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Police need to learn how to halt violence, not protests

Mar 2, 2012 - Charles W. Rodgers, Riverton

Editor:

I spoke by phone with Emily Etheredge, who wrote the news article "Only a Drill" (Feb. 19) to express how disturbing I found the article. She explained that the purpose of the drill was to help train law enforcement personnel to deal with protesters whose actions got "out of hand," and that Riverton chief of police Broadhead clearly stated this to students on more than one occasion. Upon re-reading the article several days later, I continued to be troubled.

The word "protesters" was used several times, but nowhere was it indicated that the students were simulating a violent riot, that the demonstrators were pretending to be armed with guns or other weapons, that they were simulating acting in a violent manner were threatening violence, or were attempting to deface or destroy property.

The comments of Eric Heiser, rural justice director at CWC that "the scenario of a protest is absolutely in line with what could happen at the college ..." in the context of the article seem to imply that dispersing the crowd, pushing and screaming at students, and even inflicting pain are appropriate courses of action to deal with protesters.

Although the student volunteers were reportedly told that they were to emulate being "out of line", judging from comments made by the students it seems they did not get the memo.

It does not appear to me that the students believed they were being dispersed and subjected to force because they were simulating violence, but because they were non-compliant, resistant to following orders, or because their actions were deemed offensive.

The police and other law enforcement officers deserve all the training possible to help prepare them to deal with situations that are dangerous or violent. These brave public servants must stand ready to risk their lives to protect others.

The recent shooting of students by another student in Chardon, Ohio, as well as the many acts of violence in our own community exemplify how important it is for them to be well trained for their own safety as well as to protect the safety of others.

I sincerely hope that the purpose of the drill was to help train them to deal with violence, not to learn how better to squelch protest.

If the way the article was written is accurate, the subheading could have been something like "Students and college cooperate in helping police practice suppressing non-violent protest." If that is the case, we are in deep trouble.

Our nation was founded by protesters. The rights to assemble, dissent, and to protest nonviolently are fundamental. In fact, I would say that protesting is not only our right, but sometimes is our duty.

I hope there are many future peaceful protests in Riverton where people voice what they support and what they oppose, and that our police and other law enforcement agencies make no attempt to suppress or disperse the protesters unless there is violence, imminent threat of violence, or destruction of property, in which case they must ensure the safety of others.