How to talk to the riot police, rioters and hoards

Even during the Vietnam War, the U.S. and the North Vietnamese talked and negotiated.
Street medics must negotiate with the police and other protesters to get treatment or special care for people, regardless of the situation.  We sometimes must organize protesters to stop certain activity that is endangering our safe space to treat someone. Protesters must talk with each other to coordinate activity, warn others about police traps, etc..

The Police:

In many cases, the police don't give a damn about punishing everybody, they are just following orders and want to get home after their shift with the least amount of aggravation. Someone dying or getting severely ill on their watch is an aggravation, especially if there will be bad publicity, paper work and maybe even a public inquiry. In mass arrests where people are trapped, the police don't care about letting a few fish go.

Here are some examples of people we have negotiated with the police to let go, or get immediately to an ambulance. Sometimes we were also being arrested. (Remember, medics are on duty even when arrested, and in jail).

Someone badly injured.
Someone with a host of injuries and chronic illnesses that would be very compromised if they went to jail for a minor civil disobedience.
A protester who is experiencing a major freak-out after being arrested.
A diabetic homeless person who had nothing to do with the protest that suddenly enveloped him.
An arrested wheelchair bound protester who will not be able to take care of herself without her assistant.

Sometimes an ambulance can't get to you because of a combination of police strategy, police communication incompetence, or the ambulance technicians fear about approaching an unsafe area.

We recommend the following.
Be respectful, courteous and profession.
Ask to speak to the police commander.
Explain briefly who you are, your medic capacity, and the situation.
State clearly your recommended solution:
i.e. "This person needs and ambulance now. This person should just be let go and not sent to jail. This person is not a protester and should be released. She needs to be accompanied by her assistant, can you guarantee that?"
State what you can do to help.

If you feel you are not being listened to, make sure you are speaking to a police agent who can make these decisions.
Step up the pressure while remaining professional and respectful.
Consider including media, legal or lay witnesses to your negotiation. Remind police of the law and their protocols requiring prompt medical treatment of the injured. If they are refusing any help, consider outside pressure on the police by calling a doctor, lawyer, politician, media, etc. to call someone in the police hierarchy or government.

If worse comes to worse and the police refuse to aid a badly injured person, consider mobilizing people for a direct action such as intentionally carrying the victim through police lines to an ambulance. This is best done with your health intentions clear, acting in unison, and accompanied by media and legal reps.

Other protesters creating an unsafe medical space:

If you are in a rowdy confrontation or riot, (i.e. protesters throwing rocks and police firing tear, etc.), you need to have a large safe space to treat and transport an injured protester.

Remember, often in a crisis, people WANT to help. Your job is to show them how they can.

Medics must direct volunteers to inform protesters and police to assist with the medical care by creating a safe space. This could mean protesters taking their actions elsewhere away from the injury scene, stop any actions that are provoking the police, or even setting up effective human or object barriers between your treatment area and the police. Then, they will be needed for similar protection to transport the injured to a spot outside the battle zone.

Again, be direct to other protesters.
State clearly the problem. "We have an injured protester here that needs help."
Explain briefly who you are, your capacity.. "I am a medic/a protester helping this person ."
State clearly your solution. "We need a safe space to treat this injured comrade, and need to clear this area of people. We have to tell anyone throwing stuff at the police to stop or leave this space."
Ask for their solidarity in helping. "I need you to help tell people to either help us protect the wounded person, or they should move 30 meters away. Then we will need to move this injured person to an ambulance/clinic space."

Ask for help of non-protesters: passerby's, taxi drivers, store employees, etc..

Speaking to a large group of people.

 If you have a megaphone, it is easier.
If you do not, try "Mike check!" to get others to be the "People's Megaphone" and relay your message through the crowd.
If it is a noisy demo, or a marching demo, you might try having several people shout out the message at the same time. Shout out short phrases.

Stand Up High for Attention:
You might want to sit on someone's shoulders, stand on a garbage can, lean your bicycle against a pole and stand on the frame's cross bar.

Wave a flag.

Turning away surging crowd around that is marching into a police trap:

This is best done with a group of people working together.
Quickly decide your tactic and who will do what.
  • Some people should go back to the closest intersection that the crowd can turn to avoid the police trap. They will shout out clearly a brief warning & advice, ie. "Police trap ahead. Turn left here!" If they can, get people who have been leading the demo with a flag to also show the safer route.
  • Others at the front should stand in the middle of the advancing crowd, get high above the crowd if possible, and shout: "Police trap ahead. Turn around!"
Do you have any experience and suggestions on communicating and negotiating in difficult situations? Share them with us.

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