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Abstract

During the 1970s, the predominant strategy of protest policing shifted from ‘escalated force’ and repression of protesters to one of ‘negotiated management’ and mutual cooperation with protesters. Following the failures of negotiated management at the 1999 World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle, law enforcement quickly developed a new social control strategy, referred to here as ‘strategic incapacitation’. The US police response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks quickened the pace of police adoption of this new strategy, which emphasizes the goals of ‘securitizing society’ and isolating or neutralizing the sources of potential disruption. These goals are accomplished through (1) the use of surveillance and information sharing as a way to assess and monitor risks, (2) the use of pre-emptive arrests and less-lethal weapons to selectively disrupt or incapacitate protesters that engage in disruptive protest tactics or might do so, and (3) the extensive control of space in order to isolate and contain disruptive protesters actual or potential. In a comparative fashion, this paper examines the shifts in United States policing strategies over the last 50 years and uses illustrative cases from national conventions, the global justice movement and the anti-war movement to show how strategic incapacitation has become a leading social control strategy used in the policing of protests since 9/11. It concludes by identifying promising questions for future research.