Theater of the absurd: Police detail at a protest of none

by | Aug 23, 2018

Theater of the absurd: Police detail at a protest of none

by | Aug 23, 2018

Since June 24th, approximately 1,200 gas workers for National Grid have been locked out of worksites throughout Massachusetts. They’re union, the United Steel Workers, was not able to reach an agreement with the company for a new contract, in which National Grid has tried to reduce retirement and health insurance benefits. Though the gas workers wanted to continue working as bargaining was underway, National Grid has locked them out, hiring contractors who lack experience and proper safety protocols.

In front of a National Grid location near me a few miles north of Boston, the police have had a perpetual presence since the lockout began. They are there at 3am and 3pm, whether there are no workers demonstrating or 2-3 protesters. During the day, there are four to five police outside the Grid building; and a few blocks away, there are two cops who wait by a new apartment complex at the end of my street, either taking a break or waiting for their detail to begin. Overnight at the Grid building, two cops hold fort. Like most police details, they watch traffic pass, chat with each other or stare down at their smartphones.

The futility of this police detail is remarkable. Not since late June have there been more than 7-8 demonstrators, who don’t show the slightest inclination towards public disorder, and even less towards violence or trying to break into the Grid office. Usually there are no protesters at all or 2-3, max. On the first day of the lockout, approximately 30 gas workers marched down the sidewalk, chanting and holding signs. Ever since, it’s been extremely quiet.

Walking or driving by the Grid building, I’ve usually observe the mundane – one or two protesters standing with signs or sitting under an awning and cops idling about. Occasionally, it’s been a little more interesting.

One time recently, I was walking on a bike path past the lockout workers’ small awning, under which a gas worker sat on a chair with two 24-packs of water at his side. He was talking to a group of five cops not far away.

“You see that dog over there?” a cop asks him.

He turns and looks towards the adjacent cemetery, “Neah…”

“Over there, behind the bushes.”

“Oh – yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah!”

“I’ve seen him over there for a while.”

The cops start calling the dog, whistling and so forth, and the gas worker joins in.

“He looks like a hot dog,” the Grid worker observes.

Another time, I was driving home at dusk. A car stopped, with emergency lights flashing, at the street’s edge, right in front of a group of four policemen, who were apparently preventing havoc from letting loose on a zero-protester night. A large, overweight brown-skinned man got out of his car, with a couple boxes in hand. The cop he walked towards momentarily put his hand cautiously over his gun. He soon realized that their dinner had been delivered.

Nearly two months after the lockdown began, with long-fizzled protests outside the National Grid building, police continue to guard the site. They look as useless as ever, like Monty Python guards at a forgotten, remote, medieval fort. But, it’s really not the cops’ fault – not this time. Municipal policy, catering to corporate residents and police unions’ longstanding demand for police details anywhere and everywhere are the real culprits. It’s compounded by the American public’s pervasive sense of fear that the outside world is dangerous, terrorists lurk everywhere, child molesters wait around every corner and crime poses an existential threat to neighborhoods. Perhaps, most worrying, is Americans’ knee-jerk disdain for protests, unless they wear pussy hats. Workers protesting slashed benefits and football stars kneeling during the national anthem have no room under the First Amendment. That is reserved for big moneyed ‘speech’.

As for me, perhaps I was a bank robber in my past life, or maybe I like public spaces devoid of monitoring, but I’m not too fond of police detail at the end of my street every day. I’d rather they return to the station, await a call for help, than unmeaningfully (in this case, at least) conduct surveillance on main street, and as they await their detail, at the end of my own street. The overtime salary from nearly two months of 24/7 police detail has cost the city taxpayer dearly – and all to monitor a protest of virtually none.

It’s really a theater of the absurd.

About Peter Crowley

Peter Crowley is an independent writer and scholar with a M.S. in Conflict Resolution, Global Studies from Northeastern University. He works as Content Specialist/Production Coordinator for a prominent library science company. For fun, he plays in bluesy rock band around the Boston/NYC area. His writings can be found in Boston Literary Magazine, Mondoweiss, Mint Press News, (several publications in) Wilderness House Literary Review, Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal, Truthout, Green Fuse Press,, Rhinocerotic, Peace Studies Journal, Ethnic Studies Review (forthcoming), Inquiries Journal and a periodical publication of the Brookline, MA Historical Society.

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