Developments in the Policing of National Special Security Events: An Analysis of the 2012 RNC and DNC

Executive Summary

In preparation for the 2012 Democratic and Republican national conventions, the cities of Charlotte and Tampa—working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and under the supervision of the U.S. Secret Service—implemented a militarized security model that is now standard at high profile gatherings designated as National Special Security Events (NSSE). The security measures taken at the RNC and DNC are in keeping with the last fifteen years of government planning for national and international political and economic meetings, which have been defined by massive expenditures on weapons and outside personnel, restrictive event permits and ordinances that limit protest activities, and the vilification of constitutionally protected speech and assembly through media manipulation and aggressive police tactics. While this year’s nominating conventions produced smaller demonstrations and fewer arrests than expected by protest organizers, the militarization of the host cities and the narrative of violent protesters used to justify these practices must be challenged.

Drawing from firsthand observations of NLG members who were in Tampa and Charlotte, as well as interviews with activists and media accounts, this report presents an overview of the 2012 RNC and DNC demonstrations and makes recommendations for treatment of protesters at future events. In particular, we discuss the effects of designating political conventions as NSSEs, the selection of host cities, the expenditures on police equipment and personnel, the adoption of protest-targeted ordinances, the preconceived police narrative of protester violence, and the evolving use of media technology by protesters and police.

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