|Police prepare for unrest|
Police departments in cities across the country are beefing up their
ranks for Election Day, preparing for possible civil unrest and riots
after the historic presidential contest.
Public safety officials said in interviews with The Hill that the
election, which will end with either the nation’s first black president or
its first female vice president, demanded a stronger police
Democratic strategists and advocates for black voters say they
understand officers wanting to keep the peace, but caution that excessive
police presence could intimidate voters.
Sen. Obama (Ill.), the Democratic nominee for president, has seen his
lead over rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) grow in recent weeks, prompting
speculation that there could be a violent backlash if he loses
Cities that have suffered unrest before, such as Detroit, Chicago,
Oakland and Philadelphia, will have extra police deployed.
In Oakland, the police will deploy extra units trained in riot control,
as well as extra traffic police, and even put SWAT teams on standby.
“Are we anticipating it will be a riot situation? No. But will we be
prepared if it goes awry? Yes,” said Jeff Thomason, spokesman for the
Oakland Police Department.
“I think it is a big deal — you got an African-American running and [a]
woman running,” he added, in reference to Obama and GOP vice presidential
nominee Sarah Palin. “Whoever wins it, it will be a national event. We
will have more officers on the street in anticipation that things may go
The Oakland police last faced big riots in 2003 when the Raiders lost
to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. Officials are bracing
themselves in case residents of Oakland take Obama’s loss badly.
Political observers such as Hilary Shelton and James Carville fear that
record voter turnout could overload polling places on Election Day and
could raise tension levels.
Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, said inadequate
voting facilities is a bigger problem in poor communities with large
numbers of minorities.
“What are local election officials doing to prepare for what people
think will be record turnout at the polls?” said Shelton, who added that
during the 2004 election in Ohio voters in predominantly black communities
had to wait in line six to eight hours to vote.
“On Election Day, if this continues, you may have some tempers flare;
we should be prepared to deal with that but do it without intimidation,”
said Shelton, who added that police have to be able to maintain order at
polling stations without scaring voters, especially immigrants from
Carville, who served as a senior political adviser to former President
Bill Clinton, said that many Democrats would be very angry if Obama loses.
He noted that many Democrats were upset by Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.)
loss to President Bush in the 2004 election, when some Democrats made
allegations of vote manipulation in Ohio, the state that ultimately
decided the race.
Experts estimated that thousands of voters did not vote in Ohio because
of poor preparation and long lines.
Carville said earlier this month that “it would be very, very, very
dramatic out there” if Obama lost, a statement some commentators
interpreted as predicting riots. In an interview Tuesday, however,
Carville said he did not explicitly predict rioting.
Other commentators have made such bold predictions.
“If [Obama] is elected, like with sports championships, people may go
out and riot,” said Bob Parks, an online columnist and black Republican
candidate for state representative in Massachusetts. “If Barack Obama
loses there will be another large group of people who will assume the
election was stolen from him….. This will be an opportunity for people who
want to commit mischief.”
Speculation about Election-Day violence has spread on the Internet,
especially on right-wing websites.
This has caught the attention of police departments in cities such as
Cincinnati, which saw race riots in 2001 after police shot a young black
“We’ve seen it on the Internet and we’ve heard that there could be
civil unrest depending on the outcome of [the election,]” said Lt. Mark
Briede of the Cincinnati Police Department. “We are prepared to respond in
the case of some sort of unrest or some sort of incident.”
Briede, like other police officials interviewed, declined to elaborate
on plans for Election Day. Many police departments have policies
prohibiting public discussion of security plans.
James Tate, second deputy chief of Detroit’s police department, said
extra manpower would be assigned to duty on Election Night. He said
problems could flare whichever candidate wins.
“Either party will make history and we want to prepare for celebrations
that will be on a larger scale than for our sports teams,” Tate
He noted that police had to control rioters who overturned cars after
the Tigers won the 1984 World Series.
“We’re prepared for the best-case scenario, we’re prepared for the
worst-case scenario,” he said. “The worst-case scenario could be a
situation that requires law enforcement.”
But Tate declined to describe what the worst-case scenario might look
like, speaking gingerly like other police officials who are wary of
implying that black voters are more likely than other voting groups to
Shelton said any racial or ethnic group would get angry if they felt
disenfranchised because of voting irregularities.
Police officials in Chicago, where Obama will hold a Nov. 4 rally, and
Philadelphia are also preparing for Election Day.
“The Chicago Police Department has been meeting regularly to coordinate
our safety and security plans and will deploy our resources accordingly,”
said Monique Bond, of the Chicago Police Department.
Frank Vanore, of the Philadelphia Police Department, said officials
were planning to mobilize to control exuberant or perhaps angry
demonstrations after the World Series, which pits the Phillies against the
Tampa Bay Rays.
He said the boosted police activity would “spill right over to the election.”