US Police act tougher as race tensions rise

July 12, 2016 12:00 am

Protesters march after a gathering in Loring Park held by Black Lives Matter in Minneapolis. Photo / AP

In the wake of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, where authorities were
criticised for heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators after the
police shooting of black teen Michael Brown, many police departments
took a more restrained approach.
Now, after the shooting deaths
of five officers at a Dallas protest decrying last week’s police
killings of two more black men, some experts are suggesting the pendulum
could be swinging from hugs back to flash-bang grenades and mass
arrests.
Over the past two days, authorities made more than 160
arrests in Louisiana’s capital, Baton Rouge, during protests over
killings by police, with only one reported injury among the ranks when
an officer was hit by a projectile.
Police in riot gear kept
protesters from entering Interstate 110 in Baton Rouge yesterday,
thwarting a tactic activists have attempted around the country in the
aftermath of the killings of Alton Sterling, 37, in Baton Rouge,
Louisiana and Philando Castile, 32, in St Paul, Minnesota.

More than a thousand demonstrators left a Black Lives Matter
rally in Memphis, Tennessee, and occupied a Mississippi River bridge
yesterday, temporarily halting traffic on Interstate 40. And hundreds
walked onto I-264 in Portsmouth, Virginia, marooning motorists for
hours.
In St Paul on Sunday, officers in riot gear met protesters
who blocked Interstate 94 in the biggest confrontation between police
and demonstrators since an officer fatally shot Castile during a
suburban Twin Cities traffic stop last week. About 100 people were
arrested. Twenty-one law enforcement officers were hurt during the
protests, including six state troopers. Police Chief Todd Axtell called
the pelting of officers with rocks, bottles, firecrackers and other
objects “a disgrace”. Police used smoke bombs to clear the crowd of more
than 200 people blocking the interstate.
And there are those who
believe police will have to take extra precautions after the five
police officers were killed and seven wounded when a gunman opened fire
on a protest march in Dallas on Friday.
Craig Lally, president of
the union representing Los Angeles police officers, said he suspects
changes will be made at departments across the country when it comes to
staffing protests and similar events.
“I think they’re going to have to be much more
aware of their surroundings. The next march in Dallas, I guarantee
they’re going to have sniper teams all along the march, cops with
high-powered rifles, to see if anyone is going to be a copycat,” Lally
said.
Former FBI agent James Wedick envisions departments having
officers stake out high areas with binoculars and possibly sniper
rifles, but keeping them out of sight to avoid causing panic.
“It’s not just to defend the cops, it’s also to defend the protesters,” said Wedick, who was with the FBI for 35 years.
Authorities
are investigating whether Micah Johnson, the Dallas gunman, was
directed by black militant groups who were calling for revenge or merely
emboldened by them.
“I think it’s safe to say we’ll leave no stone unturned,” Dallas Deputy Police Chief Scott Walton said.
Although
Johnson was connected to several militant groups on social media, it’s
unclear if he was merely a follower or an active participant.

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