Did you take part in a protest in NYC? Maybe you were there in August of 2004 for the big protest? (I was.) Guess what? You were probably on camera. Jim Dwyer's "New York Police Covertly Join In at Protest Rallies" in this morning's New York Times addresses the issue of how Michael Bloomberg's administration "persuaded a federal judge in 2003 to enlarge the Police Department's authority to conduct investigations of political, social and religious groups."
From the article:
In glimpses and in glaring detail, the videotape images reveal the robust presence of disguised officers or others working with them at seven public gatherings since August 2004.
The officers hoist protest signs. They hold flowers with mourners. They ride in bicycle events. At the vigil for the cyclist, an officer in biking gear wore a button that said, "I am a shameless agitator." She also carried a camera and videotaped the roughly 15 people present.
Beyond collecting information, some of the undercover officers or their associates are seen on the tape having influence on events. At a demonstration last year during the Republican National Convention, the sham arrest of a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders.
The article's an interesting one for the Times because, among other things, it's covering ground that the paper ignored in real time. From Dwyer's article today:
Another arrest that appeared to be a sham changed the dynamics of a demonstration. On Aug. 30, 2004, during the Republican National Convention, a man with vivid blond hair was filmed as he stood on 23rd Street, holding a sign at a march of homeless and poor people. A police lieutenant suddenly moved to arrest him. Onlookers protested, shouting, "Let him go." In response, police officers in helmets and with batons pushed against the crowd, and at least two other people were arrested.
The videotape shows the blond-haired man speaking calmly with the lieutenant. When the lieutenant unzipped the man's backpack, a two-way radio could be seen. Then the man was briskly escorted away, unlike others who were put on the ground, plastic restraints around their wrists. And while the blond-haired man kept his hands clasped behind his back, the tape shows that he was not handcuffed or restrained.
The same man was videotaped a day earlier, observing the actress Rosario Dawson as she and others were arrested on 35th Street and Eighth Avenue as they filmed "This Revolution," a movie that used actual street demonstrations as a backdrop. At one point, the blond-haired man seemed to try to rile bystanders.
The Poor People's March? Still We Rise? I'm assuming it was one of those of two marches (and guessing it's The Poor People's March). If I'm wrong, well the Times not only doesn't tell readers this morning what the protest was, it didn't cover it in real time. (There was some minor discussion at the paper about whether or not it was worth covering in real time. And it was noted that their NYT tips -- it's on page two of the main section in a bottom corner, the phone number and e-mail address to suggest stories -- had resulted in some readers suggesting the paper cover it.)
Now for those who don't read the Times or didn't read it then, let's note something. They not only had the main section to cover news stories, they also had a special section. During both the DNC and RNC conventions, the paper provided a special section supposedly devoted to events having to do with the conventions. The paper wasn't interested in the Poor People's March or Still We Rise. (As they continue their attacks in the coverage of the transit workers on strike, are we really surprised?) This despite the fact that some readers were interested and saw it as news and suggested the paper cover it. This despite the fact that the police were interested it. It appears a large number of people found it newsworthy, it's too bad the paper didn't as well.
Fortunately, there's Democracy Now! "Still We Rise: Poor People March Against the 'Bush-Kerry' Agenda" aired on August 31st:
AMY GOODMAN: As the Republican National Convention builds towards George W. Bush's acceptance speech on Thursday night, the streets continue to be filled with police and protestors. So far, more than 600 arrests have been made. Yesterday, there were two main marches, both organized by groups representing the poor and disenfranchised, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union held an un-permitted march, which went on for several hours before police dividing the marchers and arresting some of the demonstrators. Earlier in the day, the Still We Rise Coalition led an un-permitted march from Union Square to the heavily fortified and barricaded Madison Square Garden, where the Republican Convention was just kicking off. Filmmaker Rick Rowley of Big Noise Tactical Media was on the march and filed this report.
RICK ROWLEY: They marched for a range of causes under the shared banner of resistance to a political system that they say marginalizes poor communities and communities of color. While their protests came on the first day of the Republican National Convention, their anger was not only directed at George W. Bush. They marched against the agendas of both major political parties, the protestors were a mix of young people from urban or immigrant communities. They were working families and the economically disenfranchised.
PROTESTOR: This is a special day, in which poverty comes to the White House, comes to the republicans. That core of working people are taking to the streets. 35 organizations comprise the Still We Rise Coalition. And quite frankly, these are the communities that live the repression every day, right? So this is not [inaudible] – Today they’re going to say “ya basta! This is enough.” And these issues have come out to light.
PROTESTOR: Still We Rise. You can't hold us down. You can't hold us down. You take everything away from us, you can't hold us down. This is the poor people's march. You know, and we are, we represent New York City.
Still with Democracy Now!, also on August 31, "Thousands From Poor People's Campaign March From UN to Near Madison Square Garden:"
RICK ROWLEY: Protesters marched, chanted and went down Manhattan’s Second Avenue. The atmosphere was festive and the mood was peaceful, that is, until the police moved in. Several officers came into the crowd and targeted one protester. But oddly, they used no handcuffs as they exited past the police line. That situation became a chaotic situation. As protesters began chanting, let him go, the officers used force to complete the arrest. The police attack the crowd and made additional arrests. As protesters entered the pen, police attempted to split the march in two, first with a metal barricade and then by charging the crowd with mopeds and beating protesters back with batons.
POLICE OFFICER: Back up! Get the [beep] out! I tell you, get back. Get back. You do what i say or else -- don't push me, man. Why the hell are you staying here. Step back. Step back.
PROTESTER: I'm stepping back.
"Oddly, they used no handcuffs as they exited . . ." Oddly? Was this "the blond-haired man " described in the paper today, the one who's apparently an undercover officer present to disrupt?
For those wondering, Bill Keller was executive-editor of the paper then, Howell Raines had already left. The paper had the usual news section, it also had a section devoted to the convention and things surrounding it, it had some reporters interested in covering the protests, it had some readers requesting that the protests be covered, and of course the police were obviously interested in being present at the protest -- some in uniform some undercover. It was just some at the paper who had the ability to determine what made it into the paper, what was covered, and what didn't that didn't see it as news. It probably didn't help that the Poor Peoples March and Still We Rise could be seen as "class issues" because the paper doesn't really enjoy exploring those topics.
Dwyer has an article worth reading today. But the thing is, the details in it that will probably shock a great many readers, they were known in real time and the paper wasn't interested in covering them. Covering them didn't require putting reporters on planes to far off locations, it just required the paper showing interest in what was happening in their own backyard. But we saw with Bernie Kerik, the paper's not that interested in their own backyard. (It was left to the New York Daily News and other papers to break the stories of Bernie's love nest, at ground zero please note.)
We've noted Democracy Now!'s report by Elizabeth Press, "Critical Mass: Over 260 Arrested in First Major Protest of RNC," here before. That's another RNC related event the paper wasn't too interested in Critical Mass at the time but are interested in today. (They were more interested in Augst of 2005.) Dwyer's article is worth reading, but to grasp the scope of events, events the paper didn't care too much about in real time, you'll need to visit the archives of Democracy Now! and focus on the end of August and the start of September.
And of course you can check out Democracy Now! today to learn what the paper will tell you about . . . in a year to fifteen months. Because these days, the paper's history (never as glorious as the hype but better than it's present) is all it has going for it.
But are you finally satisifed
Is it what you were lookin' for
Or does it sneak up on you
That there might be something more
Now are you playing possum
Keeping a low profile
Are you just playing possum for awhile
-- "Playing Possum," words and music by Carly Simon off the Playing Possum album
Turning to a news outlet that doesn't play possum, Rod passes on the scheduled topics for today's Democracy Now!:
The Executive Director of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities on the federal budget cuts. Extraordinary Rendition with the editor of Agence-France Presse. And a transit worker joins us to discuss the strike.
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