Friday, March 17, 2006

NYT: "Police Files Say Arrest Tactics Calmed Protest" (Jim Dwyer)

Among the most effective strategies, one police captain wrote, was the seizure of demonstrators on Fifth Avenue who were described as "obviously potential rioters."
The reports provide a rare glimpse of internal police evaluations and strategies on security and free speech issues that have provoked sharp debate between city officials and political demonstrators since the Sept. 11 attack.
The reports also made clear what the police have yet to discuss publicly: that the department uses undercover officers to infiltrate political gatherings and monitor behavior.

The above is from Jim Dwyer's "Police Files Say Arrest Tactics Calmed Protest" in this morning's New York Times. It also notes that the documents contain a proposal to have undercover officers passing on "misinformation" and Paul J. Browne, spokesperson for NYPD, is quoted as saying, "The N.Y.P.D. does not use police officers in any capacity to distribute misinformation."

Is that true? Is it false? Coming from Browne, who danced "semantics" on a December 27, 2005 broadcast of Democracy Now! (Dwyer was also a guest), who knows? Excerpt:

AMY GOODMAN: And that issue, Paul Browne of undercover versus plain clothes, that Jim Dwyer just raised.
PAUL J. BROWNE: Well, there's two distinct functions here, what I’m talking about. Regardless of how he described them, that may not be important to your listeners, police officers who go to demonstrations in plain clothes are what we call anti-crime cops. They’re there for one purpose and that only. It has nothing to do with political surveillance. And that's the misleading part of that story. They're there to either intervene or to direct police intervention on some kind of lawbreaking that breaks out at that particular event.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do they get arrested?
PAUL J. BROWNE: They may get arrested or appear to be arrested just to keep functioning. I’m not certain that they did get arrested. I don't know who these individuals are, but assuming if some of them are police officers, they may be led away, as if they're under arrest, and then they continue to function.

[. . .]
AMY GOODMAN: Commissioner Browne?
PAUL J. BROWNE: Well, they are identified. They wear -- the officers who do videotaping are in -- are either in uniform or are wearing jackets that --
EILEEN CLANCY: That's absolutely not true, Commissioner Browne. I'm sorry, that's just absolutely not true. It's plainly visible. I mean, what comes to mind right away is a police officer wearing a black leather jacket and a Che Guevara t-shirt, that’s seen at many of these Critical Mass events, without any police identification whatsoever. This is typical.
PAUL J. BROWNE: Well, I can tell you, they wear wind jackets that say TARU on the back. It's a technical --
AMY GOODMAN: Some do. I think it's quite clear some do, some don't. We have been showing videotape of people who are, whatever you call, undercover or plainclothes.
PAUL J. BROWNE: Well, I don’t know. You’re saying they’re undercover. I explained, I know it may not be an important difference to you, but it’s a very important difference --
AMY GOODMAN: I said undercover or plainclothes.

So, with Browne for a source, who knows what's going on?

But the big point appears to be that the police reports are maintaining that arrests of "potential rioters" is 'effective.' What constitutes effective?

If we throw out the Constitution, we could probably imprison a great many more people (probably quite a few who were guilty as charged). That could be dubbed 'effective' as well.

Would it be effective to democracy? No.

Dwyer notes that some of the arrests are seen as "proactive" -- think of it as the police department adopting Bully Boy's pre-emptive war argument. You don't need a crime to be committed, you just book 'em.

Browne and the department are sure that this maintains public order.

What is public order? An orderly public is one that has faith in the laws in the land. If there's no faith in any of the laws, then you will have chaos. When you trample upon the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble, you're trample on the laws -- whether you carry a badge or not. When you spit on Constitutional rights, you're inviting chaos. Not a moment of chaos, the kind that Browne would argue he fears, but long term chaos, the sort that we're more used to seeing in other countries.

In the United States, we're taught to believe that the Bill of Rights applies. If it stops applying, you're inviting anarchy and, some would argue, any anarchist would only be aping the police that elected to disregard the Constitution.

The flag waving nonsense and the nonsense over amendments not to burn the flag always seem to be made by people who don't grasp that the flag is a symbol while the Constitution is the foundation this country exists upon. (By those people and recently by Hillary Clinton as well, she knows better.) I've said it before, but it's worth noting again, instead of handing out flags, hand out copies of Constitution.

"Proactive" arrests seem to exist outside the Constitution. Possibly the NYPD might want to invest in some Constitutional training for their department?

Remember that today on Democracy Now! the Times' Michael R. Gordon and the retired Lt. General are among the guests.

Brandon noted Danny Schechter's "We Took It To The Streets" (News Dissector):

There were three quotes that buzzed in my head as I joined the media march that we had been promoting yesterday. The first came from my pal, the film maker and "visual poet" Geo Geller, who chose to tag along with me and record my meditations and kvetching (especially about my healing foot which I should have stayed off of, and was not ready for walking, much less marching.) Someone called me "Hopalong."
Geo said: "The power of one is better than the power of none."
And so it was, and more than one but not as many as we hoped, alas. It wasn't major by any means in size and was quite overshadowed by a march to save the Seals in Canada, an issue that seems to have generated more excitement than saving democracy in America. That fact was pointed out to me by a reporter from the Globe and Mail of Toronto who came along with us whilst the mighty NY press ignored us to a fault. I explained to him this was a first attempt to join the media issue with the issues of the war in Iraq and is not yet an obvious enough connection to the anti-war crowd that seems happy to just bash Bush over and over and blame it all on the Republicans.
To my surprise it was a Republican who mouthed the next phrase that snuck into my mind--a formulation from none other then the phrase-making war-maker in chief Donald Rumsfeld who remarked famously: "You fight a war with the army you got."
That applied to us to--we were fighting our little media war for media rights against media wrongs with the only ragtag "army" we had. It was small but passionate, racially mixed, alive and drawn from the anti-war activism and media reform work. Some Grannys for Peace were there as well as a Code Pinker, Free Press and Deep Dish were with as well as Globalvisioneer who told me this was her first demonstration ever. Wow.
We would have been more disappointed by the size of the turnout if we didn't know that this campaign has already generated more than 100,000 emails of protest against media complicity in the war. Our best online campaign ever.
Mediachannel was there but many of the colleagues we respect couldn't make time for it including our friends at FAIR, MoveOn and even United For Peace and Justice who embraced the idea but didn't or couldn't help mobilize for it. Too busy, I guess to be charitable. It was easy to recognize that big protests take time and organizing efforts (including resources and experience) of the kind we lack. We gave it a try anyway.
Unlike Mussolini who allegedly had the trains run on time, we were late to the first stop at CBS "Black Rock" headquarters which was surrounded by a construction fence. I got there before the other organizers and posters did and ran into some of the acrimony some activists are famous for: rushing to judgment without any facts. At least one person immediately assumed the worst about my intentions, and then, without listening, stormed off to preserve a sense of self-righteousness. That was not a good start, but it did get better.
We had tried to meet with media executives on the inside before we arrived but no one was willing to hear from us then or when we were in their faces. To them, critical media consumers must be rendered invisible. Hence, there was no there there as I looked up at the building that still houses Walter Cronkite's offices (Recall that the "most trusted man in America" was forcibly retired years ago, when they made a big deal of enforcing their official 65 retirement age policy.) I then thought of CBS vet Mike Wallace whose retirement at age 88 made the front page of the NY Times that morning. When asked why he stayed so long, he said "I didn't know what else to do." That's a sentiment I can share.
When the sound system arrived, we explained why were there. Robert Jenson who teaches journalism at the University of Texas supported the march and told us that he discourages students from going into journalism because in the corporate media today, the values he champions--crusading against injustice and exposing government abuse--are hard to come by. We noticed former Mayor Ed Koch getting into a limo out in the street and asked him how we were doing. There was no response.
From there we marched down to NBC, Fox and ABC where Free Press's Tim Karr and my partner Rory O'Connor waxed eloquently about the sins of big media and the way it served--and serves the war effort. There was some debates with passersby at Fox who vehemently denied that the fair and balanced network is anything but--you got it--fair and balanced.
With more people watching in Times Square there was more energy and visible support for the message. Many in the crowds cheered us on. Reuters had used the occasion to list the names of all the journalists killed in Iraq and call for safety for media workers on the big screen at the corner of Broadway and 43rd. What a great example they are on the issue and I have nothing but respect for the way their executives express solidarity for media workers and demand independent investigations of incidents in which US and British soldiers have killed or maimed journalists.

Elaine noted MoveOn in an entry on Wednesday and two visitors had apparent heart attacks over it. They seemed to think their e-mails (and I've never heard from either before) would make me say, "A lifelong friend or an organization? Which will I choose!" It's obvious, I choose Elaine. Her points are solid. If you don't like her opinion, then you don't like it and won't like mine either. One of them felt the need to note that she didn't write that she was there. Elaine doesn't live in NYC and she can't (or won't) cancel sessions. (For someone who has always lectured me about taking time for myself, she goes into work sick, she goes into work well. For her to cancel a session, let alone a day's worth, takes over a month of planning.)

I didn't go either. I wasn't in the area (not even in a bordering state.) My plans were carved in stone by the first week of February. I've been all over the place this week, but I haven't been in New York, let alone NYC.

I wish I had been. Or that the event was announced earlier. With the original date, I thought I might be able to swing it. Then the date changed. It really did have to be during the week. To have a display in front of news organizations that would be noticed, it had to be during the week. But by being during the week, it limited the amount of people that could attend. It's also true that this March, like last March, is more of a diviersified series of protests as opposed to everyone going to a central location.

I don't think I did enough to support the event, I didn't even start making phone calls to ask why people wouldn't meet with Danny and the others until this week. I can try to weasel out of that by noting that everything was planned for this week over a month ago. (The things I'm doing.) So I'll own that and feel bad about it.

But it's also true, as Danny points out, that this was a first step. It took a lot of guts for him to do this and he deserves to be proud of what was accomplished. (And something was accomplished. It's about planting seeds. Nothing changes over night.) When he does the next protest, I'll call back all the ones who said, "It's not time" and again ask them, "When is the time?" and I'll try to devote more time to that.

MoveOn failed by not trying. I tried but not hard enough. Maybe next time MoveOn will take part? I don't know. But I have no problem with what Elaine wrote and I agree with it. I wouldn't have written it because I don't feel I'm in any position to point fingers at others on their lack of strong help to his campaign.

Since 2003 when I started speaking out, the deal has always been (with individuals and groups), you do this and I will do that. This week was a week that people called in markers (that they had a right to call in) and they did that back in February.

Danny had a brilliant idea and he pulled it off and the credit for that goes to him,, WBAI and a few others. For groups that were actually doing something this week (that doesn't include MoveOn, as Elaine noted), they may have had the same problem of prior committments, I don't know. But he pulled it off and, hopefully, next time, he'll get the support he deserves and the support he should have gotten this time. (I include myself in those that didn't give the support needed.)

But he pulled it off and he deserves praise for it. He should be proud and so should everyone who participated in it. His argument is solid and, if it was new to anyone (the media's hand in the selling the war, the importance of a media that serves the people, et al) this go round, hopefully they'll think about it between now and next time. Obviously, he got the word out because the e-mail campaign had an astonishing number of participants. That demonstrates that an audience, a large one, already exists for the argument he's making. He's planted seeds and the next event he stages will gather more people (and plant additional seeds).

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