(Washington Post) From civil rights protests to the Rodney King riots to the Battle for Seattle, police facing down large numbers of people often look the same: Stiff-jawed men wearing riot gear marching in synchronized lockstep. It’s apparently the textbook strategy both for self-defense and for crowd control.

But a new study suggests that it may also be a recipe for excessive force and police violence. What researchers call “synchrony” may give authorities a sense of power that encourages them to be more aggressive, the study suggests.

Police departments are acquiring major battlefield equipment that emboldens officials to strong-arm those they should be protecting. “Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality” (Autographed) chronicles how we got to this point.

“We have found that when men are walking in step with other men, they think that a potential foe is smaller and less physically formidable and less intimidating than when they’re just walking in no particularly coordinated manner with other men,” lead author Daniel Fessler, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Los Angeles, said in a university press release. “That calculation appears to make men who march with other men feel less vulnerable and more powerful and their potential foe more easily vanquished. We theorize that it also makes them more likely to use violence than they otherwise would be.”

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