Spontaneity of protests forces law enforcement to be flexible, ready

Published: Jul. 11, 2016 at 11:04 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 12, 2016 at 10:46 AM EDT
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(Source: WIS)
(Source: WIS)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - In an age of instant communications, a group with a cause or complaint can rapidly organize. However, it can change plans quickly as well.

While that may be helpful for groups who want their voices to be heard, it can be a headache for law enforcement.

On Sunday, Confederate flag supporters were arguably the most predictable for cops trying to keep things from getting out of hand. They requested and were given approval weeks ago by the state government to hold their rally on the north side of the Statehouse.

Authorities figured a rough estimate of about 150-300 people would show up. They also had a pretty good idea how long the group would be on the grounds.

However, flag protesters including Black Lives Matter and others showed up. Eventually, they moved to I-126. Much of that was determined and communicated immediately through social media. That makes crowd control and keeping everyone safe.

"People come and gather, but they're not very good at controlling things, the spontaneous things that may erupt when everyone is gathered can let that gathering move out in other directions and scatter as we've seen happen here and there's no central, "said USC Communications Dean Charles Bierbauer, "activism that is available to keep the crowd congealed in one place."

Bierbauer said social media have been effective around the world in organizing and promoting political movements like the Arab Spring for example.

As Bierbauer indicates, the suddenness of these protests also means law enforcement has to be ready for anything.

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