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Updated: 09/02/2012 08:00:50AM

‘West Side Story’

without music

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S.L. Frisbie

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Class will please come to order.

Thank you.

Which of the following is most effective in ending a riot, demonstration, or other civil disturbance?

(a) A show of force by peace keepers.

(b) A line of police officers with riot batons.

(c) A platoon of National Guardsmen with tear gas.

(d) A group of snarling police dogs.

(e) A rainstorm.

Chances are you chose one (or more) of the first four answers.

The correct choice is “(e) A rainstorm.”


During and after the “long hot summer” of 1967, when riots reached an unprecedented high from California to Florida, I both took and taught a number of civil disturbance control classes as a Florida National Guard officer.

Crowd control became a major mission of the state militia, which is one of the two roles of Guardsmen.

It is the militia role — a force of able-bodied, trained, and disciplined men and women available at the call of the governor to keep peace or restore order — that marks the difference between the active forces and the Guard.

The other role, of course, is to perform when needed as a reserve military force.

One of the most remarkable facts we learned is that nothing will take the steam out of a disturbance like a rainfall. For some reason, demonstrators fear getting wet more than they do getting bitten by dogs, poked by riot batons, or hosed down with tear gas. Go figure.

Looking for proof? The planned demonstration by 5,000 protestors on the first day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa drew only about 200 folks.

Why? It was raining.


Those hardy few who did turn out to stage their demonstration complained that there were way too many cops on hand to enforce the law.

Apparently law enforcement officers have more courage than demonstrators when it comes to getting wet.

The complaints of the demonstrators that they were outnumbered by cops sounded to me a little like the coach of one football team complaining that the linemen on the other team were too big.

The objective of the police, like the defensive line, is to prevail, not to maintain parity.


The most amusing development, in my opinion, was when two groups of protesters confronted each other. It was a little like a scene from “West Side Story,” but without the music or choreography.

One of the protestors complained to a TV reporter that his fellow demonstrators couldn’t even agree on what they were protesting.


One of the more absurd demonstrations was by a group, mostly women, brandishing handcuffs and demanding admission to a building so they could arrest Condoleezza Rice for something or other.

It occurred to me that if a stranger walks in and puts handcuffs on somebody for political drama, both criminal and civil remedy could be sought for battery, unlawful confinement, and conceivably even kidnaping.

And speaking of out and out lawlessness, Florida law prohibits wearing a mask in public for nefarious purposes. Such laws were enacted largely as an anti-terrorism move directed at the Ku Klux Klan.

Are today’s self-declared anarchists brothers under the skin of klansmen of yesteryear?


(S. L. Frisbie is retired. After listening to Ann Romney’s stirring speech at the convention Tuesday night, he turned to his friend Mary and suggested that the GOP would have done well to adjourn the convention at that point. No speaker could have done more to advance her husband’s candidacy.)