From May 19-21, 2012, Chicago hosted the NATO summit. Thousands of people participated in protests against NATO and the war in Afghanistan. At numerous times, riot police attacked protesters, primarily with batons. Many people suffered head injuries and required medical treatment.
Despite the thousands of police deployed and their violent assaults, protests continued and in some cases broke through police lines. There was also a Black Bloc during the May 20 protest, reportedly numbering 100-150.
But what I really want to talk about is the militants seemingly preferred choice of disguise during these actions: the bandana.
A lot of the masks worn in Chicago, from the images and videos I’ve seen, were not sufficient. Even some of the Black Bloc look a little sloppy. The worst one has got to be the bandana. It might look cool, might seem ‘gangsta’, but the bandana is not a good disguise. It has a lot of uses, but a disguise isn’t one of them.
The problem with the bandana is that it slips down the front of your face after any extensive physical action. And wearing just one, over the bottom of the face, as many appear to have done in Chicago, does not disguise who you are.
Nowadays, the high level of surveillance in society requires that those seeking to protect their identity use more effective means. When there are hundreds or thousands of people in the street, you can count on there being nearly as many recording devices, including cell phones, video cameras, and digital cameras.
And this doesn’t even include the CCTV cameras in stores, intersections, and some streets in downtown areas, or the surveillance being carried out by the cops. And then there’s the media cameras, not just corporate media but alternative or radical media as well.
The best means of protecting your identity against such surveillance is to completely cover the head and face. A ski mask or balaclava is ideal, especially when worn with sunglasses (which can also provide some protection against pepper spray). A baseball cap, hoodie, sunglasses, and a cut off t-shirt sleeve over the lower face, is a better disguise than a bandana. A t-shirt tied around your head is better than a bandana. A Guy Fawkes/V for Vendetta mask, whilst wearing a hoodie, is better than a bandana.
Protecting your identity also means concealing tattoos or other distinct body parts, hair colour, piercings, etc. Militants should all wear long-sleeved tops, irregardless of the weather, to present as uniform an appearance as possible.
I don’t know how Chicago cops handle public order situations or how they investigate them. But here in Vancouver, and Seattle, and in other cities, the cops frequently make appeals to the public to send in all their photos and videos for investigators to use in identifying people. They also order corporate media outlets to hand over all their footage. They feed all this digital media into a computer program that identifies and tracks distinguishing features such as clothing, logos, patches, tattoos, hair colour, shoe type, etc.
Along with being able to identify and track people over an extended time and from various camera angles, in Vancouver the police used these to produce wanted posters for suspects after the 2011 Canucks hockey riot. Posters were distributed and a website established for the public to view and identify suspects on-line. Vigilante citizens also trolled Facebook immediately after the Canucks riot and saved incriminating statements and images left by those who had participated in the riot.
Maybe the Chicago cops don’t know about this new technology, they look awfully stupid from what I’ve seen. But somebody might tell them about it, and then all those hours of footage covering the protest marches can suddenly become very incriminating for anyone involved in the actions, and especially those that had to do something deemed “illegal” by the authorities.