Ayesha Kazmi

The Media Whitewashing of the Occupy Boston Eviction

In The Political on 12/12/2011 at 03:48

After Occupy Boston’s 5 am raid on the morning of 10 October, the Boston Police Department (BPD) tucked away with the media for a press conference. Since, I have been anxiously awaiting for the local media coverage of yesterday’s eviction of Dewey Square to come pouring out.

Just this afternoon, I came across this: an article from the Boston Globe entitled “For Menino, police, a 99 percent success” by Brian McGrory. I almost spat out my tea while I read the article. It was pretty much exactly what I was expecting from beginning to end.

Shortly after this article was published, my twitter feed poured with displaced Dewey Square protesters expressing their discontent with the Boston Globe piece asking questions like: “Why do articles like [the Globe piece] fawn all over the BPD for remaining peaceful, yet NOT A WORD about how WE remained peaceful?”

There might be a rather simple explanation. Despite the handful of sympathetic mainstream media items to the Occupy movement, pieces like the Boston Globe’s latest on the eviction – written purely from the police and Mayor Menino’s perspective – demonstrate that the media are complicit with the crackdown.

While protesters did not report heavy abuse at the hands of the BPD, the Boston Globe’s portrayal of the BPD as the non-turtled, friendly riot cops of the Occupy crackdowns is surely disingenuous and rather dangerous.

Boston now stands apart from any place else in terms of the Occupy movement. The tent city here was allowed to stand longer. Police developed relationships that were stronger. And when the end came, at 5 a.m. yesterday, it was far quieter.

From the very first Occupy crackdowns, mayors and police chiefs have been lauding their local police departments for their professionalism and for maintaining peace and order. Another pattern we’ve seen emerging is the large scale embedding of the mainstream media on the police side of crackdowns.

When I received the phone call at 5am that the Occupy Boston encampment had been raided, I instantly tuned into Phil Anderson’s livestream, who at the time, was standing just on the periphery of Dewey Square in the “Press Pool” recording live with approximately 1700 viewers worldwide. Within moments of tuning in, a police officer approached him and escorted him out. As Phil was being escorted, he kept asking the police officer why it was that he was singled out and escorted from the “Press Pool”. After several failed attempts to convince the police to allow him back in, Phil was unable to get a clear view of what was going on inside of Dewey Square and stood by the remaining evicted demonstrators just outside of South Station.

The Boston Police had created a large perimeter around Dewey Square which prevented anyone from seeing what took place inside the park – cameras were unable to take photos or record of anything close up. Anyone who stepped off the sidewalk to get closer to the scene was threatened with arrest.

Multiple protesters choosing to remain inside Dewey Square reported that police shined flashlights into their phones as they attempted to take photographs or video, while others reported that their phones were taken from them and not returned after they were released from prison. One protester told me that the police had told him that his phone had probably been thrown away in the trash heap in Dewey Square and that he could go search for it there.

What mobile phone cameras were unable to capture was that the Dewey Square encampment was leveled by a bulldozer – a disproportionately heavy handed measure for a peaceful protest, which was then branded by the Boston Globe as a “peaceful end”.

Furthermore, the BPD had deployed an LRAD to the scene of the eviction. While the LRAD was not used, its mere presence in downtown Boston during the eviction does not signal the diplomatic deconstruction of the Occupy Boston protest the Boston Globe portrays. An LRAD has no place in a democratic society.

An LRAD sits mounted on the back of a BPD vehicle

An LRAD sits mounted on the back of a BPD vehicle - Photo credit Anthony Bucci

From where I am sitting, it appears there is some major whitewashing going on. A major event in the city of Boston where the BPD are not only managing the “crime scene” but also the media by drawing a large perimeter that prevents access so that scenes are not witnessed, captured on camera or video by anyone other than who the BPD gives consent, followed by a press conference held by the BPD, which then ends with a contrived PR piece by the Boston Globe for the BPD and Mayor Menino?

As the events were recounted to me, I was troubled by the sinister nature of the extraordinary management of the Occupy Boston crackdown. While the Boston Globe glorifies the BPD for their “uncommon restraint” and Mayor Menino who “stood at a podium in police headquarters and thanked the protesters – yes, the protesters – for their work and cooperation. ‘They shined a much-needed light, still needed, on the growing economic inequality in this country,’ he said”, I couldn’t help but to feel there was something deeper at play.

What haunted me the most about the media whitewash on the crackdown of Occupy Boston was its semblance to Max Blumenthal’s piece “From Occupation to “Occupy”: The Israelification of American Domestic Security”. Those familiar with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are not only familiar with the tactics the Israeli police and the IDF deploy to police Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, that Blumenthal addresses in his piece, but the PR spin combined with it.

In 2008-09, during operation Cast Lead, the Israeli spin doctor was on optimum level. Haaretz ournalists reported that Israel long prepared for the media management before the war itself began. In a Dispatches documentary on UK Channel 4 titled “Unseen Gaza”, John Snow documents Israel’s media management of Cast Lead. Journalists, upon arrival to Israel, were made to register with the press accreditation centre, where they were given press packs filled with pamphlets, where daily press briefings by members of the IDF were conducted, and where they could sign up to a texting service whereby journalists would receive breaking news – all conducted by the Israel Project.

Throughout the three week war, journalists were literally sealed off from the Gaza strip and were told, instead, they could report from a hill top miles away from the Gaza border, where they might have been able to see the rising smoke and hear rumblings of shells being fired onto the dense neighbourhoods of Gaza, but were unable to get inside and witness the war from the inside and talk to the people. The result was an entirely decontextualised reporting of a bloody war in which 1,400 Palestinians, a quarter of which were children, were killed.

While there is no comparison between the eviction of Occupy Boston at Dewey Square to what happened in Gaza almost 3 years ago to date, one thing is for sure, when the media is so highly managed by our authorities, “truth becomes the ultimate victim”. As Blumenthal writes: “By now, police chiefs of major American cities who have not been on junkets to Israel are the exception”, we are now left with some very serious questions to ask the BPD about their conduct around the eviction of Occupy Boston – particularly around their management of public perception.

I will be exploring these issues further into the week and will speak to various members of Occupy Boston about their experiences with the BPD the morning of the eviction.

Please stay tuned.

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  1. I’d like to add that there are outright lies being stated by the police. I heard the supervisor say there were no injuries. I know of at least two. As one of the arrested, I have a more intimate knowledge than those who were kept from seeing everything.

    One person has a broken wrist. Another, I’m unsure of the final diagnosis, but I saw her hands 6 hours after the raid and they were both swollen quite large with deep gashes.

    Furthermore, the police aren’t speaking about the legal observer they arrested. Different officers pushed her around claiming “you have to stand here” and then “you can’t stand here”. Finally, one officer pushed her into another officer and that officer then turned and accused her of interfering and arrested her. She was in the transport truck next to me, completely shocked.

    I am at home today with terribly painful leg and lower back. I think I had so much adrenaline that I just didn’t realize how badly I’d been hurt when the transport truck was whipped around a turn, back and forth, throwing us all around the cargo area. Nine women, all cuffed, on slippery metal benches with no seat restrained. We were tossed like salad, flying all over each other.

    Completely unnecessary. We were already arrested, so what was the point?

    There is a reason they keep the media out and block anyone from taking images. They can control the story that way.

    I will never forgive Menino for deploying an army and turning Dewey into a battlefield, where our only weapon was our voice. How many police officers to arrest 46 people who had already declared that they wouldn’t resist arrest?

    How much did that cost? Where did they find that money when we’re closing schools?

    • Hey there Allison – thanks for your comments. I watched your entire interview on livestream when you were released … first of all, I just wanted to say you are very brave!
      I will be attending GA this week to talk to people about Saturday mornings eviction. I will be doing a follow up to this piece. Lets set the record straight – even if it has to be on my blog! Come find me and lets talk.
      In the mean time, take it easy on yourself, and I hope you recover well. We’re all with you! xx

      • So, it turns out I have a ruptured disc in my spine. Recovery will take a while. My arraignment is in the morning. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it to the General Assembly. I was hoping to meet you there. We’ll see. If not, I hope to meet you soon.

  2. […] The Media Whitewashing of the Occupy Boston Eviction After Occupy Boston’s 5 am raid on the morning of 10 October, the Boston Police Department (BPD) tucked away with the media for a press conference. Since, I have been anxiously awaiting for the l… Source: americanpaki.wordpress.com […]

  3. I’m an occupier with deep anti-police, anti-politico and anti-corprate media feelings. I didn’t have to rush to the scene at 5 am because I was already there just as I’ve been there for several days a week since September 30. Every commentator – journalist, lay observer or in-between – has a bias. Mine, obviously, is in favor of Occupy Boston and has been since day one.

    Yet my 5,000 word account of our last morning does largely focus on how the police acted with relative restraint and treated occupiers like humans deserving of respect. That’s not spin, it’s the most attention-getting thing I observed. Occupiers being peaceful is something people have come to respect. Police not being brutal? That’s worth noting, even concentrating on.

    My word report also mentions injuries, suppression of the press, and the fact that Menino praises Occupy Boston yet clearly still doesn’t “get” it. I didn’t give these components as much word count as reports of police acting decent because, like the non-violence of occupiers, police and politicians acting badly is something we’ve come to expect.

    I’ll be documenting arrestees experiences in more detail in days ahead. Allison, I was also watching the live feed when you described being thrown around in the transport vehicle. Drop me a note via email, Facebook or Twitter if you want to be interviewed about that and your experiences on Saturday morning in general. If I see you in person these next few days, I’ll approach to discuss it.

    Ayesha, I’m glad you’re being vigilant and critical about the media coverage of the raid. You do this well. I agree there’s a bit of a whitewash going on and things are being made to seem more rosy than they are. But maybe there’s a good side to this. If members of the public believe the mayor and police acted with exemplary behavior, they might also conclude they did this because occupiers are, indeed, heroes fighting for a cause everyone should support.

    Or maybe not. For now, however, I’ll chew this kernel of optimism.

    PS –I wish I’d seen and photographed that LRAD but I’d no idea it was present or, even, that BPD had one. It’s a scary symbol of the threat of institutional violence which hanging over our heads Saturday morning and, indeed, everyday.

    • Well, wow, we’ve really low the bar of what to expect in a democracy. What I’m basically hearing is “it wasn’t as bad as Oakland, so it was good.” Perhaps that was the point to have a few cities where the brutality was so bad. Now, they can oppress us and we think it’s fine because it doesn’t include the brutality “we’ve come to expect.”

      Don’t get me wrong, I hear what you’re saying. It’s simply such a tragedy that this is where we are.

      The fact is, they didn’t have to do anything to us at all. With a battalion of police transforming our peaceful protest site into an armed battlefield, along with the knowledge of recent events, it had the effect of being very scary. We would have walked peacefully to the transport vans with group of regular police whose faces we recognized. Instead, they tried to traumatize us with a show of force.

      All of us sitting there knew exactly what had happened elsewhere and that we were risking pepper spray, sound blasts, being beaten, rubber bullets and more. We had to come to terms with that before resolving to risk arrest. The fact that this time, they didn’t employ the worst tactics, is not something to praise them for. We should all be mourning the American Dream when we note that weren’t as brutal as other cops.

      I say this because the militarization of our police forces has had a chilling effect. People are even more afraid to stand up for their rights. We aren’t supposed to be afraid to speak out and to assemble. We’re supposed to live in the land of the free. Yet, I had to come to the realization that i was willing to face rubber bullets and potential death for simply speaking and peacefully assembling in a public space with other citizens.

      I’m now more concerned about how people are treating this than I would have been if the police had been brutal. (By the way, I learned of another injury: someone had his tendon sliced open on his wrist.) Does this mean that people are now fine with this kind of suppression? Have we accepted the “free speech zone” violation of our constitution? Are we going to sit quietly while they declare the US part of a war zone and codify detaining us without charges or due process? Why aren’t we read our Miranda rights when we’re arrested? (I was given a piece of paper toward the end of my stay in jail.) At every turn, our rights are eroded a little more.

      These are the mechanism to keep us from gathering and doing something about the exploitation of our economy by the few. They have the money to have huge meetings where they price fix health insurance, tell state legislators what bills to bring forth, raise money so that they own our federal candidates and control every aspect of our country. They know that people power is actualized when we gather. Talk on the internet all you want, but don’t assemble in person. That’s terrorism.

      I have a daughter. This is not the world I want for her. I want us to be the generation that ends the tyranny of owner class. I want us to be the generation which restores dignity to those the US has oppressed at home and abroad. Instead, we’re moving in the other direction.

      Don’t ever praise the powers that be for crushing our rights. Crushing them nicely doesn’t make it any better. We’re being duped because so many of us are still not quite awake. We’re in that zone of coming out of sleep and still unable to focus.

      • Thanks for your comments.
        I would reiterate Allison’s concerns – the bar has been set very low if Bostonians walk away from the Dewey Sq eviction feeling that our local encampment was treated with dignity and respect in light of the heavy handedness at Oakland, LA, Denver, and NYC.

        Of course the BPD has an LRAD! Thats why I showed up to “sink-gate” and the possible eviction night last Thursday with earplugs! Many people thought I was insane for doing so. But I have been following the activities of PD’s all over the country and know that for over a decade, like all other PD’s of major cities in the United States, Boston is equally militarised. Saturday morning was when the BPD had the opportunity to put out a fraction of their artillery on display. How can anyone be surprised by this? It was a merely a matter of time. And make no mistake, PDs do not buy this expensive equipment for it to collect dust. While the BPD may be on the slow in displaying and utilising their might, when this equipment is owned, it will be used.

        This is precisely what concerns me the most – the attempts by the major actors in this city, such as Mayor Menino, and the BPD commissioner Ed Davis, to downplay the BPD’s capacities and to continue to paint friendly smiles on our militarised police forces is even more sinister and, frankly, extremely frightening.

        There is nothing friendly about having a police forced with militarised capabilities in your home town. The attempts to gain our trust is setting us up to walk into a very dangerous situation blindfolded. On top of it – and make no mistake about this – while the BPD has spent the 70 days at Dewey doing their best to create “relationships” with protesters, they are taking intel on every single one of their contacts. This is what “friendly fascism” looks like. And I sincerely hate to keep harping on this, sooner or later, people may ask me to shut up about it, but I know all too well how the ins and outs of this machinery works, given that I am an American Muslim. If people thought that this machinery would only be used against American Muslims only? Think again – as I said above, once these capabilities are owned, it is a matter of time that they will be used against EVERYBODY else. Thats how it works.

        Its high time for Bostonians to burst their comfortable bubbles and wake up to our new reality – or the “new normal”. We live in a different country than we did 10 years ago – its as tragic as it is harrowing.

      • Ack, whose tendon was sliced, and how? And which person’s wrist was broken? Was Noah one of these or is he an entirely different case?

        Relatedly, as one of the medics, my Occupy Boston experiences have convinced me that those ziptie handcuffs should be banned.

      • Neo, I’m not sure whose tendon was sliced. I’d prefer not to mention names here. We have a whole court process to go through.

        But, now you can add me to the injury list. I have a ruptured disc in my spine.

  4. […] more: The Media Whitewashing of the Occupy Boston Eviction … […]

  5. Thanks for this post. I’m a medic with OB. I was there for the raid, though working in the “cold zone” (right outside the camp area). I treated a guy (from the Media working group, I think) with a handcuff injury. One of his wrists was badly bruised and swelling (and given that he apparently wasn’t arrested, why was he cuffed to begin with?). I also treated a woman who fell down running from the police in a panic.

    One of the medics who was in the “hot zone” the whole time told us that she was pushed to the ground by cops, and landed on her face. Her medic buddy was arrested for refusing to leave a patient. Another medic who was arrested in the hot zone was featured in a story at DigBoston in which she attempts to get medical care for a female arrestee whose hands were cut and swollen from a handcuff injury. Another medic who was in the hot zone said that a cop threw his weight down on somebody to unlink arms and that there was a crack – I really want to believe that that wasn’t actually cracking bones but somebody stepping on a stick, but I have a sinking feeling that it wasn’t the case (he also said that one of the arrested legal observers was arrested trying to get the badge number of that cop). And then there was the thing with Noah*, and Chris Faraone’s photo of someone with a broken, stitched, hand.

    And of course there was the media suppression.

    It appeared to be true that most of the cops weren’t trying to be brutal, and cops who were especially good should be commended, but even one instance of brutality or misconduct is too many and shouldn’t be whitewashed.

    *If I might put on the tinfoil hat for a moment. Noah seems to have been one of the worst instances of someone being brutalized. A week and half before at SinkGate, Eric was knocked off the sidewalk by that undercover (we treated him at the med tent), and then detained by other cops, for standing on the curb with a camera. Noah and Eric were both named plaintiffs (there were four named plaintiffs) in the suit against the city – Eric was the OB witness at the hearing, and had in fact testified earlier that day. I’m probably being paranoid and it’s just a coincidence, but it seems sketchy to me that unusually egregious things have now happened to two named plaintiffs.

  6. […] began a Q&A session. Ariel Oshinsky, a Boston Occupier, began by asking about the police use of LRAD and their control of Occupy images. This prompted a discussion of the First Amendment’s “time, place, and manner […]

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