How to make sure a protest remains peaceful

With it being slightly overcast and a little chilly today, it has made me reminisce about being in Kosovo. I was a young and inexperienced soldier, only a private at the time, and this was my first deployment to a hostile area. This was back in 2000 so they had just finished building Camp Bondsteel, and our quarters were brand new. I had never had living quarters so good before in the Army. It had been one run-down barracks after another up to this point. We parked the Humvees and the ASV within easy walking distance of the living quarters, and life was about as good as it can be for a deployment. I didn’t even realize at the time how great it was. 

We received a call from the Russian sector that there were major riots about to occur, and the Russians needed our backup. The Russians assigned to this duty were the hardest men I have ever met. The story I heard was NATO paid them very well for this duty, and in order to earn their place, they would have fightclub style battles to see who was left standing and earned a spot. 

We loaded up the Humvees with riot gear and headed to their sector. I’m not sure how they had everything set up exactly, but this was a NATO mission and we fell under their supervision. We had riot batons, shields and beanbag rounds for the shotguns, along with the normal weapons we carried every day.

We arrived in the area and proceeded to get set up with some remedial training and ensure all of the equipment worked correctly at a predetermined meeting area a little ways away from the action. I remember we headed over to the main action area, and it was instant chaos. There had to have been several thousand rioters trying to get into the area we were sent to protect. They were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, anything they could get their hands on at us.

This kind of makes me think of our current issue at the Capitol. Why did the police assigned to work not have less than lethal rounds available to stop rioters from entering? I can tell you from experience when things get out of hand, you load up some bean bag rounds into several shotguns and shoot the main protagonists, people calm down in a hurry. You don’t know while the riots are going on that the rounds just fired into the crowd were not live ammo. All you see is a gun being fired and several people going down as if they were really shot.

It puts a quick damper on things. As the riot control officer, you can immediately see the shock in the eyes of the crowd their craziness begins to cool. On this particular day, unfortunately, that just wasn’t enough. The thing that really got this riot under control and back into peaceful protests was when the Apache helicopters showed up. Apaches have a run silent mode, which makes them basically invisible when they arrive in an area.

It was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen when they showed up to the backs of the crowds and the crowd did not know they were there. They then went into normal sound mode, for lack of a better description, and proceeded to buzz over the crowd. It was almost instant that moment when the crowd realized what was going on. The rocks and all of the rest just stopped almost to a quiet standstill for just a moment. Then when they realized the Apaches were not going to immediately open fire, the peaceful protests resumed. 

David Koen is an Amarillo native who owns Doche Cleaners and is an active member of the Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute. Learn more at dochecleanersamarillo.com