One of the messages from Occupy Wall Street is that civil disobedience can hurt. Protesters are getting a helping of what police dish out when you fail to obey their orders. It’s not pretty, either. Riot control is not only ugly; it can actually be lethal. If while protesting you decide to confront or disobey police, there are some things in store for you. The aim of law enforcement in riot control is to use non-lethal methods of getting crowds to disperse or rioters to obey orders. They have come up with a number of ways to get you to comply. 1. One of the oldest and most familiar riot control implements is the baton – also called a truncheon, nightstick, billy club, or blackjack. Police use it to block, strike, or jab people. When using a firearm is deemed inappropriate or unjustified, the baton is the instrument of choice. In the old days police would “brain” people with batons to stun them or knock them unconscious, but as you might imagine this is frowned upon in modern law enforcement – especially since it can be deadly. Generally police are trained not to hit the skull, sternum, spine, or groin unless they can’t avoid it. One way police try to disable someone is to aim for the common peroneal nerve, located roughly a hand span above the knee, toward the back of the leg. This will cause your legs to give way, and you’ll experience numbness and tingling down your leg. This can last up to 5 minutes. Recently campus police at UC Berkeley were seen jabbing a group of armlocked protesters in the sides with batons. It caused outrage. Police generally do not jab protesters in this way unless the protesters are being physically aggressive or actively resisting arrest, according to police training guidelines I read. (UC is revisiting the issue of training methods.) 2. Police will sometimes fire bean bag rounds into a crowd. A bean-bag round is a small “pillow” filled with lead shot, weighing about 40 grams. It’s fired from a normal 12-gauge shotgun. The intent is to deliver a blow that won’t cause you any long-term damage but will render you immobile. Bean-bag rounds can be quite dangerous or even lethal, depending on where they strike. If one hits you in the chest, it can break ribs, supposedly, sending broken ribs into the heart. A strike to the head can break your nose, crush your larynx, or break your neck or skull. If one gets you in the abdomen, it could cause internal bleeding or breathing difficulties. Police are taught to aim for the extremities when using these rounds. 3. Rubber bullets are another option for police. They can be fired from standard firearms. These are meant to hurt you but not cause serious injury. People struck with rubber bullets can expect contusions, abrasions, or hematomas – although they can cause bone fractures or injury to internal organs. They have notably caused eye injuries to people, and are reported to have caused deaths. 4.Tear gas works by irritating the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs. In the eyes it will cause burning, redness, and blurred vision. You’ll experience burning and irritation in your mouth, along with drooling and difficulty swallowing. You might experience chest tightness and shortness of breath. You might get a skin rash or burn. You might also experience nausea and vomiting. 5. One of the dispersal methods that’s been in the news lately is pepper spray. This inflammatory agent is said to cause immediate closing of the eyes (no kidding) along with difficulty breathing, runny nose, and coughing. You get an almost instant restriction of your airways and feel sudden, intense pain in the face, nose, and throat. Subsequent breaths can cause you to ingest more of the spray, which can cause choking. The burning reaction can last for hours. If you have asthma or other pre-existing respiratory problems, pepper spray can be fatal. Numerous people have died in police custody after inhaling pepper spray. These are what most protesters here in the US would encounter. Recently the Oakland Police were accused of using an M84 stun grenade – or “flashbang” – during a protest. There is an intensely loud “bang” and a blinding flash, which can cause temporary blindness, deafness, tinnitus, or inner ear disturbance. Their use has made headlines in Greece, South Africa, and Israel, among other places.
The Banzai Pipeline, or simply Pipeline, is a surf reef break in Hawaii, on Oahu’s North Shore. At Pipeline, open-ocean swells meet a patch of lava rock just offshore that slows the base of the waves, creating a wall of water with a hollow curl that’s great for tube riding: surfers can ride inside the barrel or curve of these breaking waves. During the winter, swells from storms off the Alaskan coast travel across the Pacific toward Hawaii. With no continental shelf around the Hawaiian islands, ocean swells are unimpeded as they approach the shore. At Pipeline, these waves meet a flat tabletop coral reef about 500 yards from land – and this reef, with its caverns and underwater lava spires, is what creates those barreling, powerful waves that surfers can’t resist. It’s also what makes Pipeline one of the most dangerous reef breaks in the world. A number of surfers have died at Pipeline, and numerous others have suffered injuries – sometimes catastrophic injuries. Laird Hamilton, once described as the world’s preeminent big-wave surfer, calls Pipeline a “bone crusher.” He explains:
I saw guys carried out of Pipeline daily. I saw one guy who had the top of his scalp torn off like a boiled egg after it’s been cut with a knife. I’ve seen guys with broken arms, broken backs, and even broken necks. I once went over [the falls] and landed on my board and split my head open like it was tomahawked.
No matter. Another surfer, Phil Edwards, in talking about his days surfing the Pipeline, describes it this way:
The Pipeline is a geographic anomaly. It’s a spectacle of nature. That reef is radical. Those waves haven’t seen a thing shallower than a mile deep for 2,000 miles, and they come blasting into that coral wall and the top of the ocean just flops off. The result is a beautiful, beautiful wave. If God designed a wave for surfers, he couldn’t do any better than the Pipeline.
And so the surfers come. Every year. Things began to change after Edwards quit surfing Pipeline, though. By one account:
In the late 70s Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans arrived and went crazy at the Pipeline, surfing with an aggressiveness some regulars resented. And with the trepidation barrier broken, the Pipeline was being surfed in droves. Because there isn’t room for two surfers on any one pipe, competition for the waves was intense and often unfriendly. Intimidation, both psychological and physical, became a part of surfing the Pipeline.
As a New York Times article put it:
In 1975, a brash group of surfers from South Africa and Australia swept the North Shore contests and monopolized news media coverage. The Australians even boasted of their superiority to their Hawaiian counterparts. Some Hawaiians, feeling disrespected at home in a sport their ancestors invented, threatened and thrashed the outsiders when they returned the next winter.
Local surfers banded together to enforce a code of respect. In 1976 there were the Da Hui, or the Black Shorts (for their uniform surf trunks). And then there is the Wolfpak, also known as “the boys.” Wolfpak is said to use fear and their fists to command respect on Oahu’s North Shore. They determine which waves go to whom and punish outsiders who cross the line with locals. Zev Borow explains.
During winter months, when the waves are biggest, Pipeline is likely the most crowded break in the world, and the most dangerous. In ideal conditions, the waves roll off a shallow coral reef to form perfect barrels. And because these barrels break close to shore, they somehow seem less intimidating, enticing many surfers who aren’t prepared for reality. As a result, on a good day, as many as 80 surfers will paddle into a lineup that can be safely surfed by maybe 20. The combination of huge waves, shallow reef and an aggressive and jammed lineup creates a surfing environment that can be treacherous.
Kala Alexander, leader of Wolfpak, says that’s where they step in.
We make sure there’s order, that people aren’t taking off on top of each other. On a wave like Pipe, something stupid isn’t just not having surfing etiquette. It’s attempted murder. Getting dropped in on at Pipe is like pointing a gun at your head. And you know, if you point a gun at one of us, well, there are gonna be consequences.
I wouldn’t say much. Maybe I’d paddle up to you, tell you to go in, or take off your leash [a cord used to keep the board from being washed away from the surfer]. But later I’d find you, or a few of the other guys would, and you’d be taught a lesson.
Localism – surfers making sure their home break’s waves go to them, as Borow puts it – exists on some level on all beaches. Good surf spots are rare and a good surf break will become a coveted commodity. Regular surfers who live near the surf break will take over, proclaiming “locals only.” Verbal and occasional physical threats are used to deter outsiders from surfing at certain spots. Some of the tactics used:
- posting warning signs for outsiders or blocking access to the beach
- insults and shouting, bullying tactics to intimidate surfers they don’t recognize
- aggressive behavior toward non-locals, including disrupting surfing maneuvers
- vandalism, such as damaging surfboards and vehicles
- in extreme cases, physical attack, including a few that have resulted in death
Some veteran surfers downplay the aggression and violence that sometimes get picked up by media outlets. Doug Ancey, who’s been surfing for about twelve years now, objects to the term “surf gangs” to describe groups of locals, saying there is no comparison between these “cliques” and criminal gangs. He says that at issue is the notion of respect.
The thing that we are really looking for on the water is respect. There is etiquette to surfing that few people outside of the surfing crowd understand. The aggression on the water comes out when someone exhibits a lack of respect to the other surfers around them…As far as the etiquette between surfers goes, I’ll try not to drown you in surfing terminology, but it’s about waiting your turn in the lineup and respecting other surfers’ waves. In all actuality, we are all out there for the same experience and the same passion.
He goes on to talk about how surfers get stereotyped negatively.
Usually the more you say about surfing to someone who doesn’t surf, the worse off you are. Surfing is something that is very personal and deep, and it’s hard for an outsider to fully grasp that concept. That is why surfers can talk about surfing for hours, especially with other surfers.
And once you become immersed in surfing culture, he says, you’re in for good.
A lot of the Occupy Wall Street protesters have been arrested on various charges, such as trespassing, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, and obstruction of government administration. And almost from the beginning, the National Lawyers Guild has been there to get them out of trouble. In what has been called “the largest mobilization of pro bono lawyers in 40 years,” the National Lawyers Guild has been providing counsel to Occupy Wall Street protesters – by drafting and filing motions, monitoring as legal observers, advising the protesters in negotiations with city officials, setting up legal hotlines, and showing up on short notice to represent those in custody. They go about identifying each person who is arrested, recording the badge numbers of arresting officers, and getting contact information for potential witnesses. The Guild has been engaging in this kind of activism on behalf of liberal and Left causes for decades now. The lawyers who founded the National Lawyers Guild in 1937 were what we now call progressives – New Deal supporters, union lawyers, and civil libertarians. It was the first racially integrated bar association in the country. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a written endorsement to the founding convention. Beginning in the late 1940s, the US government started to view the National Lawyers Guild as subversive. The FBI targeted the organization during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s. According to a lawsuit that wasn’t filed until 1977, the FBI learned through wiretaps and informants that Yale Law School professor Thomas Emerson had discussed with the National Lawyers Guild the publication of an exposé of unconstitutional investigative methods in the FBI. According to Publiceye.org:
The FBI passed this information on to Richard Nixon, then a congressman on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and persuaded him to hold a press conference announcing a HUAC probe of the National Lawyers Guild as a communist front.
The FBI publicly launched an investigation of the organization. Leaders in the American Bar Association worked with the FBI to discredit the National Lawyers Guild.
Hoover had the FBI write a report (which HUAC issued under the Committee’s name) without hearings or an investigation. The report was titled “Report on the National Lawyers Guild: Legal Bulwark of the Communist Party.”
The HUAC report called upon the Attorney General to designate the Guild a “subversive” organization. He actually did in 1953, but when the evidence to support the designation wasn’t forthcoming, he dropped it in 1958. It didn’t matter to the FBI. It kept the National Lawyers Guild under surveillance for roughly 30 years, keeping extensive files on the organization. It wiretapped phones, burglarized Guild offices, sifted through the garbage of Guild members, sent informants to meetings, and provided information on members to panels that reviewed lawyers for admission to practice law. It wasn’t until 1989 that the FBI admitted the government engaged in a broad effort to investigate and disrupt the National Lawyers Guild – despite the absence of any finding that the group was subversive. The government didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, of course. The US attorney did manage to say, “Obviously under today’s standards, a lot of that activity would be illegal.” Yes – under today’s standards. Were warrantless searches legal under yesterday’s standards? There are still people on the Right that disparage the National Lawyers Guild. It’s been called anti-capitalist and pro-terrorist. Totalitarian. A Legal Fifth Column. And the worst thing anything can be called in America: Marxist-inspired.