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.
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.