On November 3, 2011, I witnessed the first arrest of Pittsburgh’s Occupy Wall Street movement. After Pittsburgh’s Oakland Solidarity march had concluded and split up, the group of protesters I was with were invited to see speakers at a public Student Justice for Palestine meeting—only to be partially blocked by Pitt police, who told us we weren’t allowed in campus buildings. Some of the group made it in before the block, some made it in as others were arguing with police, and some were snuck in through a back door by event facilitators. Among the latter group was Bud, an Occupy Pittsburgh camp resident and ‘zine writer who’d just told me he had cell phone video of the cops swearing at and threatening him.
At one point those of us still outside thought things were being cleared up. I got a message that the Pitt Police Chief Delaney was inside talking to the group about the “confusion”—and when I turned around a group of cops had Bud bent over the hood of their squad car.
His girlfriend kissed him as they were cuffing him; he told her he loved her, and to tell their son he’d been arrested for a good cause. None of the officers there would tell us why he was being arrested; one mocked the protesters who demanded a reason. Less than ten minutes after he was shoved into the backseat of a squad car and taken away, we were all officially allowed into the building—and when Bud was finally released, he reported the incriminating videos on his phone had all been erased.
But if not for the attention given here, online, the only record of what went on is a line in a police report: a guy cited for trespassing.
A few days later, I discussed this with a friend over tea. Monetarily, he told me, stories like that weren’t worth much for a news organization or site to run. The attention they’d draw would be nominal. To me this sounds like part of the reason it took mainstream media so long to run OWS stories, and why attention to the goings-on has so often been minimal and/or dismissive. This is also why I’ll make a point of writing about what’s happening out there—and why others should do the same. The Occupy Wall Street movement has brought to light any number of unpleasantries: just how ready cities are to use militarized police against their citizens; just how delinquent mainstream media is when it comes to covering social issues and movements; just how bad spin and misinformation can be when those two intersect.
So to whoever’s listening, from indie media to any of you bloggers with revolutionary inclinations or half-considered daydreams of photojournalism: Our media has overwhelmingly become farcical. Far too many news outlets repeat whatever they think will be easiest to digest or whatever they’re told, no matter the reports from people on the ground. Thus the videotaped beatings of UC Berkley students become “nudges” of police batons; the mass arrests of reporters and legal observers and medics and bystanders morphs into the arrest of “anarchists and provocateurs.” For all of our safety, this can not be allowed. You’re the new guard, the ones who’ll not flinch from telling the entire story; the ones who’ll keep the rest of us from being in the dark. You are of dire importance. Our words and our cameras and our share buttons are the only things that can guarantee police accountability. Be there.
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