Reader's View: Riot gear raises fears for demonstrators
The city of Duluth has a rich history of public engagement, advocacy, and peaceful protest of injustice. In my opinion, the Duluth Police Department's now-approved purchase of $82,721 of riot gear was unnecessary and will perpetuate the militarization of police seen across the U.S., which threatens the public's ability to feel safe while marching, organizing, and protesting.
Although police protective equipment is intended to preserve public safety, incidents that have occurred while this gear was being used indicate just the opposite may be true. Protesters met by a line of heavily armed police officers tends to create an us-versus-them mentality, which can escalate a situation and can increase incidences of injury to police officers and civilians alike.
I questioned the driving force behind the perceived necessity of this gear. Our record as a city provided no indication we are under the threat of the kind of violent demonstration this gear is intended for. Duluth has dealt with public frustration and tension on numerous issues in a productive and civil manner, including the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Black Lives Matter movement and marches against police brutality, climate marches, women's march, and even rallies and counter-protests for and against polarizing political figures.
I see the timing of this purchase and the public dissent surrounding the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project to be a troubling coincidence.
In other parts of the state and country, riot gear has been misused, causing harm to citizens. The Duluth branch of the NAACP, the Duluth Indigenous Commission, and a number of other groups have expressed concern that this increase in police power disproportionately will affect already-marginalized communities. It was critical that the voices of those at the greatest risk from this purchase be heard and listened to by our policymakers.