The only winning move is not to play

Like many, many others, I’ve been following the events in Ferguson, Missouri with a mixture of fascination and horror. After a couple of nights of reading reports of post-curfew tear gas, armed protesters, tanks, and automatic weapons, it strikes me that escalation on either side of this dispute is a strategy that can only end in wholesale tragedy. Perhaps an alternative approach should be considered.

Simplistically, and possibly naively, there are three classes of agents to consider: Protesters, agitators, and the Police Department.

Protesters are non-violent and exercising their right to protest against a situation they feel is unfair to try to affect change. Agitators are civilians who are using the protests to further their own agenda. The Police Department are the people in camo, pointing automatic weapons, and riding tanks. They are trying to keep the situation under control and avoid innocents being hurt in the process.

It’s clear that the agitators cause the police to escalate, the police escalation causes the protesters to escalate, and more agitators to join. The end game is Global Thermonuclear War.

There are, I think, three potential alternative strategies:

Protesters stay away
This leaves the streets clear for the Police Department to more effectively identify and deal with the Agitators.

Police Department stay away
This is a potentially more dangerous strategy that allows the Protesters to demonstrate and be heard. However, the Agitators are left without control. This may allow the Protesters to separate themselves from the Agitators but at significant risk to themselves.

Protesters and Police Department stay away
With nowhere to hide, the Agitators are trivial to identify. However, it isn’t clear what they’ll do in that situation. Perhaps looting, vandalism, maybe random acts of violence. Best case, they get bored and leave. Worst case, they run wild over the town.

Either way, the continued cycle of military-enforced curfew and escalating protests, and increased attention from unwanted elements, can only end in further and significantly more devastating consequences.

How about a nice game of chess, indeed.

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