Kettling: What is it?

Kettling: What is it?
by Sue Basko

See also: Counter-Protesters and Counter-Demonstrators
see also: Masks and Bandannas at Protests

at a protest is when police form a cordon and squeeze protesters together to "capture" them.  Kettling is also when police form lines to keep protesters from escaping a certain perimeter.


Kettling is often illegal and/or dangerous.  If an order to disperse has been called after an unlawful assembly has been declared, the police are supposed let people leave.  Kettling may be considered a human rights violation because while kettled, people are often kept for hours without access to water, food, bathrooms, the ability to communicate with their families, etc.

People kettled in the Occupy protests have then often been kept for many hours without food, water, or toilet use.  Some have been severely beaten by police after being kettled.   Hundreds have had zip-ties placed too tightly on their wrists for many hours.  There are many reports of nerve damage and numbness to hands and fingers.

Police have started to use the term Frozen Zone, probably to try to avoid letting it be known they are engaged in dangerous kettling/ illegal tactics.  Frozen zone is an area into which no one will be let in or out, in other words, this is kettling with a set perimeter.  There can be smaller kettling within a frozen zone.  The idea of the existence of a frozen zone is also used by police as an excuse or reason to keep journalists and reporters out.  (At Chicago NATO 2012, the Federal Protective Service (FPS) used the term "Red Zone" to describe an area with many federal buildings that were being heavily guarded by the FPS, but movement within the zone was not restricted.)

Los Angeles November 2011: At the November 30, 2011 raid on Occupy L.A., an order to disperse was called for the park area.  Those not wishing to be arrested were told to leave.  A few hours later, a second order to disperse was called on a nearby street.  Many people have reported that, as they tried to leave, they were kettled by cordons of police.  Many people were arrested and/or beaten as they tried to leave.  These people left the area they were told to leave, only to meet up with traps laid for them blocks away.  Others were immediately trapped and arrested as they tried to follow the order to leave.  Please note there was no protester violence or property damage.  Scroll down to bottom of this page to watch video of woman describe her experience in the LA raid kettling.

Why?  In the Los Angeles situation, it appears the police were trying to get arrest numbers up to justify the expense of a huge raid involving 1400 officers in riot gear, helicopters,  etc.   The only way to do this was to arrest peaceful people simply trying to leave.   There is no other plausible explanation, since there was no violence or property damage occurring and no logical reason to keep people from freely leaving the area.  In this incident, the LAPD used the term frozen zone to explain their kettling tactics.

Oakland January 30, 2012:  In Oakland on January 30, 2012, police kettled hundreds of protesters on a street outside a YMCA.  A police officer announced over a loudspeaker that the people were under arrest for failure to disperse from an unlawful assembly and that the protesters were given 3 prior warnings and were now under arrest.  Spencer Mills, aka Oakfosho, reported that he heard no such warnings being given, and his  video coverage audio is in agreement that no such warnings were given, or were not given to that particular group in that location.   Out of the approximately 400 arrests that day, only 12 have resulted in charges being filed.  It certainly sounds as if about 380 people were arrested and subjected to hours of torment followed by hours or days in jail -- for no particular or legal reason.

Staying Safe:  You are more likely to stay safe at a protest if you avoid being near provocateur types.  Police will target in on them and you may be caught in the cauldron.  If you are near such people, move far away from them.  Also keep in mind that such provocateurs may be police plants.

If it is a sidewalk protest, stay on the sidewalk; do not walk into the street.  If someone is leading people into the street, it is a provocateur or police plant or just bad leadership.  In any case, there is no logical reason to follow.

Safety from Police.   When the police are creating lines of officers to keep people from leaving a protest, as was done at the Occupy L.A. eviction, it is confusing as to what to do.  Some people have reported that they politely cooperated as they were detained by a line of police,  only to find themselves being arrested and sent to jail for several days on bogus charges.  Their physical safety and human rights were violated while in custody.  Others ran to flee and were beaten.  Others maneuvered cleverly enough to evade capture.   In such a situation, it helps to have quick-thinking ninja skills.  It seems there are no right answers when wrong things are happening, and you need to do what you can to protect your own safety.

It seems a full outside investigation should be done on this L.A. incident. In other kettling incidents worldwide, there have been investigations and lawsuits.  Kettling is often considered illegal and a violation of human rights.  

 Wikipedia has a good article about other kettling incidents.