"Which is worse? The wolf who cries before eating the lamb or the wolf who does not."— Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

PBS Journalist Arrested During September 24th Protest: Observations of a Jailed Journalist |

Nets are Nuts:  What's Wrong With What Happened on September 24th.

WNET or Channel Thirteen is the main PBS affiliate in New York City.

This is an article by WNET's MetroFocus Web Editor John Farley who was scooped up into one of those orange soylent green type crowd control nets and arrested while he was covering the protest on September 24th.  I've reproduced an extended excerpt of the article below at the end of the post.  Farley's article makes the point that the use of nets to make mass arrests in an urban residential neighborhood  is absurd:
"In a sudden burst of urban chaos, how can the police distinguish between passersby and protesters who may be committing civil disobedience or any other type of punishable offense? Or between citizen journalists and professional journalists?"
Farley is the one kneeling in the photo below.  The direction of view is from the south side of 12th street looking west toward 5th Avenue.  There is a person in orange at the top right hand corner of the photo.  I was standing behind and to the right of this person just outside the borders of the photo but had been moved off by the police by the time this photo was taken.  Right next to the kneeling man in the dark shirt and just below the man wearing orange you will see what looks like a big cotton ball.  It is the head of a senior citizen with snow white hair.  By the way, Kneeling on concrete is very painful if you are forced to do it for any extended period of time.

From a public policy and civil rights perspective there are three main problems with what occurred on September 24th:

1) Hard take-downs of non-violent protestors constitutes unreasonable force, is dangerous and should be immediately discontinued. 

Has someone ever picked up a concrete block and hit you with it?  Didn't think so.  But that is what it is like to be body slammed onto a New York city concrete sidewalk.  Every year people die in falls that result from their head hitting a concrete sidewalk.  This is a dangerous practice that needs to stop immediately. It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that pepper spraying non-violent protestors and prodding restrained detainees with batons are criminal assaults that should be prosecuted.

2) The Police Should Not Arrest People for Speech.

Dozens of people were arrested by the police in retaliation for yelling, shouting or even talking to them.  One girl was videotaped being arrested after she told an officer not to touch her as  he tried to get people to move.  A man from the neighborhood walking with his twelve year old daughter - who was not involved in the protests - tried to ask an officer questions and was told to go home or he would be arrested.  There was no public emergency or security danger that justified threatening people with arrest for watching police conduct and asking them questions. 

3) Nets are Nuts:  You cannot use large nets to conduct mass arrests of people in an urban residential neighborhood. Period.  How would you feel if you're fourteen year old daughter was walking home from school and got swept up into a net without any opportunity to explain who she is and why she was there until hours after the arrest. The use of nets as a "crowd control" measure in a residential neighborhood clearly constitutes an unreasonable seizure and the practice should be discontinued immediately. 

"Throughout that day we noticed many protesters using their mobile devices to document their own experience, sometimes for themselves or their own blogs, sometimes to share with bona fide media organizations. So, midday this past Saturday, Sept. 24, we headed to Union Square, where the Occupy Wall Streetprotesters had marched that morning from Lower Manhattan.

When we first arrived on the scene, protesters were marching along the sidewalk in unison, chanting. There was no sense of chaos. Many held video and audio recording devices, including camera phones.

However, the stream of protesters did disrupt traffic. Pedestrians wove in and out of the mass of protesters, some on their way to do Saturday errands, others who joined in for a block or two, chanting with the masses.

Sam and I were on the sidewalk observing the action. She was taking photographs, while I was juggling my reporter’s notebook and the audio recorder we’d brought along to interview protesters about how they were using media throughout the day.

As more people spilled into the street, police started to demand that protesters stay on the sidewalk. But as people seemed to be retreating from harm’s way, police began pushing the protesters. I saw police use large nets to corral people en masse. I watched as police pepper sprayed several young women in the face. (An NYPD spokesperson confirmed the use of pepper spray to Metro Focus.) I saw senior citizens and teenagers get arrested.  I saw about 20 or 30 police officers tackle people and prod them roughly with police batons."

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