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The Out-of-control Spread of Crowd-Control Tech

The landscape outside the U.S. is similarly piecemeal

A crowd of protesters was squaring off against a battalion of riot police on a city boulevard as plumes of tear gas and dust clouded the afternoon light. 

It could have been Hong Kong or Santiago in 2019, Minneapolis or Portland in the summer of 2020, Tehran or Shanghai in the winter of 2022. But at this particular eruption of unrest in the spring of 2021—in Popayán, Colombia, a small city about 250 miles southwest of Bogotá—the basic grammar of protest and retaliation was about to take a harsh new shift.

Scores of young demonstrators were crouching behind a line of homemade shields, trying to hold back the authorities. Colombia had been in the midst of a general strike for more than two weeks, triggered by a series of tax increases handed down in the middle of a debilitating COVID shutdown. But as nationwide protests escalated in tandem with the state’s response to them, police brutality became the demonstrators’ main grievance. On the front line that afternoon in Popayán, a 22-year-old engineering student named Sebastian Quintero Munera took cover behind a piece of plywood spray-painted with the phrase “Alison We Are With You”—referring to a local teen who had died by suicide the previous morning after alleging that she’d been sexually assaulted in police custody. 

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