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After Genoa & New York--The Antiglobal Movement, Police & Terrorism

After Genoa and New York:

The Antiglobal Movement, the Police and Terrorism

Donatella della Porta and Sidney Tarrow

In the light of the events of September 11 and the US
government's subsequent offensive against terrorism, it may be
useful to reflect on the strategies used against protest in times
of terror, and their effects. We take as our starting point the
measures that Italy took to meet the antiglobalization movement in
Genoa this past summer. The implications, we will argue, go well
beyond Italy to authoritiesâ responses to violence, whatever its
source and wherever it is found including the United States in the
months and years to come.

The End of a Truce

In spring 1977, a young Italian activist, Giorgiana Masi, was shot
by the police during a demonstration in Rome. Masi was the last in
a chain of about 120 Italians shotor, as in one infamous case,
"suicided" from the window of a police station, during or after
protests. Last July 19, Carlo Giuliano was killed by a young
carabiniere doing his military service and run over by a police
jeep during the violent protests against the G-8 meetings.
In the almost 25 years between Masiâs and Giulianoâs killings the
interactions between Italian demonstrators and the police wereif
not appeasedat least civilized. Yet in Genoa, not only did the
police shoot a demonstrator; hundreds of peaceful protesters were
caricati con caroselli (the infamous Italian police practice of
aiming police vans directly at demonstrators), beaten up,
strip-searched, forced to sing fascist and anti-Semitic songs and
denied access to an attorney or, in the case of foreigners, to
their consulates. Many returned to their homes in Italy or
elsewhere in Europe and the US with broken bones and cracked heads.
Some were well-known pacifists, others journalists; but most of
them were very young, and their detailed accounts of police
brutality shocked public and foreign opinion. Government and
parliamentary inquiries were immediately begun, and Italy's new
right-wing government was sent reeling by complaints from both
Italian citizen groups and allies protesting the treatment of their

In the light of those events and the growing protests in the US and
abroad against the American attack on the Taliban regime, it may be
useful to ask, "What explained the breakdown of the
police/protester truce in Italy and what can we learn from it in
the United States?" Was the violent encounter the fault of the
relatively small "black bloc" of anarchists and troublemakers who
descended on Genoa, or was it the result of a shift in police
tactics? And what does the future portend for an international
system that is already seeing a "social movement spillover" from
the antiglobalization movement of the late 1990s to an
international peace movement today?

De-escalation and Re-escalation in Protest Policing

The Genoa protests were part of a general increase in
international activism both in Western Europe and elsewhere. It
could be argued that this rise of activism was the cause of the
violent police response; but that would imply that it was an
absence of activism that explains the 25-year truce between Italian
protesters and the police. But that was not the case; Italyâs
terrorist-led "years of lead" continued well into the 1980s, when
most of the Red Brigades and other fringe groups were finally
defeated.1 Rather, the long truce between protesters and the police
was the result of a deliberate strategylearned from American and
other modelsof what we call "contained protest policing." As
practiced routinely in Washington, Paris and Berlin, the strategy
rested on three main rules for police behavior2:

á Negotiate the marching routes, tactics and objects of
protest with protest leaders, allowing them the occasional
symbolic victory of breaking the rulesespecially when
violence-bent minorities join their demonstrations;

á Establish and maintain continual contact with the
peaceful protesters all through their demonstrations,
constructing a single command center which controls the
actions of police units in the field;

á Keep troublemakers far away from peaceful
demonstrators, never attack the latter when the former get
violent and never break off contact with demonstration
leaders even when violent incidents have occurred.

Every one of these rules of procedure was broken by the Italian
police in Genoa.

á First, they failed to maintain contact with the
protest leaders. Even the mayor of Genoaattempting to
negotiate with the demonstratorscomplained that he could not
make contact with the police authority in charge of protest

á Second, their forces were divided among state police
(who depend on the Interior Ministry, the carabinieri (who
are part of the army), the Finance Guards (who answer to the
Finance Ministry), prison guards (who work for the Ministry
of Justice) and most bizarre of all, special units trained to
deal with the mafia! While the best-trained units defended
the "red zone" inside the G-8 perimeter, ill-trained and
uncoordinated police units from outside were left to roam the
city to keep the demonstrators away from the delegates. Even
the Interior Ministry now admits that there was no clear
chain of command or coordination among the various forces in
the field. Moreover, about half of the police deployed in the
Mobile Squads were untrained draftees.

á Most important, the police failed to separate the
violent fringe of "black bloc" anarchists from the mass of
peaceful protesters. Worse, when these militants threw rocks
at them, overturned cars and broke store windows, the police
turned their guns, water-cannon (filled with chemicals), tear
gas, batons and jeeps not only on them but on the mass of
peaceful protesters.

The unprovoked police attack on a planning center and dormitory for
the peaceful Genoa Social Forum was the culmination of this
perverse strategy. Their faces covered in masks, the police erupted
into the Armando Diaz school, swinging their truncheons left and
right before transporting whoever they could catch to a police
barracks. Members of Parliament and journalists who entered the
school after the police raid testified to the bloodshed and
disruption they found there. Many of the about 253 people arrested
during the two days of marchessome because they were wearing
"suspicious" black clothes and/or were foreignerstold the
magistrates that they had been beaten, made to stand spread-eagled
for hours and kept incommunicado for up to three days. When the 93
"dangerous anarchists" arrested at the Diaz school were finally
hauled before the magistrates to be booked, all but one was
immediately freed on the grounds of improper arrest.

` The Reasons of Misrule

What explains this descent from a police practice that had
maintained calm and killed no demonstrators from 1977 to the police
riot of Genoa? Three main reasons come to mind:

á First, as there had been during the protests against
the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Washington, in 1999,
there was undoubtedly a radical fringe in Genoa bent on
destruction and radicalization. But against 20,000 police,
there were no more than 400 to 700 of these "black bloc"
members. The survey of 800 Genoa demonstrators that one of us
directed shows that 90% of those interviewed claimed never to
have used violent tactics; 41% condemned any form of violence
and 52% would employ violence only in defense against the
police. In any case, if the violent fringe was the problem,
why did the police so often aim their attacks at the mass of
peaceful demonstrators?

á Second, the Italian police might have decided that
the mistake of the Seattle police had been to go too easy on
the protesters at the start; from the first day of the Genoa
summit, they went on the offensive. But if the past two
decades of "contained police practice" have taught us
anything, it is that a strategy of aggressive confrontation
not only produces conflict with the most radical groups but
risks pushing the mass of peaceful protesters into their
hands. This is exactly what happened in Genoa.

á Finally, the Italy of 2001 is not the Italy of 1977
or even that of 2000. A right-wing government, elected on a
"law-and-order" platform, governs shakily. Its prime
minister, Silvio Berlusconi, himself at odds with the lawholds
together a rag-tag coalition of economic conservatives,
Northern League separatists and "reformed" post-fascists. It
would not be the first time that a government lacking in
legitimacy or internal cohesion tried to strengthen itself by
creating or inflating a Threat to the Republic. It is no
accident that the post-fascist Vice-President of the Council
of Ministers, Gianfranco Fini, was in Genoa police
headquarters with MPs of his Alleanza Nazionale during the
protests and quickly congratulated the police on their

Friends of Italy are concerned that the election of Italy's first
right-wing government since the fall of Mussolini coincides with
the retreat of the countryâs police from a model of neutral protest
policing to one resembling the "Kingâs police." Used for centuries
against political and social opponents, the King's police "made"
elections, relied on massive military attacks on demonstrators and
saw the opposition as a crowd to be feared rather than as citizens
to be protected in the performance of their democratic rights.3 A
conservative government wielding a version of "the Kingâs police"
against transnational protestors is the major explanation for the
police riot of Genoa.

Lessons for Anti-Terrorism

In the wake of the events in Genoa, many Italians bought into the
governmentâs call for law and order, even as its police broke the
law and created disorder. But others remember another period in
Italian history: 1921-22, when the police looked the other way as
Mussolini's thugs attacked trade unions and cooperatives,
submitting Italy to over 20 years of fascism. Supporters of
democracy who worry about the excesses of determined protesters
should recall that democracy itself is often the victim of
overzealous and uncontrolled protest policing.

If there were circumstances peculiar to Berlusconi's Italy
that explain the brutal shift from contained protest policing to
the "King's police," Genoa was no isolated incident. In Seattle,
the police were unprepared to manage their relations with
protestors; in Davos, Prague and Nice, the freedom to demonstrate
was abridged by governments that blocked demonstrators at the
frontier; even in peaceful Sweden, the Gsteborg summit in June 2001
triggered a mechanism of military escalation. This was the model
that the Italian police deliberately tried to emulate. Thus, even
before September 11, we detect an international trend away from the
practices of pacific protest policing.

How tense police and frightened government officials respond to
peaceful protests as they face terrorist threats may become an
issue in the United States today. Even as the government was urging
its citizens not to attack Muslim minorities as vengeance for the
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it was engaged
in a sweep of arrests and sequestrations that came close to the
practice of racial targeting. The powers given authorities by the
new antiterrorism law are balanced by few guarantees that they will
not be used against domestic dissenters. And as in Genoa, police
practice often goes beyond the letter of the law; in late October,
amid tension at the nationâs airports, a Green party leader in
Maine was reportedly surrounded and manhandled by police.4
Protesters making unpopular claims have always faced hostile police
and potentially repressive governments. But there is a new factor
today. Although there was common framing of opposition to the
Vietnam war in many countries during the 1960s, there was little
real coordination among the various peace movements, and their
members seldom crossed borders to support one anotherâs
demonstrations. That was before the antiglobalization movements of
the 1990s created an international network of organizations and
militants who have developed a broad repertoire of protest against
common targets. If, as seems likely, these protesters now turn
their energies against the American-led war in central Asia, we are
bound to see more foreign participation in protests on American
soil. Will a government geared up to fight terrorism have the
judgment and discrimination to understand the difference between
transnational dissent and foreign enemies?

There is another danger as well: both the American experience of
the 1960s and the Italian one of the 1970s show that the
criminalization of social movements contributes to radicalization
and polarization. The perfervid patriotism set off by the events of
September 11 may set that process of polarization in motion.5
Unless we are vigilant, America may be in for a new wave of
repression in the name of democracy.

Donatella della Porta directs the political science department at
the University of Florence and is the author of Social Movements,
Political Violence and the State
(Cambridge, 1998) and co-editor
(with Herbert Reiter) of Policing Protest (Minnesota, 1998). Sidney
Tarrow teaches social movements at Cornell and is the author of
Power in Movement (Cambridge, 1998) and co-author (with Doug McAdam
and Charles Tilly) of Dynamics of Contention (Cambridge, 2001).


Cfr. S. Tarrow, Democracy and Disorder, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989,
and D. della Porta, Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

2 The German police used the concept of "de-escalation"; the Italian
police that of "preventive controls." On the shift in police strategies
of protest control, see D. della Porta and H. Reiter, eds., Protest
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

3 On the Italian police, see D. della Porta and H. Reiter, L'ordine
pubblico in Italia, 1945-2001.
Rome: Laterza.

4 See http://www.indymedia.org:8081 for the Green Party's version of
these events.

5 On polarization, see Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow and Charles Tilly,
Dynamics of Contention, New York: Cambridge, 2001, ch. 10.