On March 26, the State Department tweeted, “U.S. condemns detention of 100s of peaceful protesters in #Russia today. Detaining peaceful protesters is an affront to democratic values.” The tweet was in reference to thousands of people participating in peaceful opposition protests in cities across Russia against Putin’s corrupt administration. The Russian media downplayed the protests, and hundreds of protesters were arrested, including Putin opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The State Department’s tweet was hypocritical, as the department and countless other government agencies and officials have remained silent, or even joined the oppressing opposition when peaceful protesters in the United States have been under attack.
Several Twitter users responded with photos of militarized police forces attacking peaceful protests in the last few years across the United States.
“Really? There’s 800+ cases pending against unarmed protesters hit w/mace, water cannons, rubber bullets, etc. at #StandingRock. #NoDAPL,” tweeted Tara Houska, Director of Honor the Earth and former advisor to Bernie Sanders to the State Department. “It wasn’t an ‘affront to democratic values’ when 100s of U.S. citizens were thrown in dog kennels in North Dakota for #NoDAPL” protests.” The water protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline were met with water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures, constantly maced, hit with rubber bullets and concussion grenades, attacked with pipeline security guard dogs, and several protesters sustained serious injuries. Several journalists on the scene throughout the protests were also attacked and intimidated from reporting, while the local police force ran their own propaganda campaign to perpetuate their own narrative.
Several Twitter users cited the Ferguson protests, where police used military tactics to suppress and intimidate protesters, leading to several lawsuits against the police forces that arrested, beat, and attacked protesters.
In July 2016, a photo went viral from peaceful protests in Baton Rouge, Louisiana of militarized police donned in riot gear detaining an unarmed, young black woman in a dress.
In the United States, protests have been primarily met with heavily militarized police forces and receiving a range of coverage in mainstream media, from no coverage to sensationalizing or inferring violence from protesters, to making overtly racist or false generalizations of protesters. In addition to the media propagating a condescending attitude toward protests, the political establishment has adopted a similar attitude.
Republican lawmakers in states across the country have recently tried to push through legislation that would constrict the civil liberties of protesters. During the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the majority of the Democratic Party avoided supporting the protests, yet swooped in to exploit a small victory the protests obtained on December 4 when the Army Corps of Engineers temporarily halted the pipeline’s construction. When the pipeline moved forward again under the Trump Administration, Democrats were once again nowhere to be found despite their political opponents continuing to denigrate protesters.
The State Department’s embrace of “democratic values” was also attacked as hypocritical given the department’s embrace of interventionist policies in foreign governments, and approving the sales of billions of dollars in military weapons to countries like Saudi Arabia, that have been using them to commit war crimes and human rights violations in Yemen.
While the criticism toward the State Department’s tweet didn’t argue with their assertion that the Russian Government’s handling of peaceful protests were a violation of human rights and undemocratic, the silence from the government when police forces in the United States have attacked, intimidated, and suppressed protests in the United States has been deafening.