by Lindsey Nield
On October 15th the Aurora police and the University of Colorado Denver police teamed up for crowd management training that required volunteers to act as protesters. I saw this as a great opportunity to earn some community service hours while getting to see how our local police would go about handling a situation such as that in Ferguson, Missouri. We were told that we were going to perform a series of training exercises which included various scenarios so the police could be prepared for anything. They had blocks of wood, protest signs, and tennis balls available to us that we could throw at the cops in training in order to simulate the conditions of a real protest. Most of the protesters were senior citizens, so I was chosen to be directly involved in several of the drills which gave me a very clear perspective as to how our police would handle acts of civil disobedience. Unfortunately, I was unable to take any pictures during the actual exercises due to the dicey conditions that we were in.
For our first drill, I was chosen to be zip-tied to the door handle of a truck while acting as a captor while my “hostage” was in the driver’s seat. With this being the first exercise, there was a lot of confusion as the police were trying to get the situation under control—not only did they have to free the hostage, but they had to contend with the protesters throwing chunks of wood into their faces. As a group of cops was trying to clear the area around the truck, one did not realize that I was physically attached to the vehicle and I was heaved with such force that the zip-tie made a sizable injury on my wrist. In addition, the protesters were directing their ammunition towards the police, but in the process I was also struck several times sans protective gear. After a while, the trainees eventually just froze and were shouting “what are we supposed to be doing?” There was so much confusion that the drill completely stopped and we moved onto the next because the police officers lost all sense of organization and purpose.
In the second practice activity, the scenario was set up so that the “presidential motorcade” was driving through and a few protesters were lying in the “street” so the motorcade could not pass. The trainees’ job was to move us out of the way while still handling the other protestors on the side of the street. I was one of the protestors chosen to lie down. When the drill started, the police first focused on moving everybody backwards, but as the protesters were throwing their ammunition at the police, I was, again, struck by chunks of wood and tennis balls. Eventually some officers told me to roll over onto my stomach so I could stay safe until they got to lifting me up. When the time came, 4 officers rolled me onto my back and each took either my leg or arm and carried me over to where the other protesters were being put until they could “arrest” us. This activity went much smoother than the first because the officers were all synchronized and they each had designated jobs to perform.
After a break of water and mini Oreos, we began our next drill in which there was a “disabled” protester in a wheelchair in the front line. I was directly behind the front line chucking my ammunition at the lines of officers. When it started, they first separated the mob of protesters from the front line so I had a very limited view of what was going on. However, I did witness the officers dump the “disabled” man out of his wheelchair. When they finally got everyone in the front line arrested, the coordinating officer informed us that instead of throwing the man out of the wheelchair, they were supposed to calm him down and wheel him out of the way to arrest him. He was very embarrassed as to how that drill was carried out and emphasized that this is why they are practicing, so they don’t actually injure someone with special needs.
The last few drills mainly consisted of me throwing ammo at the cops as they focused on getting us under control and targeting certain people. I have to admit, it felt great when I nailed an officer in the head or chest with a large block of wood. In the last activity we had to choose to be either pro-police or anti-police and I went with anti, so I could keep chucking things, and by that point, I truly viewed the police as my enemy. This activity really gave me a true perspective as to how well our police force is trained to handle crowd control and what the true protocols were. They would push their batons into your chest if you would not move back, they “released” tear gas if it was getting out of hand, and they “shot” us with non-lethal ammunition. I was quite surprised that the police are supposed to shoot at protesters and throw gas at them—I would have thought that they would try to get everything under control before they started using weaponry. Either way, the next time I attend a protest I will have a greater awareness of how the police will handle the situation and if you plan on protesting just be aware, they will “meet your resistance with superior force;” I had to learn that the hard way.
Blossom Project Participants
We are empowered high school girls, inspired to make a positive difference in the world.