London's secret weapon for avoiding a Seattle riot

Nature, or rather the call of nature, is the weapon of choice.
Nature, or rather the call of nature, is the weapon of choice.

Somewhere, former Mayor Paul Schell must be grinding his teeth. Turns out, years after the WTO riot in Seattle in 1999, police have finally figured out how to contain the anarchists and other street fighters who show up whenever there's a big summit. The secret weapon: bladders.

Schell was maybe the last political leader who thought you could reason with these protesters, that Seattle's famous spirit of tolerance would weaken their resolve to break windows and hog cameras. Didn't work out that way, after the Seattle organizers, who bought into the hear-us-out formula, were overwhelmed by professional agitators from other cities. In future cities, Schell predicted, the authorities would have learned the Seattle lesson, cordoned off the meeting zone, sent the worst provocateurs out of town or to jail on trumped-up charges, and deployed massive numbers of police and the Army.

The WTO decided to meet in small, expensive resorts. But the G20 pretty much has to be in a national capital, as this year's was in London, with a follow-on meeting in Strasbourg. The Brits are pretty good at this kind of challenge, and so they devised a system of corraling the protestors, squeezing them into a smaller zone, and then letting calls of nature do the work police would just as soon avoid: dispersing the crowds. Here's how a London journalist, A.A. Gill, described the tactics:

You often wonder what visiting dignitaries make of your country; American presidents must think that the whole world is in a constant state of riot. Wherever they go, CNN is full of angry banners, burning flags and tear gas. I went and joined the London riot. It was depressingly flabby, and half-hearted. Not so much a demonstration as a queue of arcane special pleading groups, ranging from anarchists for bicycles (who all waited politely at the traffic lights) and one-world vegans. Altogether, they looked like a collective of European street mimes.

A couple of broken windows and teeth, and that was it. The London police have discovered that the best way to neuter demonstrations is not to move everyone on, or disperse troublemakers, but hold them close, cordon them into a diminishing space for hours and hours, as a sort of arbitrary al fresco arrest. The crowd goes from righteous indignation to fury to despair, and ends up pleading. They'ꀙre all desperate to go. It'ꀙs crowd control by bladder control: effective but probably illegal.

Now they tell us!


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