This week, controversial alt-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos caused chaos in Melbourne. Protesters clashed violently outside the Melbourne Pavilion, causing injuries and arrests amongst the participants. Melbourne police were unimpressed with what they considered to be the calculated actions of “certain professional protesters”.
This is not the first time Yiannopoulos’ actions have caused such strong reactions. In the USA, his speeches at universities and public forums have often been protested heavily against or cancelled in light of his controversial opinions and statements.
As a result, Yiannopoulos’ exercise to controversial free speech isn’t without consequence. As a result of the unrest on the streets, Victorian police have requested for greater ‘move-on’ powers that would allow them to control crowds that engage in protest activities. Likewise, the Australian Greens party had also tried to have Yiannopoulos banned from entering the country to attend his presentations.
How do we balance managing controversial events and the safety issues that inevitably ensue?
Banning Yiannopoulos from entering the country may have been one solution, but there are other similar events and public figures that can easily incite unrest on the streets as well.
It may well be that enhanced police powers are what is required for these kinds of events. The police are aware that professional protesters do indeed attend these gatherings with the intention of engaging in deliberate disruptions. Peaceful protests should also be welcomed for the sake of social engagement, especially if they are non-violent.
Planning is key. Police and security services should be able to interact with protesting elements at an event in advance and brief all parties involved to possible risks.
Likewise, protesters who value the integrity of their cause should be encouraged to assist the police in preventing more extremist or provocative actors from disrupting the event, regardless of whose side one may be on an issue. Protest groups generally prefer to maintain their reputation by disassociating with any elements that would make them look bad.
Communication is key, especially during events where passions may be inflamed by controversial characters like Yiannopoulous. He himself disagrees with violent protest, preferring provocative and outrageous words over actions.
In a country where debate should be respected as a measure of our democracy, it is necessary that society be able to speak out without fear of violent repercussion, especially if it makes our streets and communities unsafe.
Security planning should always be preventive, banning famous but controversial public figures from public activities will not always prevent violent protest.
Violence at these events brings unwanted attention to those who may not deserve it. Good communication, pre-planning and the consideration of sensible policing policies should always be considered to keep every hot head safe.
For assistance in security planning as well as threat and risk assessment services please do not hestiate to contact Agilient.
The Agilient Team