How Police Can Keep The Peace During Tense Protests
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The protests in Charlottesville left one person dead and more than a dozen others wounded. Police around the country are now bracing for that kind of violence to spread. There are more white nationalist marches planned for this weekend, and public safety officials are getting ready. They need to understand their role in protecting free speech and freedom of assembly while keeping the violence at bay.
Chuck Canterbury joins us now on the line. He is the president of the Fraternal Order of Police. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.
CHUCK CANTERBURY: Thanks, Rachel.
MARTIN: What is the single most important thing a police force can do when there are two groups of civilians confronting one another like we saw in Charlottesville?
CANTERBURY: Well, the first thing that you would attempt to do is to make sure that you have designated areas that do not intersect. You would try to keep the competitive groups totally separate, to designate the protest areas, attempt to issue permits that would keep those groups totally separated and then, obviously, have sufficient enough force to make sure that you can keep them separated.
MARTIN: Do open-carry laws make this type of work even more challenging? I mean, we saw pictures from Charlottesville of people carrying weapons.
CANTERBURY: Yeah - open carry is obviously going to make police officers that are on the scene be extremely careful just because you don't know what the intentions of the people in the marches or the protests are going to be. But it doesn't really change the response other than there's going to be a requirement for forward observers, people that can see from up high, to try to watch for the intentions of the crowd. We obviously would prefer not to have to go into armed groups. But, you know, open carry, per se, has not really been a big issue.
MARTIN: Although there is this tension - right? - because police in Charlottesville were criticized for not being more aggressive as they watched all this violence unfold. But then you see what happened in places like Baltimore or Ferguson, where police did take this more aggressive approach, and a lot of scandals erupted over claims of of police misconduct. So how do you strike the balance?
CANTERBURY: Well, there's not a balance. Since Ferguson, the false narrative that police in riot gear caused the problem is just a false narrative. People intent on criminal activity created the problem.
MARTIN: Oh, I don't think the issue was that they started the violence. But it was in how they...
MARTIN: ...Responded to the violence there.
CANTERBURY: Well, there's been a lot of discussion, especially by some of the groups that were in Ferguson, that the aggressive nature of law enforcement caused them to become more aggressive. And that's just absolutely ludicrous. Police officers in the proper gear, prepared to take action don't have to stop and then become prepared. You know, there's no need for anybody in a peaceful protest to throw rocks, bottles, carry sticks, knives.
MARTIN: Yeah. The problem is...
CANTERBURY: Those things need to be...
MARTIN: ...When they're not peaceful, which is what we saw in Charlottesville.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask you in our seconds remaining about the comments made by President Trump, putting equal blame for Charlottesville on Nazis and antihate groups. Does that make it more difficult? Does it exacerbate tensions at future rallies?
CANTERBURY: But what I took from President Trump's comments were that people intent on criminal activity were both wrong. Obviously, neo-Nazis, the KKK, anybody that's advocating any kind of violence is absolutely wrong. That should not be allowed. Groups...
CANTERBURY: ...That advocate violence shouldn't be issued permits.
MARTIN: We'll have to leave it there. Chuck Canterbury, president...
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MARTIN: ...Of the Fraternal Order of Police, thanks so much for your time.
CANTERBURY: Thank you.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this report, it was mistakenly said that people on both sides of the violence in Charlottesville were seen openly carrying automatic weapons. In fact, reports so far indicate that almost all of those seen carrying guns were among the white supremacists there that day, and that they were not automatic weapons.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.