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The World in Protests: From Climate to Inflation to Abortion

Wherever you turn, tensions are high. The past week saw a wave of widespread protests and civil unrest in response to judicial decisions, alleged inaction on climate change, food insecurity, and economic turmoil.

Regardless of the cause, mass protests have the potential for physical conflicts, and security professionals must understand their risks and prepare appropriately.

“Over the weekend, nearing the peak of vacation season, we witnessed protests and marches in nearly all U.S. cities, large and small,” says Jennifer Hesterman, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and the author of Soft Target Hardening: Protecting People from Attack, 2nd Edition. “Unsuspecting citizens were trapped in cars, public transportation, offices, and businesses, waiting out the passing crowd. Thankfully, there were only minor scuffles and light property damage—but these are highly-charged, emotional events that can rapidly escalate, as we saw during June 2020 human rights protests.

“It was not a surprise to see multiple threat actors and extremist groups, of all ideologies, leveraging current events to further their goals,” she continues. “They may not even care about the issue at hand, but seek to cause more instability, get attention for their issue or they just want an avenue to vent their anger. Their presence throws gasoline on the fire and can quickly turn a peaceful protest into a violent event.”

Triggering events can be small or large—from a small price hike to a landmark legal decision—but they act upon a larger cultural and political environment, Diego Andreu, CPP, told Security Management in 2021.

“In this very socially charged environment where things go viral very quickly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pinpoint which incidents are going to potentially trigger a riot or civil unrest,” said Andreau, principal in Control Risks' Crisis and Security Consulting Department. “What we need to acknowledge is that in an environment where things are already so supercharged and everybody’s already feeling anxious and on the edge of their seats, anything that could be controversial can be that spark—a group on the left, on the right, or in the middle can use it as their justification for civil unrest and rioting.

“It’s less about the trigger event and more about the context and the environment,” he continued.

Security professionals will need to closely monitor these tension levels and gauge crowd dynamics to respond quickly and appropriately to changes.

“The current protests are starting at the courthouse or in a main town square or park,” Hesterman says. “It is inevitable the group will eventually move into the nearby streets and neighborhoods. The good news is most groups ‘plan in plain sight’ with regard to logistics like where to park, meet, march, etc. Twitter is a good source to learn about planned and spontaneous protests and rallies. Groups also use Facebook in this capacity, for organizing convoys, buses, and carpools to travel to a protest location.

“Plan and prepare if you live, work, or own a business in these areas,” she tells Security Management. “Take down flags, signage, and remove vehicle stickers that might serve as triggers to the crowd. Lock your doors, secure your property as best you can, and consider leaving the area for the day.

“If you choose to stay, do not engage the crowd, and if authorities recommend vacating the property, follow their guidance,” she advises. “A Charleston, South Carolina, restaurant stayed open during a protest in 2020 to serve a VIP. The manager felt the property was threatened and fired shots into the sky, which is a felony. Avoid putting yourself in the situation.”

With this context, here’s a brief rundown of some of the major protests and civil unrest from the past few days.

Abortion Decision Drives Nationwide Marches

The U.S. Supreme Court decided on 24 June to overturn Roe v. Wade, effectively ending federal legal protections for abortion nationwide. Multiple U.S. states enacted so-called trigger laws minutes after the decision was announced, halting abortions in those states entirely.

The emotionally charged issue drew mass protests and marches across the United States. Near the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., thousands of abortion rights activists marched and chanted outside the heavily guarded building. While the protests were largely peaceful, the full Metropolitan Police Department (D.C.'s police force) was activated throughout the weekend to respond to potential vandalism or violence. Capitol Police said two people were arrested for allegedly throwing paint over the fence by the Supreme Court building.

Elsewhere, protests were less peaceful.

In Phoenix, Arizona, police fired tear gas at 7,000 to 8,000 abortion rights supporters who were demonstrating at the state capitol. The protest was mostly peaceful, but the state’s Department of Public Safety said that a few protesters were banging on the windows of the state senate, allegedly trying to break the glass. Police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly, the Arizona Republic reported. After some protesters pushed down temporary fencing around the building on 25 June, police detained four people.

In Rhode Island, a Providence police officer who was running for state office allegedly punched his opponent in the face during an abortion protest, The Washington Post reported. He has since dropped out of the race.

Six people were arrested in a Greenville, South Carolina, protest. According to the BBC, pro-choice and anti-abortion activists were separated on either side of a road, but when a “violator” attempted to cross sides, police intervened, which sparked interference from other protesters.

Mass protests are expected to continue in response to the Supreme Court decision.

Inflation Raises Both Prices and Tensions

Wages are not keeping pace with rising food costs and soaring fuel bills, so workers worldwide are striking and staging protests, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

In the past week, protests emerged by the political opposition in Pakistan, nurses in Kimbabwe, unionized workers in Belgium, railway workers in the United Kingodm, Indigeneous people in Ecuador, and U.S. and European airline workers. The prime minister of Sri Lanka also declared an economic collapse.

In response to protests, some governments have hurried up support measures such as expanded subsidies for utility bills and cuts to fuel taxes, but that might offer little relief.

Wage stagnation is a key issue for workers, many of whose paychecks cannot keep up with rising prices for household staples—all while rents and fuel costs are increasing.

In Zimbabwe, the government offered healthcare professionals a 100 percent pay rise, but that does not come close to matching the 130 percent inflation in the country, nurses say. In Kenya, the price of food has jumped 12 percent in the past year. In Burkina Faso, the price of corn and millet has increased more than 60 percent (up to 122 percent in some provinces) since 2021, the UN World Food Program said.

“The situation is particularly dire for refugees and the poor in conflict areas such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Myanmar, and Haiti, where fighting has forced people to flee their homes and rely on aid organizations, themselves struggling to raise money,” the AP reported.

“‘How much for my kidney?’ is the question most asked of one of Kenya’s largest hospitals,” the article continued. “Kenyatta National Hospital reminded people on Facebook this week that selling human organs is illegal.”

Climate Change Protest Blocks Streets in Sydney

Blockade Australia activists disrupted key roads and a tunnel during rush hour today in Sydney, Australia, in protest of “Australia’s ecological disruption,” the BBC reported. Police said the protesters were “violent” and “erratic” during their march. The group also blocked streets with barricades, garbage bins, and other material. A woman used a car to block the Sydney Harbour Tunnel.

One driver drove through the protest and collided with people, although no injuries have been reported.

Hundreds Detained During LGBTQ Event in Turkey

More than 360 people were detained by police on 26 June after all LGBTQ events were outlawed last week in areas of Istanbul, Turkey. All detainees were freed today after giving police statements and undergoing health checks.

The governors of the Beyoglu and Kadikoy districts said the bans were meant to ensure safety, peace, and prevent crime, but Amnesty Turkey called the bans “extremely harsh” and “arbitrary.” Multiple streets and subway stations were closed to stop protesters from gathering.

While Pride events in Turkey took place from 2003 to 2014 (when up to 100,000 people attended), the 2015 march was dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannons after a last-minute ban, NPR reported. The event has been banned ever since.