The Worst Part About Police Kettles is How Utterly Boring They Are.
Kettles somehow make getting arrested about as exciting as waiting in line at the DMV. Over the course of hours, police take a unified crowd, moving with purpose, and transform it into a collection of nervous individuals, waiting to be individually processed. When police kettle a march it goes from being a vibrant protest to a few hundred people in the middle of a park or street all thinking about how much they have to pee. A police kettle is meant to give you as long as possible to sit with your thoughts, with nothing else to do, thinking about all the shit you have to do in the morning, and how much more tedious it will all be if you, specifically, get arrested between now and then.
They also take FOREVER. On March 12th, in Portland, Oregon, police kettled a protest marking the 1 year anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s murder. Over the course of about 3 hours, a crowd of over 100 was whittled down, with individuals being photographed and released, until only a small handful were arrested. The process took so long that several police cruisers ran down their batteries, and required jumper cables.
This is noteworthy only because it serves as a reminder that Portland is not used to kettles. PPB is clearly out of practice. Protesters haven’t seen the tactic since 2017, though PPB has been floating the idea of reviving the tactic since January.
Elsewhere, kettles are commonplace. Like REALLY commonplace. Most major cities use kettling as a standard crowd control tactic. Every protest I’ve ever attended outside of Oregon, prior to 2020, tear gas deployment was rare. Kettles were almost guaranteed. During the anti-globalization protest of the early 2000s, DC police made a habit of periodically kettling sectors of large marches inside rows of riot police 3 officers deep. As of 2002, the NYPD didn’t even consider kettling a form of detention unless they started asking for ID. Being stuck inside traffic barricades for close to an hour was commonplace.
There’s not a lot of legal pushback over temporary detentions. Mass arrests, on the other hand, are more legally dubious. This reporter eventually bought a car with class-action settlement money from a kettling that ended in mass arrest. (If this is part of your financial planning: The settlement payout took almost 10 years, and it was a used car. It was a *cheap* used car.)
What tends to get kettles in trouble, though, is that anyone arrested at the end of a kettle has to be individually suspected of a crime before the detention takes place, i.e. before the kettle starts.
Kettles shut down roadways more effectively than a march ever could. This has been used to good effect by protesters in the past, who became practiced at using police cordons to shut down traffic, so they didn’t have to. Such a tactic is much more effective during daytime or business hours, rather than on vacant streets late at night, when the police will face no pushback for blocking traffic. This is also the basis for actions like die-ins and other passive demonstrations that aim to use resources, time and police response.
As with any time that you’re detained, kettling faces protesters with the choice of giving ID and being quickly released, or invoking their 5th amendment rights. John & Jane Does, especially those who would have to be held over the weekend prior to arraignment, clog up the system and eventually get the courts cranky at the cops. The closer the size of a mass arrest is to the maximum holding capacity of your local police precinct, the more refusing to give ID clogs up the system, or forces the cops to give up and release people without ID. This only works if lots of people are prepared for it, by not bringing ID, making sure a friend is feeding your cat/children, you don't have meds to take, and people can move your car before it gets towed. However, if the goal is to have police shut down rush hour traffic, far more effectively than your 50 protest buddies could, then refusing to give ID for a few hours, then giving your name and leaving seems like a great plan. This works best if you don’t have any warrants or things that make giving your name a bad idea.
Lastly, we want to bring up a couple of (Oregon) laws to remember. WE ARE NOT LAWYERS, just some punks on the internet who have not had enough time to call a lawyer for their opinion.
Passive resistance is not a crime in Oregon. according to ORS 162.247(3b): A person engaging in passive resistance (such as going limp rather than walking themselves to the arrest van) does not commit the crime of Interfering with a Peace Officer. Refusing to follow an officer's orders passively has also been successfully argued. In addition ORS 162.315(2c): Passive resistance is not resisting arrest. on the other hand, lying to police will absolutely get you in trouble if they find out.
As for the police taking photos of each individual last night and filming the mass detention: ORS 181A.250 states that “No law enforcement agency, may collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views associations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities and there are reasons to suspect that the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct.” So as punks and not lawyers this seems like maybe they would really want to be sure that everyone that was in the street that they film and photograph was engaged in a crime because otherwise the police might just be collecting political affiliations of people. but it's not like group punishment of individual actions wasn't happening with tear gas.