Kettling: Why is this police tactic so controversial?

In any sufficiently large protest, police officers may "kettle" protesters. Critics say it violates human rights, while advocates claim its one of the few safe tools available to police during a protest.

  • "Kettling" is when police form a cordon surrounding a group of protesters, immobilizing them for hours or directing them to a single exit.
  • It's an effective tactic to control the movements of a crowd, but it also catches people indiscriminately — journalists, protesters, rioters, innocent civilians — and cuts people off from food, water, and toilets for hours.
  • Some police officers have taken advantage of kettles to abuse protesters, but its still seen as one of the few effective ways to control a potentially violent crowd.

In 2017, Saint Louis police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty of the first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. The verdict was controversial as there was DNA evidence that Stockley had planted a handgun in Smith's car, ostensibly as justification for the shooting. So, on September 15, 2017, the citizens of St. Louis held a series of protests.

A few days later, 1,000 people protested outside of downtown St. Louis's police headquarters. To control the crowd, police formed a cordon around certain protestors, restricting their movement. This was the controversial "kettle," a police tactic designed to either hold protesters until they calm down (in theory) or to direct their movement through a single exit point.

In this particular kettle, however, it was clear that the tactic served as an excuse to beat the protesters caught within it. Although about ten journalists caught in the kettle attested to this fact, the news only came to the fore once it was revealed that three officers had beaten and wrongfully arrested an undercover police officer. In the ensuing investigation, it became clear that the officers had exchanged texts prior to the protests, such as "let's whoop some ass," and — with a complete lack of self-awareness — "It's gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of these shitheads once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!" These officers were eventually indicted for their actions.

Setting the kettle to boil

Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

A man yells at a law enforcement officer during a protest action following a not guilty verdict of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, who was charged with first-degree murder last year in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011.

This is just one example of kettling, and it obviously paints a certain picture of the practice. But there's good reason why the tactic has come under fire: Incidents like the one described above have happened before, and no matter what, everybody in the area gets caught up in the kettle, whether they're peaceful protesters, rioters, journalists, or uninvolved citizens. On the other hand, advocates argue that the tactic is one of the few relatively safe and peaceful ones available to police when a protest gets out of control. Despite the need for such a method, it's clear that kettling is ripe for abuse.

For example, during the 2009 G20 protests in London, police formed a kettle around a group of protesters by the Bank of England. The kettle lasted for seven hours, forcing some protesters to relieve themselves on the street without access to toilets. When the kettle was opened to release some of the "pressure," protesters had their photographs taken and were asked for their names and addresses. Although the law did not require them to supply this information, those who refused were pushed back to the kettle. And since kettles are by their very nature indiscriminate, there would be no guarantee that the individuals who were forced to supply this information would have done anything wrong.

During the 2003 Iraq War protests in Chicago, police kettled more than 800 protesters, arresting them without giving them a notice to disperse — which would have been quite pointless since they were trapped in the kettle anyhow. Courts ruled that the mass arrest was conducted without probable cause, and the city of Chicago was later forced to pay a $6.2 million settlement to the protesters.

A useful tool or a violation of human rights?

Despite these and other examples of kettling's risk and potential for abuse, the practice remains a legal one. In 2012, the practice was challenged in court as a violation of article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that everybody has the right to liberty and security of person. Three individuals who had been part of a kettle during anti-globalization protests and riots held in London in 2001 argued that the kettle had "deprived [them] of their liberty." However, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the tactic was lawful, setting precedent and providing tacit approval for police to continue to form kettles around protesters.

While the fact that it is indiscriminate and denies people food, water, and access to toilets for hours is problematic enough, kettling also provides more opportunities for bad actors amongst the police to abuse others and get away with it. The Saint Louis police officers serve as a testament to that fact. Without it, however, how are police to contain and control bad actors amongst protesters and demonstrators? The vast majority of protesters don't want their movements to be associated with violence and rioting — how then can police deal with violent rioters without kettling at their disposal? The answer is unclear, but it is clear that so long as the practice remains in police officers' toolkits, we will continue to see headlines blaming police-protestor violence on kettling.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

Surprising Science
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
Keep reading Show less

Robot pizza delivery coming later this year from Domino's

The pizza giant Domino's partners with a Silicon Valley startup to start delivering pizza by robots.

Technology & Innovation
  • Domino's partnered with the Silicon Valley startup Nuro to have robot cars deliver pizza.
  • The trial run will begin in Houston later this year.
  • The robots will be half a regular car and will need to be unlocked by a PIN code.

Would you have to tip robots? You might be answering that question sooner than you think as Domino's is about to start using robots for delivering pizza. Later this year a fleet of self-driving robotic vehicles will be spreading the joy of pizza throughout the Houston area for the famous pizza manufacturer, using delivery cars made by the Silicon Valley startup Nuro.

The startup, founded by Google veterans, raised $940 million in February and has already been delivering groceries for Kroger around Houston. Partnering with the pizza juggernaut Domino's, which delivers close to 3 million pizzas a day, is another logical step for the expanding drone car business.

Kevin Vasconi of Domino's explained in a press release that they see these specially-designed robots as "a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey," adding "The opportunity to bring our customers the choice of an unmanned delivery experience, and our operators an additional delivery solution during a busy store rush, is an important part of our autonomous vehicle testing."

How will they work exactly? Nuro explained in its own press release that this "opportunity to use Nuro's autonomous delivery" will be available for some of the customers who order online. Once they opt in, they'll be able to track the car via an app. When the vehicle gets to them, the customers will use a special PIN code to unlock the pizza compartment.

Nuro and its competitors Udelv and Robomart have been focusing specifically on developing such "last-mile product delivery" machines, reports Arstechnica. Their specially-made R1 vehicle is about half the size of a regular passenger car and doesn't offer any room for a driver. This makes it safer and lighter too, with less potential to cause harm in case of an accident. It also sticks to a fairly low speed of under 25 miles an hour and slams on the breaks at the first sign of trouble.

What also helps such robot cars is "geofencing" technology which confines them to a limited area surrounding the store.

For now, the cars are still tracked around the neighborhoods by human-driven vehicles, with monitors to make sure nothing goes haywire. But these "chase cars" should be phased out eventually, an important milestone in the evolution of your robot pizza drivers.

Check out how Nuro's vehicles work: