Since Donald Trump became president, Americans are protesting in the streets more frequently and in bigger numbers than many places have seen in decades, and often with little warning. That has put pressure on law enforcement and prompted Republican legislators and committees in about a dozen states to propose cracking down on certain actions by demonstrators, the Wall Street Journal reports. Most of the rallies have been free of violence. Groups representing law enforcement say there is anecdotal evidence of stresses facing police, even as they haven’t seen estimates of additional costs or arrests. “We are entering a new era of protests, and for police, it’s a science and a balancing act,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. “They want to let protesters exercise their First Amendment rights, but there will be red lines if protesters want to block a highway.”
State legislative proposals to clamp down on protests have raised concern among civil-liberties groups. A measure defeated in North Dakota said that “a driver of a motor vehicle who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway is not guilty of an offense.” The trend toward spontaneous rallies challenges police practices of meeting with organizers beforehand to work out logistics. Police chiefs recommend using social media to lay out ground rules and approaching people who emerge as informal leaders, says PERF, which wrote a report on mass demonstrations for the Justice Department. Last week, Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus took the unconventional step of posting an 1,800-word “Dear residents” letter on Facebook after his department was accused of roughing up protesters at a pro-immigration rally.