Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets this week in every state with demands to abolish the police by defunding their departments. While much of the mainstream media narrative has focused on the disruption that occurs in tense moments of insurrection, most outlets have also failed to account for the fact that, from the start, police instigated that unrest.
Peaceful protesters across the country have been met with batons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. But police are also employing a controversial and violent tactic called "kettling," in efforts to contain demonstrators by wrangling them into tight spaces. Kettling is a police tactic that involves surrounding a group of people in order to restrict their mobility to a specific area, often for hours on end. The tactic is dangerous, and can lead to injuries and other medical emergencies.
Kettles can also result in mass arrests. Police have long used this controversial tactic against protesters, an intimidation strategy that leaves people in tight quarters for hours at a time with little information about the possibility of release. Sometimes these containment tactics can turn violent, as police have been known to use excessive force.
Perhaps the best, most recent example of use of this violent police tactic is the kettling of protesters who joined a black bloc, a militant protest tactic associated with anarchists and antifascists, against President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration. During the police kettle of more than 200 people, D.C. officers were accused of using pepper spray on demonstrators; denying people food, water, and access to toilets; and invasive bodily searches of protesters during the mass arrests that ensued. Protesters inside the kettle were also met with tear gas, flash-bang grenades, concussion grenades, and smoke flares, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Kettles have been used at demonstrations like the 2009 G20 summit in London, when thousands of climate activists were rounded up for hours, resulting in clashes with police as protestors attempted to free themselves.
More recently, Dallas police used the tactic against peaceful protesters who took over the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on Tuesday night. Cassandra Jaramillo, a Dallas reporter who covers policing told Texas Standard the police kettle quickly turned the peaceful demonstration chaotic. “People started running; it wasn’t clear what was happening. We saw smoke,” Jaramillo said.
On Tuesday night, the New York Police Department kettled more than 5,000 protesters on the Manhattan Bridge for several hours as a mass punishment for peaceful protests across this city.
Not only is there the potential for physical harm during a kettle, the tactic can also lead to severe emotional distress. Containment in close quarters with hundreds or sometimes thousands of other people for an extended period of time can cause claustrophobia, anxiety, and can trigger PTSD symptoms. This is why the decentralised collective action network, Crimethinc says one of the most important things people can do during a police kettle is to take care of one another.
“In any mass arrest situation, it’s a good idea to check on people who seem isolated and offer support to them,” they write. “Anxiety can be our worst enemy; acknowledge it, but don’t let it rule you, and do what you can to put others at ease.”