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Teaching and Learning Guide for: ‘Securitizing America: Strategic Incapacitation and the Policing of Protest Since the 11 September 2011 Terrorist Attacks
Sociology Compass (2013)
  • Patrick F. Gillham, Western Washington University
People participate in social movements and protest events in part to pressure elites and institutions to alter the reward structure within society. When attempting to pressure their targets, activists are often confronted by the state. Whether the state is a target of protest or not, it oftentimes engages those seeking to promote extra-institutional change. Within democratic societies, police are charged to maintain social order and protect the rights of those expressing dissent. Because of this dual charge and a variety of political, social, and economic factors, police have adopted strategies or repertoires of social control for policing protests. These repertoires can facilitate, channel, or prevent protest from occurring. A growing scholarly consensus suggests that since the 1990s, authorities in the United States and other democratic states have shifted how they react to protests. Until the 1970s, police often utilized what scholars call the ‘escalated force’ protest control repertoire. During this era, police saw protest as an illegitimate form of political expression. They placed a low priority on freedom of speech and assembly and often used excessive force and widespread arrests when dealing with protesters. In the 1970s to 1990s, police developed what is called ‘negotiated management’ to respond less confrontationally to protesters. This repertoire relied on a permitting process to facilitate police and protester efforts to negotiate the time, place, and manner of protest activities in ways satisfactory to both protesters and police. Police placed a premium on protecting freedom of speech and assembly and tolerated community inconveniences related to large rallies, marches, and the occasional staged arrest. They used violence and arrests as a last resort and only for significant violations of the law. However, following the disruptive 1999 Seattle WTO protests and the new cycle of global protests that followed, law enforcement agencies around the United States and in other western democracies began developing and adopting the ‘strategic incapacitation’ repertoire of protest control. With strategic incapacitation, police selectively protect civil liberties and selectively tolerate community disruption, and they seek to incapacitate protests through the use of less-lethal weapons and preemptive arrests, extensive control of public space, reliance on ‘new surveillance’ technologies, and the elaborate control of information. In the United States, the development and adoption of this new style of policing accelerated after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks as authorities embraced a risk management approach to identify and neutralize potentially disruptive events, such as large demonstrations.
  • Social movements,
  • Protesting,
  • Strategic incapacitation
Publication Date
December, 2013
Publisher Statement
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. DOI: 10.1111/soc4.12091
Citation Information
Patrick F. Gillham. "Teaching and Learning Guide for: ‘Securitizing America: Strategic Incapacitation and the Policing of Protest Since the 11 September 2011 Terrorist Attacks" Sociology Compass Vol. 7 Iss. 12 (2013)
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