent-crackdown

Hong Kong politician calls pro-independence activists ‘cancer cells’ at rally of thousands

Thousands protest outside government headquarters, backing Chinas decision to bar activists Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching from political office

Thousands of people attended a pro-Beijing rally in Hong Kong on Sunday in support of Chinas decision to in effect bar two pro-independence legislators from taking office, as fears grow for the citys freedoms.

Beijings ruling last week pre-empted a decision by the Hong Kong courts over whether lawmakers Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching should be disqualified from parliament after deliberately misreading their oaths of office, inserting expletives and draping themselves with Hong Kong is not China flags.

Beijings interpretation of the citys constitution, issued on Monday, said any oath taker who did not follow the prescribed wording, or takes the oath in a manner which is not sincere or not solemn, should be disqualified.

On Sunday rowdy crowds, waving Chinese flags, surrounded the governments headquarters in a show of support for Beijings unprecedented decision, criticised by pro-democracy activists and legal experts as a massive blow to Hong Kongs judicial independence.

Supporters chanted slogans such as fight against Hong Kong independence, support the interpretation at the rally, which was attended by pro-Beijing legislators.

The cancer cells are those who are promoting Hong Kong independence … we will fight them to the end, lawmaker Michael Tien told the crowd who cheered loudly in response.

China will never, ever tolerate the splitting of the nation, Tien said.

Priscilla Leung, another pro-China legislator who attended the rally, said the lawmakers behaviour at the swearing-in ceremony humiliated all of the Chinese people.

Police said 28,500 people attended the rally.

The Hong Kong high courts decision on whether Leung and Yau should be disqualified is still pending.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 under a one country, two systems deal which protects its freedoms for 50 years, but there are growing concerns those liberties are disappearing.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/14/hong-kong-politician-calls-pro-independence-activists-cancer-cells-rally-thousands-china