Thursday, May 29, 2014

Crowd control

That’s a tricky business. We’ve seen it all over the world. Very often ending in massacres as mounted soldiers charged or let go a fusillade bloodying the streets in SaintPetersburgh, Soweto, Tian-an-Men or Madrid (see hereby Ramon Casas masterpiece "La carga").

How easily a demonstration becomes a riot.
And city authorities mismanaging the affairs in Chicago, Watts, Washington DC since way back in 1968. And Paris in May that same year.

I landed in Washington DC on June 26, 1968 as a rookie doctor on a Fulbright scholarship to get training in the US. That very evening we went downtown to see the riots. The National Guard was deployed and kept us from driving to the east of the Capitol hot zone.
Burn, baby, burn!

Almost five decades later the Sants quarter of Barcelona burst in flames, alas! only some trash containers and a couple of vehicles, in the riots that followed the eviction of CanVies, an “okupa” building. This squatter’s stronghold belonging to the city Public Transportation Authority had been occupied for some 17 years. It has been harbouring multiple activities, workshops, “alternative” conferences and courses, and hundreds of youths and not so young have been going through them. It was part of the landscape of the working class “barrio” of Sants. But the city wanted them out and after several legal battles, some 7 months ago got the eviction approved by the courts.

The city decided to execute the eviction just the day after the European Parliament elections. The very same day the Chief of the Catalan Police, long time contested for his handling of several street protests over the past months, resigned “for personal reasons”. The botched eviction took place under a spiral of violence. Rioters set fire to the backhoe demolishing the building, a TV truck and dozens of trash containers (those plastic contraptions catch fire very easily and light up the scene very dramatically).

Four days of rioting and no end in sight.

The riot police had utterly failed to control the demonstrators despite coming in in force. Their tactics have been circumvented by the rioters taking advantage of the small side streets and alleys. Pundits and politicians keep saying in the media the protesters are very well organized and put the blame on foreign elements of anarchists groups, mainly Italian. Antisystem, they are called.

But they do not want to see or hear the tin pot banging of dozens of neighbours cheering protesters in the street and cursing the police. Raging unemployment, rising commodities prices, cuts in health and social services have brought quite a lot of despair, frustration and anger to the Spanish people on the whole and Catalans in particular.

Banners say: ”If you sow misery, will harvest anger”. Does anyone thing this is a matter of crowd control?

No comments: