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Targeting Journalists Covering OWS Protests

January 8th, 2012

by Stephen Lendman

On September, 17, 2011, US Day of Rage.org organized protests in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, OR, and Austin, TX.

They hoped many more would follow, grow, and spread nationwide. Indeed they have to over 1,000 large and small cities, towns, and communities.

"We have had enough," they said. "Help us reclaim democracy." Currently, many social justice issues drive them. In response, police violence confronts them.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan admitted coordinating crackdown efforts with counterparts in other cities.

Examiner.com reporter Rick Ellis said an anonymous federal official told him that "in several (late 2011) conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules."

They were also "advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear."

Last October, Obama duplicitously said, "(W)e are on their side."

He's a serial liar. He solely supports wealth, power, and imperial dominance. He deplores rule of law principles, democratic values, and social justice. He's ravaging the world one country at a time and waging war at home against dissent. His new indefinite military detention law targets OWS, other like-minded activists, and anyone threatening US hegemony.

Washington began aiding cities confront OWS protesters violently before it passed. FBI officials are involved on tactics and perhaps directly. They advised that evictions be conducted late night or pre-dawn when local press coverage is absent or minimal.

Homeland Security's Federal Protective Service arrested an Occupy Portland photographer. Moreover, federal and undercover police provocateurs often disrupt public protests violently.

Department of Defense training manuals call protests "low-level terrorism." An FBI memo says peace protesters are "terrorists." Throughout his tenure, Obama's destroyed human rights and civil liberties than Bush II.

Journalists are singled out and targeted. On January 7, Press TV said nearly 40 journalists have been arrested since September protests began. In early January, technicians working for Global Revolution were arrested for streaming live OWS protest video.

Journalists have been harassed, arrested, handcuffed, and beaten for doing their job. Free Press.net's Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director Josh Stearns reported last November that 10 New York-based journalists were violently arrested in an early morning raid.

They were trying to cover Zuccotti Park evictions. Police accused them of trespassing. They all had valid NYPD-issued press passes.

In response, last November, New York-based journalists formed the Coalition for the First Amendment. It consists of 13 membership organizations representing mainly New York City journalists.

International Press Institute (IPI) executive director Alison Bethel McKenzie said:

"This attempt by New York City authorities to hinder the work of journalists reporting on a matter of vital public interest is completely unacceptable. Journalists must be allowed to operate in a climate free from harassment and intimidation - and above all, free from the use of violence. We insist that the NYPD respect the rights of all members of the media, who play an essential role in a health democracy."

IPI, other groups, and First Amendment advocates expressed concern about similar confrontations nationally. Earlier, IPI reported journalist arrests in Oakland, Milwaukee, Tennessee, and student journalists in Atlanta.

Concerned New York Press Club members got involved. They're now monitoring police/press relations on constitutional rights issues.

On November 15, in an open letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, they protested police harassment and arrests of reporters covering OWS protests. They urged investigations and assurances these practices end. Nonetheless, they continue violently against protesters, journalists, and others nearby.

Mayor Bloomberg defends them disingenuously, saying it's done "to protect members of the press." He also accused protesters of "deliberately pursu(ing) violence." In fact, they're entirely peaceful, even when rogue cops beat them.

Nonetheless, Bloomberg claimed police "maintained incredible restraint" despite video and witness confirmation of brutality.

Police Commissioner Kelly also says future arrests will be handled the same way. In response, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer strongly condemned them. Calling them "outrageous," he said "Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square."

First Amendment Coalition (FAC) Activism

Founded in 1988 as the California First Amendment Coalition, its activities later went national. It's "dedicated to advancing free speech, more open and accountable government, and public participation in civic affairs."

It's activities include:

  • free legal help for journalists, activists, academics, and others on First Amendment issues;
  • "strategic litigation" for First Amendment rights;
  • educational and informational efforts through conferences, books, and online material;
  • "legislative oversight of bills affecting access to government; and
  • public advocacy through" op-eds and public appearances.

Police Brutality 101

On November 25, Naomi Wolf's London Guardian article headlined, "The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy," saying:

OWS protesters and journalists faced "unparallelled police brutality" in coordinated nationwide crackdowns. Militarized cops in riot gear beat, pepper-sprayed, and otherwise harmed nonviolent men and women, young and old, workers and unemployed, veterans and opposing off-duty police, and other joining them for social justice.

"The National Union of Journalists (filed) a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to investigate possible federal involvement," including efforts targeting journalists.

On November 21, even New York Times writer Michael Powell commented in his article titled, "Reporters Meet the Fists of the Law," saying:

"Over several days, New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers."

While taking notes, AP and Daily News reporters were arrested. So was a radio reporter recording material near Zuccotti Park.

Post-9/11, "police have grown accustomed to forcibly penning, arresting, and sometimes spraying and whacking protesters and reporters."

In one of many incidents, police assaulted a photographer for doing his job. They "ran at him, grabbed (a) barrier and struck him in the chest, knees, and shins." Similar violence now occurs nationwide. Protesters, journalists, and even public officials and distinguished figures are affected.

In mid-November, rogue cops violently shoved New York Supreme Court Justice Karen Smith against a wall. She represented the National Lawyers Guild as a legal observer. She intervened to stop a mother from being beaten. For her efforts, she was assaulted.

A New York City council member was also beaten, and in Berkeley, CA, police assaulted former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass with batons.

On January 2, Times writer Powell again commented in an article headlined, "The Rules on News Coverage Are Clear, but the Police Keep Pushing," saying:

NYPD assaults on journalists continue. Reporter Ryan Devereaux is "Exhibit 1A that all is not well. On Dec. 17," he covered a Duarte Square protest. "A linebacker-size officer grabbed (his) collar." His visible ID identified him as a reporter.

Nonetheless, "(t)he cop jammed a fist into his throat, turning (him) into a de facto battering ram to push back protesters."

Devereaux yelled "I'm a journalist." The cop yelled "Push, boys!" Brutality it continued. An AP photographer captured it.

On New Year's eve, "a (police) captain began pushing Colin Moynihan," a Times reporter. When he complained, he was threatened with losing his press credentials.

A Final Comment

First Amendment rights and local regulations are clear. Civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel, State Senator Eric Adams, and two others wrote Commissioner Kelly, saying:

"The media will be given access as close to the activity as possible, with a clear line of sight and within hearing range of the incident."

Instead, police assault and prevent reporters from doing their job. Mayoral press representatives claim they act responsibly. One spokesman told Powell:

"It is impossible to say the reporters were not breaking the law." In fact, they were doing their job responsibly. According to Senator Adams who's also a retired police captain:

"If the police and the mayor won't" observe First Amendment rights and "follow their own rules, whose rules will they follow?"

And who'll defend private citizens, including journalists, when federal and city officials abuse them?

Angry but undaunted, social justice protests continue because quitting's not an option.

It can't be at a time America's headed for full-blown tyranny too unacceptable to tolerate.

-###-

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/.

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