Monday 21 February 2022

What Happens Next?

The Man In Charge: Police Commissioner Andrew Coster admits that with the help of batons and, probably, tear gas (hitherto unused in New Zealand crowd control) he and his officers could clear Parliament Grounds. What he asks us all to think about, should he accede to the growing public pressure to ‘get tough’ with the protesters, is: What happens next?

ANDREW COSTER’S PERFORMANCE on Television New Zealand’s Q+A, broadcast on Sunday morning (20/2/22) was impressive. Many New Zealanders, increasingly frustrated by the Police’s apparent impotence in the face of what they acknowledge to be an unlawful protest, are calling for Coster to be sacked. In responding to Jack Tame’s questions, however, Coster offered the public some sobering (albeit rather cryptic) clues as to why he is not yet prepared to emulate the policing tactics currently on display in the Canadian capital, Ottawa.

Coster admits that with the help of batons and, probably, tear gas (hitherto unused in New Zealand crowd control) he and his officers could clear Parliament Grounds. What he asks us all to think about, should he accede to the growing public pressure to ‘get tough’ with the protesters, is: What happens next?

As Coster explained to Tame, the Police have a duty to do two things at once: Enforce the Law; and, Keep the Peace. In most circumstances there is no conflict between these two duties. In the case of the occupation of Parliament Grounds, however, enforcing the law may result in an extremely serious breach of the Peace.

Although he didn’t say so in as many words, Coster made it clear that what was likely to follow the violent clearance of Parliament Grounds was a prolonged and serious eruption of violence not just in Wellington, but across the nation.

Obviously, Police Commissioner Coster’s primary concern is for his front-line officers: the men and women who will bear the brunt of the protesters’ physical resistance.

The volatility of these folk was plainly in evidence on Thursday, 10 February, when the Police made a concerted effort to move the protest on. On more than one occasion, the Police line was driven back by individuals more than willing to mix it with the cops. That the line was not broken in an all-out assault is probably due to the fact that the officers were bareheaded, unarmed, and in their shirtsleeves. It was hard to conceptualise these vulnerable constables as implacable enforcers of state power.

Were Coster to deploy officers wearing riot gear – i.e. helmets, visors, gas-masks, and full body armour – armed with long-batons, tasers and pepper spray, with tear-gas and water-cannons in reserve, the protesters would see nothing but implacable enforcers of state power. Paradoxically, this would make his constables much easier to attack and injure. Certainly, the protest encampment contains plenty of potential weapons with which to fight back. Serious injuries (or worse) on both sides would be inevitable.

And that would only be the beginning.

Coster is well aware that, in Parliament Grounds, he and his officers are confronting a very different kind of protest movement. It’s intent is not only persuasive, but also coercive. The “Freedom Convoy” set out with the intention of forcing the democratically elected government of New Zealand to bow to its demands.

How else to explain the creation of a veritable laager of motor vehicles around the parliamentary complex? The hundreds of cars blocking the streets adjacent to Parliament are the protest encampment’s castle walls. While they remain, the logistics of removing the protesters non-violently are fiendishly difficult.

The protest organisers knew all this before they set out. Since then, they have certainly been made aware that the positioning of their followers’ vehicles is unlawful. Their point-blank refusal to move them offers ample confirmation of the protest’s coercive intent.

The organisers must also be aware that in the event of a concerted Police effort to clear the grounds, the barriers of parked cars will leave very few clear escape routes for the several hundred protesters camping there. Caught between the advancing Police lines and their own vehicles, the situation could very easily spiral out of control.

How aware of these potential dangers are the inhabitants of the protest camp? Hard to say. But, grasping the risks they are running shouldn’t demand too much hard thinking from the protesters. Unfortunately, many of them seem persuaded that the Police will not use force to remove them, and, even if they do, the protesters are confident they can “Hold the Line!”

But who are the organisers? It is among the most difficult problems confronting Coster and his senior commanders. In spite of all the evidence pointing to a lot of money and a lot of managerial expertise at work in and around the protest site, finding people with whom to negotiate a process of de-escalation is proving extremely difficult. Yes, there is Brian Tamaki’s Rights & Freedoms Coalition, and a slew of anti-vaccination and anti-mandate activists, but anyone looking for an organising committee, let alone a “leader”, will look in vain.

Then again, the Police may simply have been looking in the wrong place. The guiding intelligence behind this whole event may well be nowhere near Parliament Grounds. Indeed, it is even possible that the protest has been brought into existence for purposes unknown to all but a handful of hard-core participants.

Certainly, that is the impression Coster conveyed to Tame on Q+A. That he is holding-off on using more forceful methods to evict the protesters because those are precisely the tactics which faceless, online, string-pullers want him to employ. They want images of Police in riot-gear bloodying the heads of “ordinary Kiwi battlers” with their batons. They want to see people wincing under the sting of pepper-spray. They want to see tear-gas and water-cannons deployed for the first time in New Zealand history. They may even be hoping that in all the violence and chaos a protester – or a protester’s child – is killed.

Coster told Stuff’s Andrea Vance that he and his colleagues are only too aware of far-right elements embedded in the anti-vaccination mandates movement :

“I am hugely concerned about the mindset of some of the people, not just in that crowd, but generally behaviour that we see online at the moment ... Yes, we wanted to deal with that stuff.”

And rightly so! Because in a country already deeply polarised by the exigencies of combatting Covid-19, scenes of mayhem in Parliament Grounds will make it so much harder to drain the “sea of non-compliant Covid people” in which the fishes of far-right extremism are safely swimming.

Is it asking too much of the NZ Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau to tear their eyes away from Five Eyes scare stories about Russia and China for a moment, and give some professional support to a Police Intelligence operation that is clearly struggling? Surely, an ever-expanding crowd of angry people who hate politicians and journalists and now have very little to lose by besieging the nation’s parliament might just fall within the definition of “Threat to National Security”?

With a recent Horizon poll telling the angry online ranters that upwards of 30 percent of New Zealanders are in support of the protesters on Parliament Grounds, the widening gulf between enforcing the law and keeping the peace will tax the capabilities and the professionalism of Andrew Foster in ways not seen since Police Commissioner Bob Walton oversaw the policing of the Springbok Tour more than 40 years ago.

Maybe the Beehive could give him a hand?

This essay was originally posted on the website of Monday, 21 February 2022.


Anonymous said...

David Farrar:
"Scores of people on social media and in the media have been labelling those at the protest everything from terrorists to neo nazis to white supremacists to a danger to democracy. Apart from a few vox pops, no one has made a serious effort to find out who the majority of people there are, and why they are there.

Up until now. Sean Plunket’s The Platform commissioned Curia Market Research to conduct a scientific survey of the protesters at Parliament. Curia staff spent all day Saturday and Sunday at Parliament asking a few short questions of those present.

The response rate was an unprecedented 95%. Only a handful of people declined to be surveyed. The vast majority were eager that there was finally someone there wanting to know who they were and why they were there.

While I was concerned about health and safety issues, my staff report that they did not encounter any threatening behaviour at all. In fact they say even the Mongrel Mob members there were polite. Maybe 1% of those surveyed made a critical comment of the fact the staffer was masked (and the response was that their employer had asked them to be masked), but that was it."


David George said...

"Maybe the Beehive could give him a hand?"
And maybe the Beehive could have treated the concerns of the convoy with a little more respect in the first place and thereby diffuse the situation to the ennoblement of both sides. The mandates are clearly past their justification, if it existed in the first place but the legitimate protest was treated with contempt, vilification and the childish antics of the reprehensible Mallard.

One of the requirements for elevating the protests to an emergency (presumably legitimising the military and even lethal force) would be that it cannot be solved by other means. Presumably this would include, at the very least and before anything else, talking to the protagonists. Trudeau now has a legality problem on this issue and the Canadian civil rights people are taking it to court. Their argument looks sound and they will most likely succeed.

The other obvious problem for Ardern & Co is that there is now no significant difference in contagion and transmissibility between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. To say nothing of a chronic shortage of bodies. The Herald this morning, in order to fuel the fear factor, had to import a covid death from Australia such is the shortage here.

Brendan McNeill said...

"Indeed, it is even possible that the protest has been brought into existence for purposes unknown to all but a handful of hard-core participants."

Chris, only the wilfully blind refuse to acknowledge the motivation of the protesters. You cannot deliberately create a two tier society as the Prime Minister has done, and not expect those who are discriminated against to express their dissatisfaction. Besides, I thought the left opposed discrimination, not argued for it?

You cannot coerce people into being vaccinated against their better judgement, under the threat of lost employment and not expect those on the receiving end to express their dissatisfaction.

There is no mystery as to why the protesters are gathered at parliament grounds.

I note this morning the PM has doubled down on her instance that the protesters simply go home. This despite calls for political engagement from both the police commissioner and the human rights commissioner (who seems to have awoken from his slumbers).

As this protest continues to grow, the Prime Minister is looking increasingly divorced from reality. The time for mandates has passed. Omicron is not the plague or the Spanish Flu. The Queen in her late 90's has caught covid and is carrying on with light duties. Perhaps the PM should be looking to her example, rather than fellow WEF colleague Justin Trudeau.

It's time for the PM to dial back the intransigence, and find a way forward.

Kat said...

What happens next is the citizens of this little old New Zealand stand up and oppose the farce of a protest that is the occupation at parliament grounds. It is already becoming evident that the desire of the vast majority of citizens is to get behind our police force and bring an end to the madness, without batons and blood.

The boil of frustration has been lanced and those surfing the puss, for whatever reason, are coming into view.

Phil said...

interesting that 46% voted Labour or Green at the last election.

CXH said...

After denigrating the protesters as feral, right wing nut jobs and refusing to even look at them, there is finally an offer.

Go home and we will then listen to you. Hahahaha, make a good Tui ad.

The protesters know that once they give up parliament grounds they have lost. In all likelihood it will be the last protest allowed by this, or any future government. So Jacinda needs to have someone start to talk to them. To just say their claims are unreasonable is pathetic. Negotiations always start out miles apart, then compromise gets to an acceptable outcome for both sides. To refuse to even talk is childish at best and shows a definite lack of maturity in our leaders.

I don't particularly like Costner, but he has handled this event well so far. He certainly needs help and it needs to come from the scared weasels in the beehive.

DS said...

Note that the Army cannot get involved without the explicit request of the Police.

The Army's riot tactics are a bit different from the Police's. The Police will try to disperse via tear gas and batons. The Army will corner individuals, drag them behind the lines, beat the crap out of them, and bundle them into a wagon.

DS said...

You cannot coerce people into being vaccinated against their better judgement, under the threat of lost employment and not expect those on the receiving end to express their dissatisfaction.

If you choose to endanger society by refusing vaccination, don't whinge when society responds in kind. The fact that so many people on the political Right seem to think that there should be zero consequences for anti-social behaviour is equal parts fascinating and terrifying.

mikesh said...

"It's time for the PM to dial back the intransigence, and find a way forward."
Wrong. I's a police matter, and it should remain that way. It would be a mistake for the PM to validate the "protest" by engaging with the protesters. The mandates should remain, unless you think employers should be forced to employ unvaccinated personnel, and place the health and safety of their other staff, and perhaps their customers as well, at risk.

oneblokesview said...

I find it amusing that whenever a commentator wants to find a bogie man they say ALt Right elements.
Never ALt Left?

So what is this Alt Right that everyone talks about
and what is the other end of the scale. Alt Left?

Alt Right according to Merriam Webster Dictionary is
Alt-Right started 2009.
: a right-wing, primarily online political movement or grouping based in the U.S. whose members reject mainstream conservative politics and espouse extremist beliefs and policies typically centered on ideas of white nationalism

Funnily enough that same dictionary does have an alt-Left meaning
Only Ultraleft ( a term first started in 1910) when the left were the bogey men.
: having or supporting extreme left-wing political policies and positions : of, relating to, or characterized by ultraleftism

So it seems to me that when commentators and politicians want a bogey man they say alt-right without a clue of which they refer.

Like many things the commentators and pollies use the supposed ignorance of their readers/viewers in understanding what Alt right actually is. As long as they have an undebateable bogey man, they persist with their sometimes spurious arguments.

EG The Mandate crowd. If you want to oppose ANYTHING. Then you say elements of Alt-Right in control.
Just a failed immature strawman argument.

Russ the muss said...

Everything the beehive touches turns to custard, so the protesters need not fear on that one!

sumsuch said...

Doesn't matter. Push'm off in the quietist way possible. Let them lead the rark-up and NZ respond equivalently.

The main matter is the neglect of the people since 1984. These days Wellington paid Labour activists over ... us.

Archduke Piccolo said...

Query: were the protests of 1981 lawful? As a participant at the time, I gathered they weren't. "Red Squad! You can see this is not a peaceful protest! Remember your orders!' That's what I heard at Palmerston North, 21 July 1981.

Was the Occupy movement lawful? I form the impression that in Christchurch (where I now live), the authorities were, in the wake of the earthquakes, inclined to cut a bit of slack.

So what is different now? We are hearing a lot of negative stuff about the protest in Wellington. But I seen to be hearing echoes of official reaction to the protests of 1981 and more recent times.

In Canada, the thing goes like this. Someone displays a swastika; the protesters are Nazis (despite the individual being handed over to the cops with the message, 'We don't want this guy'). Someone displays a Confederate flag; the protesters are all racists. Someone yells abuse as someone else; the protesters ae all violently abusive.

In Wellington, someone throws human ordure at someone else. The protesters are all hurling human waste about.

In any event like this, you will get your types who want to up the ante. Those types were there in 1981, believe you me! They were there in the Occupy movement.

It's also just a little bit too easy to write these people off as dupes of right wing conspiracists. I have no doubt whatever that such people are present, and spouting their spiel. But to generalise in that way is to deny the people at large any agency whatever, and that goes down the same road as Hillary Clinton's describing her non-supporters as 'deplorables'.

What that is saying is that the protesters aren't worth listening to.

And that is PRECISELY why they are there.
Ion A. Dowman.

David George said...

Very good points Ion.
It's always a good idea too look at the big picture and try and see things on a more intimate, human scale. Our people, the different groups with their differing wants, needs, abilities, opinions, strengths and weaknesses are like the partners in a marriage. We can't divorce them and they are us. We're all separate in one sense but bound together; for better or worse. Do we really want to humiliate and defeat our husbands or wives? How will that help either individually or the project as a whole? One a tyrant and one a slave?

We all know, instinctively, that there's two sides to every story, that reality is comprised of the beautiful, eternal dance of opposing forces. From the proton and the electron on up. It was telling, and frightening, that our PM chose to tell us that they were "the one source of truth", that all else was "misinformation".
We shouldn't need reminding of the dangers of this sort of totalitarian certainty and where it can lead: the horrors of the 20th century all flourished because of this. There's no sign on the road or line in the sand there just for the seeing, things can, and do get out of hand. The only bulwark is the people saying no, you've gone too far; just as you would with your partner in life. Go right ahead and tell them they can't possibly be right, that they're a bad person. See how that works out.

The dangers of these sort of prescriptive explanations is real reason that free speech and dissent is valued, it's more an important responsibility than a right. A free society is inevitably messy and requires both humility and courage. But the alternative?

“There are no innocuous ideologies. They're forms of pathological over simplification and they're also clubs, I mean the kind of clubs that you hit people with as well as the kind that you belong to... the advantage (to me) of being an ideologue is that I can explain everything, I can feel morally superior, and I know who my enemies are...and you know what you're supposed to do with enemies? They're not your friends, you move against them.”
― Jordan B. Peterson

BTW, Trudeau's rant about Swastikas was completely and deliberately wrong. There were Canadian flags with that awful symbol on them to indicate the belief that Canada was becoming totalitarian. Turning it into a vilification of the truck drivers just shows what a contemptable weasel he really is.

Dunxharfe said...

The left remains blind as to the rationale driving the protestors ? Then look no further then within the lefts own movement..

It is the work of The Invisible Hand.

Not at all surprising that they do not recognise it at work here among the protestors. The Left are aware of it but still after its social presence since time immemorial... they have some idea that their intellect can supersede it.

I will remind you all again.... 'Man was born free, not equal' The left have always objected to the terms of this arrangement. For some reason that escapes a lot of us.

Dunxharfe said...

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
— C. S. Lewis

Make your own minds up.... but I know who represents who in the crowd of peaceful protestors..... However more than 90% of Barons depicted by C.S Lewis would be domiciled within that castle behind them

The Barron said...

Of course, C S Lewis was a great proponent of Purgatory. I think he would get on well with Coster.