Whose Streets? Police and Protester
Struggles over Space in Washington,
DC, 29/30 September 2001
John A. Noakes, Brian V. Klocke & Patrick F. Gillham
Over the weekend of 29/30 September 2001, approximately 20,000 people participated
in anti-war protests in Washington, DC. Based on firsthand observations and interviews
with police officials, we analyzed the response of the Metro DC police (MPDC) to three
separate protests that weekend, including those sponsored by the Anti-Capitalist
Convergence (ACC), the International Action Center (IAC) and the Washington Peace
Center (WPC). Our observations illustrate how the MPDC’s efforts to control the space
in which the respective protests occurred varied across demonstrations. The MPDC
tightly controlled the space in which transgressive groups (ACC) demonstrated, but were
much more lenient with contained groups (WPC, IAC). We relate the MPDC tactics to
changes in the policing of protests since the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in
Seattle and highlight police tactics such as the partitioning of space, the rearranging of
protesters, and the use of less-lethal weapons.
Keywords: Policing Protests; Space; Anti-war Demonstrations; Strategic Incapacitation;
Washington, DC; Transgressive Protests
The US government has failed to recognize the interconnectedness of all the forms
of violence. ... Terror is still terror whether it is from death from starvation, fear of
enslavement by corporations or fear of bombs or airplanes falling. ...We will not
hand over our civil liberties to the greater good of the State. ...We strongly see the
need to come together and act on our visions of the world we want to create and
not on our fears. (ACC Call to Action, 20 September 2001)
Correspondence to: John A. Noakes, Department of Sociology, Arcadia University, 450 S. Easton Road, Glenside,
PA 19038, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The authors would like to thank the participants in the 2004
Fiskebaskil, Sweden conference on the policing of protest since Seattle whose comments on a different paper
helped shape key concepts in this one. We are also grateful for comments by Gary T. Marx, James Sheptycki, and
anonymous reviewers at Policing & Society.
ISSN 1043-9463 (print)/ISSN 1477-2728 (online) #2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd
Policing & Society, Vol. 15, No. 3, September 2005, pp. 235/254
We’re trying to be on guard because some people don’t respect peace. (Washington,
DC Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer, 2001)
Over the weekend of 29/30 September 2001, approximately 20,000 people
demonstrated in Washington, DC in opposition to the widely anticipated United
States military response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. These
demonstrations were, in many ways, substitute protests. A much larger series of
demonstrations had been planned for this weekend, to coincide with the fall meetings
of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). All indicators
suggested there would be clashes between police and protesters during these
demonstrations. The Mobilization for Global Justice (MGJ), an umbrella group of
global justice movement organizations and the primary organizer of similar
demonstrations in April 2000, was planning ‘‘large-scale, well-organized, high-
visibility actions’’ in opposition to IMF/WB policies and practices (MGJ, 2001). MGJ
warned participants to expect a large number of arrests and urged them to clear the
week following the protest so they could engage in civil disobedience to fill
Washington, DC’s jails in protest of the projected criminalization of dissent (MGJ,
For their part, the Metropolitan Police (MPDC) moved to mobilize a massive
security apparatus in anticipation of upwards of 100,000 demonstrators. Seeking to
control the space near the WB and IMF headquarters, and following the lead of the
Quebec police at the hotly contested April 2001 Free Trade Area of the Americas
(FTAA) meetings in Canada (Lochhead, 2001; Dejevsky, 2001), the MPDC
announced plans to encircle 2.7 miles of central Washington, including the WB
and IMF buildings and the White House, with a nine-foot high, galvanized steel fence
(Montgomery, 2001). In addition, the MPDC planned to close down the campus of
George Washington University, and had been working for several months to have
police departments up and down the East Coast detail their off-duty officers to
Washington for the weekend (Argetsinger, 2001).
However, the anticipated clash between global justice protesters and the MPDC
never occurred. On 11 September, hijackers flew jets into the World Trade Center, the
Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field killing thousands of people in the planes and the
buildings they hit. In respect for the magnitude and historical significance of these
attacks, many activist groups canceled their travel plans, and many protest groups
(such as AFL-CIO, Friends of the Earth and Oxfam America) called off their plans to
demonstrate. Other organizations announced scaled-down activities. MGJ, for
example, called off their street demonstrations, but still planned to offer teach-ins
and discussions on globalization (Gillham & Edwards, 2003). Most remaining protest
organizations canceled their demonstrations after the IMF/WB, responding to an
appeal from MPDC Chief Charles Ramsey, cancelled their autumn meetings
altogether (Crutsinger, 2001).
/the local Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC) and the New
York-based International Action Center (IAC)*
/decided to take advantage of the
236 J. A. Noakes, B. V. Klocke & P. F. Gillham
planning they had done for the weekend and stage demonstrations on Saturday, 29
November, linking the cause of global justice to anti-militarism. A third group, the
local Washington Peace Center (WPC), which had not planned to participate as an
organization in the global justice protests, drew on its deep roots in the Washington
area to stage a third demonstration on Sunday, 30 November. Because of the
extraordinary set of events that shaped these demonstrations, the weekend was
unique in many ways. Nonetheless, the MPDC drew from its standard repertoire of
social control tactics in constructing its response to the weekend’s demonstrations.
This allows us to make connections to recent broader changes in the policing of
protest. Moreover, there is much to be learned about the nature of police-protester
relations by comparing the police response to the respective protests, each of which
occurred in the same unique context.
In this article, we examine the MPDC response to these three protests, with
particular attention being paid to the police efforts to control the space in which the
demonstrations occurred. To systematically observe each demonstration, the authors
established observation posts on the front-right and rear-left of the respective
marches, with a third observer circulating in the middle section of each. We then
moved with the march, noting events as they occurred and taking visual inventories
at ten-minute intervals. The authors also interviewed protesters before, during and
after the demonstrations. By relating these observations to recent discussions about
changes in the nature of policing protest, we attempt to extend current theories of
contentious politics to include recognition of the role of spatial contention.
We consider the literature on the policing of protest from the perspective of spatial
dynamics in the next section. In recent years there has been increased attention to the
nexus of space and, respectively, policing and social movements (cf. Herbert, 1997;
DeFlem, 1996; Kraska & Kappeler, 1997; Tilly, 2000; Sewell, 2001), but, to the best
that we can determine, there has not been a specific examination of the nexus of
space and the policing of protest. Therefore, we first consider the implications of the
existing literature on the policing of protest for questions of the struggle between
police and protesters over spaces of contention. To aid in this task, we draw upon the
separate literatures on the spatial dynamics of policing and the spatial dynamics of
social movements. After this, we describe the three protests that occurred on the
weekend of 29
/30 September, and synthesize all of the preceding in an analysis of the
MPDC’s policing of these demonstrations.
The Policing of Protest in the United States
Spatial dynamics are central to both policing and protesting. The mobilization of
social movements is facilitated by the availability of ‘‘safe spaces’’ outside the
immediate control of the authorities in which dissenting points of view are tolerated,
alternative ideas debated and oppositional ideologies formulated (Polletta, 1999;
Zhao, 2000). Time-distance relations shape the mobilization process by making it
more likely that some potential participants will mobilize and less likely others will do
Policing & Society 237
so (Stillerman, 2003; Sewell, 2001). Tactical choices of march participants are shaped
by the built environment and spatial routines in contested locales (Marston, 2003,
Sewell, 2001). Moreover, by engaging in marches, sit-ins or pickets, social movement
participants are making claims about the symbolic nature of the space in which the
demonstrations occur, and about their right to occupy the space and disrupt its
normal spatial routines (Marston, 2003; Tilly, 2000; Sewell, 2001).
Space is similarly important to the maintenance of social control. Daily life became
more orderly and law enforcement more effective when frontiers were eliminated and
the contiguous boundaries of the modern nation-state system were established (Elias,
1994; Gerth & Mills, 1944). Among other things, this facilitated a shift from the use
of the threat of military force to enforce order to the internal pacification of the
citizenry through policing (Fyfe, 1991; Giddens, 1981). Within nation-states, police
continue to partition off space and assert their own spatial claims (Traugott, 1995).
Modern-day police, Herbert (1997: 11) argues, ‘‘would be largely impotent without
the capacity to create and enforce boundaries and to restrict people’s mobility in and
around certain areas’’.
Police and protesters, therefore, engage in several contests over spatial issues.
Spaces are physically contested when protesters demonstrate or seek to demonstrate
in them and police attempt to either restrict protester access to certain spaces or to
disperse protesters from a space they already occupy. Yet spatial contention is a
cultural as well as physical phenomenon. Symbolically important spaces, such as
monuments or historically significant locales, become the site of intense contention,
with protesters seeking to stake their claims in the most politically potent space while
police seek to prevent the act as a means of both asserting their control over their
jurisdictional space and preventing ‘‘off-the-job’’ trouble from politicians and others
who oppose the protesters attempts to re-frame the meaning of the site (Waddington,
1999). Tarrow’s (1994) discussion of the ‘‘struggle for cultural supremacy’’ between
states, social movements, counter-movements and media is relevant here (see also
Noakes and Johnston, 2005; Sewell, 2001). Who defines the meaning of contested
space is one aspect of this struggle.
Thus, the lack of any explicit discussion of spatial dynamics in the policing of
protest represents a serious gap in the social science literature on this topic. That
there is such a gap, however, is not surprising. It is only in recent years that the
literatures on either policing in general or social movements have begun to
incorporate spatial issues into their theoretical work. Sewell’s (2001: 51
observation that the social movement literature ‘‘has treated space as an assumed
and unproblematized background, not as a constituent aspect of contentious politics
that must be conceptualized explicitly and probed systematically’’ is applicable to the
literature on the policing protests, as well (see also Stillerman, 2003; Marston, 2003;
Tilly, 2000). Nonetheless, it is not difficult to re-cast the literature on the policing of
protest in terms of spatial dynamics, despite the absence of explicit and systematic
analyses of the role of space in the policing of protests.
238 J. A. Noakes, B. V. Klocke & P. F. Gillham
We focus here on the policing of protest in the United States, though recent
transformations in the policing of protest across Western democracies share some
common qualities (della Porta & Reiter, 1998). For most of the twentieth century,
when protesters disrupted the spatial routines of factory floors or department store
lunch counters, public and private police sought to assert their control of the
contested space by the use of force. Labour, civil rights and other protest groups often
found themselves beaten, shot at or arrested, as police exhibited little tolerance for
protest group’s attempts to assert even a temporary or symbolic claim to control
spaces (cf. Barkan, 1984; Goldstein, 1978). Known in the sociological literature as the
escalated force style of policing protest, these tactics lost considerable legitimacy in the
United States during the 1960s protest cycle, denounced not only by protesters and
civil libertarians, but also by the more mainstream public commissions established to
study the crisis of public order. At the same time, police began searching for
alternatives to the use of force during protests, concerned that the use of force*
however they sought to justify it*/only served to inflame crowds, increase the
disruption of public order and raised questions about the legitimacy of police actions.
In the final quarter of the twentieth century, police developed a new, softer and
seemingly more tolerant style of policing protest dubbed ‘‘negotiated management’’
by social scientists (della Porta & Reiter, 1998; McPhail et al., 1998). This new style of
policing protest was based on the premise that police could better achieve their two
/minimizing public disorder and increasing the predictability of
/by ceding temporary and partial control of public spaces to
demonstrators. Police would under-enforce the law and negotiate with protest
groups prior to a demonstration in an effort to establish mutually agreeable terms
and conditions under which the demonstrations would be held. To reach such an
agreement, police would help protest groups cut through legal red tape, protect
permit-holding protest groups from counter-demonstrators and ignore minor
violations of the law during demonstrations in exchange for compromises from
protesters on the route of the protest march or the location of a rally (McPhail et al.,
1998; Waddington, 1998). Similarly, police would grant protester requests to stage
potentially disruptive actions, such as blocking a busy intersection or rallying at a
symbolically rich site, if protesters agreed in advance to limit their scope or duration
(della Porta & Reiter, 1998; Waddington, 1998).
The maximization of predictability such an agreement promised made the police
role in controlling spaces of contention as much an exercise in directing traffic as one
of regulating crowd behaviour. One result of this new strategy was that the use of
arrests and force to disperse demonstrations decreased substantially (della Porta &
Reiter, 1998; McPhail et al., 1998). Waddington (1998: 118), for example, documents
the formal policy of ‘‘[n]onarrest ...adopted by senior officers and communicated to
their officers through briefings’’ in London during the 1980s, and the resulting
calmness of protests during that decade. McPhail et al. (1998), who stress the
emergence of public order management systems in the United States, note the relative
quiescence of protests during the 1980s and 1990s.
Policing & Society 239
This literature suggests that the negotiated management style of policing protest is
employed most often when protests consist primarily of contained contention, or
demonstrations in which ‘‘all parties are previously established actors employing well
established means of claims making’’ (Tilly, 2000: 138). It is under these conditions
that an ‘‘air of cooperation’’ can be established between police and protesters, and
police can be reasonably confident that the protest leaders will handle disruptive
members of their group ‘‘at their own level, without getting the police involved’’
(Fisher, 2001; see also Marx, 1981). Thus, it is not surprising that the rise of the
negotiated management style of policing protest in the 1980s coincided with the
professionalization of many of the leading movement organizations that had survived
the 1960s protest cycle. At this time, many of these groups sought to consolidate their
gains by emphasizing pressure group politics and access to high-level policy
discussions over street demonstrations. When these groups did hit the streets to
apply pressure for their cause, they did so in well-planned, carefully arranged and
fully permitted protest marches (Rootes, 1999).
A wave of small, more confrontational grassroots groups emerging in the late 1980s
and early 1990s, however, exposed the weaknesses of the negotiated management
approach. Distrustful of the priorities of established groups, offended by their
paternalism toward local groups and frustrated by the growing ineffectiveness of
protest politics to change policy, many of these groups adopted anarchist principles,
rejecting the accomodationist style of larger, more professional groups on both a
philosophical and a tactical level (Rootes, 1999; Wall, 1999; Kaufman, 2002). These
‘‘newly self-identified political actors’’ often employed tactics such as sit-ins, road
blockades, traffics stoppages and lockdowns. These ‘‘innovative means of collective
action ... disrupt(ed) existing spatial routines ... (and) involved the deliberate
occupation, reorganization, or dramatization of public space’’ (Tilly, 2000: 138).
The disruptive potential of such transgressive contention was demonstrated at the
‘‘Battle in Seattle’’ during the 1999 meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
Conference. In preparation for the demonstrations, the Seattle Police Department
(SPD) negotiated numerous agreements with established mainstream political groups
who would be in Seattle to protest the policies of the WTO, including labour unions
and major environmental movement organizations. The SPD, however, failed to
reach agreement with the grassroots wing of the global justice movement, which
refused to agree to severe limits on their protests. When these transgressive
blockaded major intersections in downtown Seattle, police lost control
of the area and the WTO was forced to cancel the opening day of its 1999 meeting
(Cockburn et al., 2000; Gillham & Marx, 2000; Thomas, 2000).
The streets of downtown Seattle had been designated for use by both WTO
delegates and global justice protesters, but once the police lost control of the streets to
protesters, public officials took several steps to reassert their control over the
downtown area, including declaring a civil emergency and mobilizing 200 National
Guard troops. Under the powers granted by the emergency declaration, the SPD
cordoned off a large area of the downtown and employed a variety of less-lethal
240 J. A. Noakes, B. V. Klocke & P. F. Gillham
weapons to disperse demonstrators, including pepper spray, bean bag projectiles, tear
gas, baton charges and concussion grenades (Gillham & Marx, 2000; SPD, 2000).
Police officials have subsequently come to talk about Seattle in reverential terms*
a ‘‘watershed’’ event (Gainer, 2001a), ‘‘parallel,’’ one explained, to ‘‘Pearl Harbor to
some degree’’ (Fisher, 2001). In the months after Seattle, police departments
scrambled to learn its lessons, consulting with one another, viewing videotapes of
disruptive protests, visiting cities where large protests were occurring, and attending
FBI seminars on the new wave of mass protests and how to combat them (Beasley et
al., 2000; Burgess, 2000).
Based on our review of the police response to several post-Seattle protests in the
United States, we have argued elsewhere (Noakes & Gillham, 2004) that several police
tactics have become central to the policing of protest in recent years:
.the establishment of extensive no protest zones, often by installing large concrete
and metal fence barriers;
.the disruption of safe spaces, such as convergence centers where protesters would
congregate to sleep, eat and acquire information;
.the use of less-lethal weapons to temporarily incapacitate protesters so police
could retake control of spaces of contention;
.the use of electronic surveillance technology to increase the transparency of spaces
of contention and provide real-time information on demonstrators activities to
.pre-emptive arrests to reorganize leaders and large numbers of protesters.
These tactics, each of which has a spatial component to it, provide a broad context
for our comparison of the police response to the demonstrations on the weekend
/30 September 2001. As noted above, police preparations for the global
justice protest scheduled for this weekend included erecting of a large security
fence around a substantial no-protest zone, recruiting of extra police personnel, and
the shutting down of the campus of George Washington University, where police
feared ‘‘safe spaces’’ could be established. The anti-war protests of 29
were significantly smaller than the cancelled global justice protests had promised
to be. They were also less confrontational than the WTO protests referred to above.
In each of the anti-war protests analyzed here, the sponsoring groups announced
they would not engage in disruptive protests and police negotiated the march
route prior to each demonstration (though, as we will discuss, the ACC did not
talk directly with the police, but instead used the National Lawyer’s Guild as an
The Protesters and the Demonstrations
Numerous organizations had been planning for several months to participate in mass
demonstrations in Washington, DC on the weekend of 29
/30 September when the
9/11 terrorist attacks fundamentally altered the nature and purpose of the weekend.
Policing & Society 241
Both ACC and IAC drew immediate links between global justice and anti-militarism
by protesting the imminent American military strikes against Afghanistan, where the
al Queda leadership was based. ACC is an umbrella group of anarchist, communist
and socialist groups in the greater Washington, DC area formed in 2001 to protest the
IMF/WB meetings (ACC, 2001). Though they admitted they were ‘‘uncomfortable
carrying forth in the way we planned’’ after the events of 9/11, they insisted that it
was now even more important that the global justice movement ‘‘come together and
act on our visions of the world we want to create and not on our fears’’. For ACC
(2001), the decision to demonstrate was based on the conviction that war and
terrorism were inextricably linked. ‘‘Until we understand the violence of our
economic, military, and foreign policies,’’ it declared on its website, ‘‘we will continue
to foster the conditions that make ... terrorism possible.’’
Joining ACC on the streets of the American capital that day was the New York-
based IAC, founded in 1992 by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark to oppose
American imperialism. While acknowledging the desire among many to ‘‘take time to
reflect, to grieve, to extend sympathy and condolences to all,’’ IAC argued that
planned military action in Afghanistan represented an immediate and deeply
troubling example of global injustice that required that global justice protesters
‘‘do more’’ and ‘‘act now’’ (ANSWER, 2001). To coordinate its efforts, IAC
announced on 14 September 2001 the formation of an antiwar coalition named
Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER). The ANSWER steering
committee included groups opposed to American foreign policy in the Caribbean,
the Middle East, Asia and South America, and groups confronting oppression in the
United States as well (ANSWER, 2001).
After the focus of the weekend shifted from global justice to anti-militarism, a third
group, the locally based Washington Peace Coalition (WPC), announced plans to
hold a protest on Sunday, 30 September. Officially formed in 1963, the WPC was
active in anti-nuclear movements of the 1970s, the Central America and Middle East
solidarity movements of the 1980s and the opposition to American militarism in Iraq
in the early 1990s. With Quaker roots, WPC works ‘‘to engender a more peace-filled
world’’ and stresses opposition to ‘‘all forms of oppression and the violence inherent
in these whether based on race, class, gender or sexual orientation’’ (WPC, 2004).
Though WPC had not planned to participate as an organization in the global justice
protests originally scheduled for the weekend of 29
/30 September, its deep roots in
the Washington, DC area peace movement allowed it to mobilize several thousand
protesters on short notice.
The ACC March
Participants in the ACC march began gathering at 9 am on Saturday, 29 September in
a park near Union Station. ACC had not obtained a permit for their march and held
no direct negotiations with the MPDC, though National Lawyer Guild (NLG)
representatives negotiated on their behalf a march route from the gathering place to
242 J. A. Noakes, B. V. Klocke & P. F. Gillham
Edward R. Murrow Park, adjacent to the World Bank (Fernandez & Dvorak, 2001).
The route of the ACC march focused attention on its objection to global capitalism as
well as American military action, as did many of the chants and banners observed
during the demonstration.
Participants in the ACC march were, by and large, the youngest of the three
marches that weekend and the most overtly radical. Those interviewed by the authors
drew direct connections between their support of the global justice movement and
their opposition to the war. One 26 year-old white male from Wisconsin, suggested
‘‘if we don’t have a pull up system, where we start raising the conditions of Third
World countries, then we’re going to have [terrorists attacks] all the time’’. Another
protester, a 20 year-old female from Washington State argued ‘‘we’re against a
whole ... theory of how people see the world’’. Nonetheless, in a concession to the
sensitivity of the moment, the ACC announced that its members would not engage in
the type of militant actions they had been planning for the demonstrations against
the WB and IMF.
Despite ACC’s public announcement that they would not be militant, the MPDC
prepared for a confrontation with a group they saw as akin to the Black Bloc. There
was a heavy police presence prior to the march, and there appeared to be nearly as
many police officers as protesters at the gathering site. Moreover, dozens of officers in
full riot gear were visible and in close proximity to demonstrators during the pre-
march rally, during which an American flag was ceremoniously burned, but no
speeches were made. After a short standoff in response to a police order to disband or
risk arrest for unlawful assembly, police and intermediaries from the NLG negotiated
an agreement that allowed an un-permitted march to proceed on a carefully agreed
At approximately 10 am, when the lead group of demonstrators, most dressed in
black clothing and wearing bandanas across their faces, made half-hearted attempts
to bolt down streets not part of the negotiated march route, rows of MPDC officers
clad in riot gear and carrying batons twice rebuffed them. When the marchers finally
started upon the agreed upon route, MPDC officers dressed in body armour lined
both curbs and the demonstration moved briskly through the street of Washington.
At federal sites along the route, Secret Service, Park Police and Capitol Police (all clad
in riot gear), provided additional reinforcement.
The MPDC lines were relatively porous at the beginning of the march, with police
allowing demonstrators and bystanders to move on and off the street as they pleased.
Police seemed uncertain about what they should be doing, especially at one point
when the mostly young crowd began to run, forcing the police, weighed down by
their riot gear, to march in double time to keep up. Commanders shouted orders to
the officers, who appeared more confused than angry.
The tone of the marched changed, however, near its mid-point when a scuffle
broke out between police and a small group of protesters surrounding an MPDC
cruiser. The cruiser, which had been at the front of the march from its inception, had
inexplicably slowed down and been engulfed by demonstrators near the intersection
Policing & Society 243
of 11th and H streets. Police moved quickly to disperse demonstrators from the area
near the cruiser and a police officer wielding a pepper spray canister emerged
suddenly from the cruiser to scatter persistent protesters; at least three demonstrators
and one police official were hit by the pepper spray. The highest-ranking MPDC
officer on the scene explained the incident as follows:
We were trying to assist one of our officers who was being hemmed in by the
protesters. During that small little melee ... someone reached over and hit me on
the head with a pole. Some of our other officers were spraying trying to get the
protesters away from the front of the car. It was not significant by any stretch but it
was disruptive. (Gainer, 2001b)
After a few more minutes of jockeying between police and protesters, the incident
ended and the march continued (Fernandez & Dvorak, 2001).
However, the ‘‘disruptive’’ scuffle changed the tenor of MPDC tactics. Police
officers lining the street began barring entrance to or exit from the march route, and
when the march reached Edward R. Murrow Park, there was a short standoff between
police clad in riot gear holding pepper spray canisters and black-clad protesters
wearing bandanas. After about ten minutes of chanting, however, demonstrators
began to back off, only to find that MPDC officers on motorcycles, Park Police
officers on horseback and Capitol Police in riot gear had shut off all exit points from
the park. Police detained the demonstrators in a two-block area demarcated by metal
barricades for nearly two hours. Only after further negotiations with the NLG did the
MPDC agree to release the corralled protesters and only by means of a carefully
controlled march in which ACC protesters were moved en masse to the IAC rally
several blocks away. Once again, MPDC officers in full body armour lined both sides
of the route, using large sticks pressed against the back of protesters to establish and
maintain the boundaries of the march. Refusing exit from or entry to the body of
demonstrators, they physically rebuffed any demonstrators who challenged these
The IAC Protest
The ANSWER rally, sponsored by the IAC, began at 12 noon in Freedom Park, a few
blocks from the White House.
Speakers were numerous and diverse, including
Ramsey Clark, Christian and Muslim religious leaders, an Emergency Medical
Technician (EMT) injured at the World Trade Center, international activists,
students, queer/trans activists, labour activists and feminists, among others. A
permitted march from Freedom Park to Upper Senate Park, adjacent to the Capitol,
followed with IAC monitors actively directing marchers to keep off sidewalks and stay
on the designated route. The IAC march was the weekend’s largest. The 10,000 or so
marchers were a mix of young and middle aged and mostly white, though this march
had a larger percentage of people of colour than the other two protest events that
244 J. A. Noakes, B. V. Klocke & P. F. Gillham
Much like the ACC protesters, participants in the IAC march linked the causes of
global justice and anti-militarism. ‘‘There’s no McDonald’s,’’ one 40 year-old female
told us, ‘‘without McDonald-Douglas.’’ Marchers also linked the impending war and
racism. Approximately forty members of the Bread and Puppets troupe sought to
symbolize the racism of the American military’s bombing of people of colour by
performing a roving ‘‘bread-not-bombs’’ performance while holding life-size paper-
mache puppets representing Afghani citizens.
From its inception, there had been a highly visible police presence during the IAC
rally. At approximately 1:10 pm, the ACC marchers and the police escorting them
arrived. The police formed a semi-circle around the back end of the rally, placing a
buffer between the protesters and the White House, several blocks to the Northwest.
With the crowd at the IAC rally applauding their arrival, the ACC march participants
merged comfortably into the rally.
At the end of the rally, the crowd smoothly transitioned into the march towards
Capitol Hill. A variety of agencies participated in the policing of the IAC march route
down Pennsylvania Avenue, including the MPDC, the Park Police and the Secret
Service. MPDC officers in riot gear were particularly evident, with squads of a dozen
or so blocking several intersections along the parade route. The police, however,
made little effort to confine the marchers to the street, allowing demonstrators
considerable freedom of movement, including uninhibited access to the sidewalk,
despite the presence of counter demonstrators at one point on the route and the
passing of numerous federal buildings.
Although visible to all marchers, the police officers in riot gear seemed to serve no
real spatial control function during the march. The intersections they blocked were
not particularly important ones, nor did the police prevent the occasional
demonstrator from passing them to move down one of these cross streets. Several
times we observed police watch passively as one or two protesters exited the march
route. We do not know, however, what would have occurred if a large segment of the
march had veered off course. Though the law enforcement presence was visible and
large, police kept a greater distance from demonstrators than they had during the
ACC march and seemed to be more at ease, as well. We observed numerous officers in
full body armour with their helmets off. When the IAC marchers reached their
destination, police remained in the background as IAC marshals directed protesters
into Upper Senate Park. Over the next hour or so, the marchers mingled casually and
exchanged stories from the march, dispersing at their own pace. Many walked to the
nearby Metro train station.
The WPC March
The Washington Peace Center (WPC) rally began on Sunday, 30 September at 11 am
at Meridian Hill Park, known popularly in the city as Malcolm X Park; it included
religious leaders, Kurdish activists and a widow of an officer killed in the Pentagon
attack, among others. The march, which began at 12:30 pm, wound its way through
Policing & Society 245
several nearby neighbourhoods, stopping at a small park in Sheridan Circle to join an
ongoing Kurdish vigil located at the scene of a recent racist attack. The participants in
the march were the oldest and most conservatively dressed of the three marches.
While the WPC utilized parade marshals, they were less aggressive in their role than
those at the larger IAC march had been.
Many of those we interviewed at the WPC march had planned on participating in
the cancelled global justice protests and had been to at least one of the previous day’s
protests. Much like protesters the previous day, they drew clear links between the
anti-war and global justice causes, but this protest also included many who had been
mobilized by more recent and specific events. A 29 year-old while male, who hoped
the demonstrations might lead to a ‘‘little more humane, more effective’’ American
foreign policy, admitted he was ‘‘still educating’’ himself on global justice issues and
had not been involved in global justice protests. Similarly, a 36 year-old white female
reported she ‘‘wasn’t sure’’ if she would have been at the cancelled global justice
protests, explaining: ‘‘What happened on (September) 11
is what really got me
Police remained at a respectful distance during the rally and march. As its official
name suggests, Malcolm X Park sits up on a small hill, and police, for the most part,
remained on the back streets around the park during the rally, largely invisible to
attendees. When the march hit the streets, the police escort included only several
officers at the front of the march and a single Department of Justice official. Single
officers were posted at cross streets to block traffic and encourage the march to stay
on its negotiated route, but demonstrators were free to move from the street to the
sidewalk exiting or entering the march and often engaged with bystanders as they
passed them, distributing flyers and encouraging them to join the demonstration and
occasionally stopping in convenience stores along the march route for snacks and
beverages. The only exception to the light policing was the shadowing of a small
anarchist group by police on motorcycles, but this surveillance was isolated in space
and specific in purpose.
Just as during the marches the day before, there were police in riot gear and
armoured personnel carriers present at the WPC march. As the march left Dupont
Circle for its final leg, for example, we observed 18 police cruisers, two armoured
personnel carriers and several empty buses tailing the demonstrators. However, the
MPDC kept the riot gear out of sight of most protesters. At an interim rally point at
Sheridan Circle, for example, police formed a loose circle around the rally and a
single Secret Service agent surveilled a side street lined with foreign embassies. About
a block from the rally, 25 Park Police officers in full riot gear gathered in a residential
neighbourhood, available if needed, but well hidden from the demonstrators.
Overall, the policing of the movements of participants and observers was more
relaxed in this march than the previous two. Whereas in the ACC march, journalists
photographing the march were being pushed off of trash cans by police, in the WPC
march, police ignored a black-clad protester who climbed a six-foot pole and several
protesters with anarchist flags who mounted a statue of a horse at Sheridan Circle for
246 J. A. Noakes, B. V. Klocke & P. F. Gillham
a photo-opportunity. Moreover, MPDC Chief Ramsey casually dispensed sound-bites
to journalists while strolling in front of the march. He summarized his view of the
weekend of demonstrations by saying: ‘‘A few minor incidents ... occurred yesterday
with people in the unpermitted march, but other than that it has been a pretty
peaceful event’’ (Ramsey, 2001).
Spatial analyses of policing emphasize police practices such as surveillance, the
partitioning of a police force’s jurisdiction into sectors for bureaucratic purposes or
the policing of different kinds of space (cf. Herbert, 1997; Fyfe, 1991). Spatial analyses
of social movements tend to focus on the adaptation of potential grievants and social
movement organizations to existing spatial constraints or opportunities, emphasizing
how the built environment shapes the construction of demonstrations or the choice
of tactics, how time-space relations effect mobilization, or the importance or safe
spaces to the development of alternative ideologies (Tilly, 2000; Sewell, 2001;
Marston, 2003; Stillerman, 2003). A spatial analysis of the policing of protest must
examine not merely the geography of policing or simply the nexus of space and social
movements, but spatial contention between police and social movements. In other
words, it must seek to explain how spatial dynamics affect the interaction between
police and protesters, and their simultaneous struggle to occupy and bestow meaning
on contested spaces during demonstrations.
Consider, for example, Marston’s (2003: 230) argument that ‘‘the streets literally
shapes the construction of the public speech of a parade’’ or Stillerman’s (2003: 65)
assertion that the ‘‘built environment and everyday spatial routines ... influence
activists’ tactical repertoires’’. Such insights are limited in their understanding of how
negotiations with police shape numerous aspects of most parades or demonstrations,
including how views will be expressed and which demonstration tactics can be used.
In those cases in which social movement groups do not negotiate with police
beforehand, or cannot reach an agreement with them on the scale, scope and nature
of an event, the police tend to aggressively assert control over public space.
A spatial analysis of the policing of protest, therefore, needs to focus on concepts
such as police knowledge, or how police ‘‘construct external reality, collectively and
individually’’, including their diagnosis of protesters, their tactics and their motives
(Della Porta & Reiter, 1998: 9; see also Winter, 1998). As one of the assistant chiefs
responsible for planning the MPDC’s response to the 29
/30 September 2001 protests
explained, this diagnosis is informed in large part by the ‘‘history of the groups
protesting’’ (Broadbent, 2002). In other words, police respond differently to
demonstrations based on their assessment of the risk posed by protesters (Fillieule
& Jobard, 1998; Jaime-Jimenez & Reinares, 1998; Waddington, 1998, 1999).
For the purposes of this discussion, we will look at our three cases with reference to
a continuum of risk that runs from contained at one extreme to transgressive at the
other (Tilly, 2000). Contained protests are staged by political actors who: are well
Policing & Society 247
known to the police; obtain permits for their protests and negotiate the scale, scope
and nature of their demonstrations with the police in advance; employ familiar
tactics; and self-police their demonstrations to discourage any acts that would
violate the group’s agreement with the police. Other aspects of a protest group’s
profile can affect how the police perceive them. All other things being equal, the older
and more middle-class a group, the more likely they are to be perceived as low risk.
Similarly, the less diffuse and abstract a group’s political positions are, the more
trustworthy they appear to police (Della Porta, 1998; Waddington 1998, 1999). In
contrast, transgressive protest groups are those who: are unfamiliar to the police or
have established a reputation for disruptive behaviour; are unable or unwilling to
reach agreement with police prior to a demonstration; employ innovative tactics that
they do not reveal in advance to police; or are deemed likely to challenge police
control of public space and engage in direct action tactics. Police also read certain
characteristics as possible indications of transgressiveness. ‘‘Bad’’ protesters include:
professional protesters; those seen as pursuing abstract, diffuse or radical goals; and
young protesters, who are believed to be ill-informed and easily manipulated by
others (Fillieule & Jobard, 1998; Jaime-Jimenez & Reinares, 1998; Waddington, 1999).
In order to assess the three demonstrations under scrutiny, we first place the
sponsoring organizations on the continuum just discussed. We then show how the
MPDC utilized different strategies to control each group, and conclude by noting two
ironies that emerged from the policing activities.
The WPC is a prototypical contained protest group. Most importantly, the WPC is
a local group with over thirty years of history with the MPDC. True to its pacifist
commitment rooted in Quakerism, in previous protests the WPC had been
cooperative with police and had never engaged in violence or the destruction of
property. As it had in the past, the WPC negotiated with the MPDC prior to the 30
September demonstration. In addition, the demonstrators at the WPC march were,
overall, also older and more middle-class in appearance than those at either of the
Saturday marches. In fact, many of the protesters were dressed for church, having
come straight from services to the demonstration. Finally, the political message of the
WPC march was more narrowly targeted on peace and anti-militarism than either of
the previous day’s marches. The relevance of this is made clear in a statement made to
reporters by the second in command of the MPDC during the WPC march. Asked to
assess the weekend of demonstration, Terrance Gainer said: ‘‘I think they keep
improving with time, more peaceful and more focused’’ (Gainer, 2001b). In sum, the
MPDC appeared confident it could trust the WPC to self-police its demonstration.
If WPC is the prototypical contained protest group, the Anti-Capitalist
Convergence is a prototypical transgressive group. Young and defiant, ACC had
aligned itself philosophically with the groups that used innovative and confronta-
tional tactics to disrupt events during previous demonstrations in Washington, DC.
Moreover, they acted the part of transgressive protesters. A large contingent at the
front of the march was dressed in the black clothes and face-covering bandanas of the
Black Bloc, the most disruptive and least contained of the various groups at recent
248 J. A. Noakes, B. V. Klocke & P. F. Gillham
global justice demonstrations. ACC’s unwillingness to obtain a permit for the
demonstration on 29 September reinforced this perception, notwithstanding ACC’s
statements made to the contrary concerning this specific event and NLG representa-
tion in on-the-spot negotiations.
The reputation of the IAC sits somewhere between these two groups, though
slightly more toward the contained end of the continuum. The demonstration was
officially sponsored by ANSWER, the auxiliary to IAC established just a few weeks
earlier. ANSWER is based in New York City, so there was little chance for
relationships with the MPDC to develop. As a result, ANSWER’s reputation with
the MPDC was based on its willingness to apply a permit to demonstrate on 29
September (which was issued) and its links to IAC, its parent organization. IAC’s
political reputation is mixed, but it leans toward the contained end of the continuum.
Professionally organized, with ties to former establishment figures such as Ramsey
Clark, and interested in assuming a leadership role in the emerging anti-war
movement, IAC had several reasons to cooperate with police. The presence of
numerous and active march marshals visible throughout the demonstration is
evidence that IAC took their self-policing role seriously. In addition, many of the
demonstrators bussed in from New York City and elsewhere were older and appeared
to be more middle-class than the participants in the ACC march. However, IAC also
has a reputation for controversial political positions on a range of foreign policy
issues, reflected in the speeches given at the 29 September rally and the banners
carried by march participants (Gillham & Edwards, 2003).
Police and protesters have always struggled over access to space and over the
meaning of specific spaces, but the nature of these struggles is not always the same.
Over the past thirty years, during the negotiated management era, struggles over both
access to and the meaning of spaces of contention had more often than not been
resolved behind closed doors during negotiations between police and protest
organizers prior to an event rather than on the streets during an event. Our
observations indicate that the MPDC contested the claims of the only truly
transgressive group, the ACC, in public rather than private. As the assessed risk of
the group decreased, the police settled spatial issues in private. The primary struggles
between the IAC and WPC over spatial matters took place behind close doors and
prior to the weekend of 29
/30 September. Both groups were considered more or less
/and, therefore, contained*/by the MPDC. In contrast, the MPDC
deemed ACC’s demonstration as risky based on an assessment of their ideology and
tactics in past protests, and the ideology and tactics of groups like the Black Bloc, who
the MPDC closely associated with the ACC. The MPDC, therefore, aggressively
sought to contain the ACC’s by dominating the space in which their demonstration
took place and strategically incapacitated the demonstrators. Three key tactics can
be identified: the partitioning of space; the rearranging of protesters; and the use of
By the partitioning of space we mean the erecting of physical barriers to deny
demonstrators access to specific areas. As we noted earlier, the MPDC had originally
Policing & Society 249
planned to erect a tall and extensive physical barrier to partition off a significant
portion of the city from demonstrators, a common practice since the 1999 WTO
protests in Seattle. After the IMF/WB protests were cancelled, the MPDC scaled back
these plans and cordoned off a smaller area of the nation’s capital with a much
shorter fence. However, the MPDC successfully managed to use a combination of
these smaller barriers and police officers in riot gear to partition off ACC participants
during their unpermitted march to the park adjacent to the World Bank, for two
hours after the demonstrators reached the park, and then during the forced march
from the World Bank to the IAC rally. This is in clear contrast to the MPDC’s
response to IAC and, in particular, WPC. In both these marches, the MPDC allowed
demonstrators to permeate march borders. This was particularly noticeable during
the WPC march, where there was often only a single police officer on a motorcycle at
intersections and most protesters*
/with the exception of the small band of anarchists
who had their own police escort *
/enjoyed unlimited access to the sidewalks, local
businesses and the audience watching the demonstration.
The forced march of ACC protesters to the IAC rally also illustrates another
common tactic in recent years*
/the rearranging of protesters. Generally, the
rearrangement of demonstrators involves diluting demonstrations by keeping
specified groups of potential protesters away from the primary action. At first
glance, the merging of ACC and IAC demonstrators seems to make little sense
because police risked contaminating a contained demonstration with transgressive
protesters. But the MPDC was not about to let the ACC protesters out of the
makeshift corral to roam the streets of Washington, potentially causing havoc for the
police in numerous ways. Instead by marching the ACC demonstrators to the IAC
march they concentrated the vast majority of the protesters on the streets of DC that
day in one place. This served two purposes. First, it seems likely the IAC would closely
monitor the behaviour of ACC activists in order to prevent them from taking over
the rally and march. The marshals helping to self-police IAC demonstrators would do
the same with ACC members. Second, by merging the ACC with the IAC police were
also reuniting the majority of MPDC officers assigned to protest duty that day in one
Finally, the previously described pepper spray incident during the ACC march
provides an illustration of strategic incapacitation. Pepper spray, the most frequently
used type of less-lethal weapons employed by police, includes a highly concentrated
resin derived from cayenne that temporarily disables a target by causing intense pain,
irritation of the eyes, swelling of the throat, temporary paralysis of the larynx, and
loss of vision and balance (Cook et al., 1994; Jett, 1997; Wood, 2000). The most
serious effects of pepper spray last only about an hour, after which nearly all people
make a full and speedy recovery (Jett, 1997; Zollman et al., 2000). When police
employ less-lethal weapons to temporarily disable protesters, they render them easier
to disperse and allow the police to assert control of contested spaces without risking
casualties. In this case, the MPDC was able to defuse a potentially volatile situation by
strategically incapacitating those near the police cruiser. This represents the best-case
250 J. A. Noakes, B. V. Klocke & P. F. Gillham
scenario for the use of less-lethal weapons. The brief rally by demonstrators near the
police cruiser suggests the potential worst-case scenario. In Seattle in 1999, where
protesters come to see the use of less-lethal weapons as an act of police violence, they
incited resistance and escalated the intensity of clashes between police and protesters
(Cockburn et al., 2000; Gillham & Marx, 2000).
Two ironies related to the MPDC’s tactics stand out (Gillham & Marx, 2000). First,
the only clashes between police and protesters that weekend occurred not because
protesters sought to disrupt the space in which the World Bank, the Pentagon or
other symbols of their opposition to capitalism and American foreign and trade
policies, but rather because the ACC challenged the restrictive boundaries imposed by
the MPDC during their demonstration. In many respects, the MPDC’s tactics
transformed the demonstrations from protests against capitalism, global injustice and
American foreign policy to contests over space and police tactics to control them. The
second irony relates to the struggle over the meaning of space. Following the ‘‘minor
melee’’ during the ACC march discussed above, the marchers nearest the incident
began to chant ‘‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’’ The MPDC quickly rendered this chant
mere rhetoric by restricting access to and from the demonstration, corralling the
marchers in a two-block area for two hours, and then forcing the demonstrators to
leave the park and walk several blocks to the IAC rally. As MPDC Chief Charles
Ramsey explained, the MPDC actions were a response to the demonstrators’ attempts
‘‘to breach our lines ... we just cannot allow traffic flow and other things like that to
be interrupted’’ (Ramsey, 2001). Symbolic victories by protesters are signals to the
police that it is time to incapacitate protesters.
There are important differences in the MPDC response to the three anti-war protests
staged the weekend of 29
/30 September 2001. The more transgressive the historic
tactics and ideology of the group sponsoring the demonstration, the more
aggressively the MPDC attempted to control the space in which the demonstration
occurred. We observed police tactics for maintaining control of spaces of contention
ranging from negotiated management to strategic incapacitation. The tensest
struggles occurred during the ACC march in response to the MPDC’s employment
of strategic incapacitation tactics. Our observations of the event show that the clashes
between police and protesters were sparked by the MPDC’s attempts to control the
spaces of contention, not ACC’s attempts to employ transgressive tactics or disrupt
public space. This suggests that spatial dynamics are shaped by factors related to the
relationship between police and protesters, particularly police expectations of
disorder. The irony is that strategic incapacitation tactics may create tension between
police and protesters, and police expectations of transgressiveness may become a self-
Policing & Society 251
 Here, we refer primarily not to the infamous ‘‘Black Bloc’’, the small bands of anarchists
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groups such as those afﬁliated with the loose network of protesters known as the ‘‘Direct
Action Network (DAN)’’, which eschewed violence and the destruction of property.
 Originally planned for Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House, the rally
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