Are You Responsible for Your Followers?

  • protesters gather at a pre-arranged place and time, at the ready with political banners and horns and whatever else you usually bring to a march. Fully-armed and well-equipped police forces monitor them from a safe distance. So far, so good.
  • As the protest gathers pace, the chants of the protesters grows louder, the intensity building, the air thick with anticipation.
  • Amidst the crowd of thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, are some people with slightly less pure intentions. In hindsight, you could usually identify them by the remarkably heavy backpacks they carry and the thick scarves they wear around their necks. Otherwise, they blended into the crowd, looking like any other protester popping out on his or her lunch break.
  • After a while, some of these disagreeable individuals decide that it is time. They bring out the rocks and pebbles and fireworks and whatever other less-than-peaceful devices they carefully prepared — and start hurling them at the police forces. Anticipating this, the police officers, dressed in full protective gear, raise their shields and field off most attacks. For most police officers, this isn’t their first rodeo; they know what’s coming, and they know it’s a game of patience. Sometimes the protests end and fizzle out before these distasteful individuals have tilted the march into a downward-spiral of no return.
  • Sometimes, particularly at the larger and more intense protests, these troublemakers hurl one-too-many stones at some police officer who can’t take it no more. Maybe he had a bad day; maybe he still has bruises from the last protest; maybe he’s a sadistic sod who actually enjoys beating up younglings. He lashes out with the shield— or worse, the baton — at the unfortunate troublemaker who ventured too close to the barricades.
  • When dozens of regular protesters standing by see this police brutality against what looks like “one of their own,” their anti-dictatorship instincts kick in. This is what those in power did just a few decades ago: assaulting members of the public with impunity. Sympathy for the troublemaker explodes, rivalled only by the anger against the police officer. As the mob gets in his face, other members of the police rush to his aid, trying to calm the protesters to the best of their abilities. Usually in vain: It is too late. “This is no longer Dictatorship,” the protesters shout, “you cannot treat members of the public like this!” followed by an appropriate amount of curses, slurs, and insults.
  • The troublemaker has achieved his purpose, rallying the otherwise friendly masses against the police. Soon enough, more rocks and sticks and metal objects are hurled at the police; fist fights everywhere; batons swishing through the air; screams of pain when one side or the other gets hit; even louder screams of anger when their teammates suffer wounds.
  • Soon enough, none of the police’s initial patience remains; it’s all-out war. They mount the water cannons and start emptying their vast containers at the rioting masses — which, of course, proves their point that the police is violent and over-reacting, perpetrating the crimes that their oppressive predecessors committed under Pinochet.
  • If water is not enough to scatter the crowd, tear gas is used. The troublemakers, prepared with masks and scarves, are usually the last ones standing, as the rest of the upset-but-otherwise-peaceful protesters have had enough of this nonsense.

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