By Anthony S. Mangeri, Sr., Faculty Member, Emergency and Disaster Management at American Military University
Across the country, communities are experiencing an increase of both planned and spontaneous protests and public gatherings. It is critical that public safety agencies, including emergency management, law enforcement, fire service and others, work together to effectively prepare for such civil events. Regardless of the size of the community, cities and towns across the country must include civil event response as part of its emergency operations plans.
Violence—whether perpetrated by organized groups or individual actors—can always threaten peaceful assemblies. For example, at the same time as the Dallas shooting in July, which killed five police officers, there were also predominantly peaceful protests in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, New York, Atlanta and Chicago. This demonstrates that any and every civil assembly has the potential to be calm and orderly or turn into civil unrest and even a riot. In several cases, including the Baltimore riots in April 2015 and more recently in Dallas, individuals bent on creating violence took advantage of the highly charged event and hijacked peaceful protests. Therefore, public safety agencies must be prepared to respond should a peaceful protest suddenly become violent.
Few argue the constitutional rights of individuals to protest and express their First Amendment rights. Many in law enforcement, including Dallas Police Chief David Brown, have expressed their commitment to protect an individual’s right to protest and be heard. However, the commitment to protecting an individual’s First Amendment right to expression requires planning, training and exercising for public safety agencies.