Obstruction of the Right to Document in Public.
***This past Monday, December 12 (also known as #D12) , saw the largest coordinated action by the OWS so far. In a bid to halt shipping operations on the West Coast, many of whose ports are held by companies of a particularly anti-labor portion of the 1%, Occupy’s in at least 11 cities, marched on their ports and managed to completely shut down the Ports of Oakland, Portland, and part of Long Beach. The stance of the port workers was divided between support and disdain and the action’s success overall is questionable.
— Solidarity marches were held in many cities, including Tokyo. In New York, birthplace of OWS, protesters marched on the Goldman Sachs headquarters and the World Financial Center. They ended their march at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden.***
I have mixed feelings about what happened Monday, but one nasty facet of that day has stuck in my brain:
Photographers are becoming increasingly targeted by the police. It’s been this way since day-one, but efforts to censor what’s happening are becoming more and more bold.
In the three months that the Occupy movement has grown from one park into a global phenomenon, countless pictures and video of heavy-handed police behavior have circulated the internet and the media (graphic language warning):
A compilation of raw video from Occupy Oakland, showing the injuries that put Iraq veteran Scott Olsen in the hospital with a skull fracture. As protesters rush to his aid, a tear-gas grenade is thrown at them:
This incident from New York from back in September, which now, disturbingly, seems tame:
And this now infamous photo from UC Davis:
These images expose the violent crackdown on what has been an overwhelmingly peaceful movement. Needless to say, images carry a lot of power, and now more than ever. Something that happens most anywhere in the world can be seen by anyone else in the world in a matter of seconds. People are less and less reliant on a handful of media outlets. Anytime the police act with undue violence, a chant rises from the crowd: “The whole world is watching!”. From the Middle East to the U.S., 2011 has exemplified this fact more than in any other year in history. (Just yesterday, Time magazine declared “The Protester” as person of the year)
And so, there’s been a concerted effort by authorities to target photographers, journalists, and even regular people documenting on their phones.
This was abhorrently clear on Monday –
In Houston, a tent was placed over arrested protesters, and officers had duct tape covering their badge numbers – The reason for this is unclear, but the only logical answer is that the police wanted to hide something. And this begs the question – why the need to hide what should be a routine arrest?
At the Winter Garden in Lower Manhattan, the first people arrested were those toting livestream cameras, and some just taking video on phones. As has happened numerous times in the past months, even credentialed members of the press were blocked. This was the experience of a NY Times photographer:
If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, fast forward to the 2 minute mark.
(The Times has issued a formal complaint to the City)
By law, a citizen is entitled to photograph and document anything that happens in public space. The law even provides that anyone in public is denied right to privacy (except in reasonable cases like bathrooms, and places which have special security needs, like bridges). Documenting police actions in public have no restrictions, except in cases where the photographer is deliberately obstructing the police. Private property, like the Winter Garden, is of course allowed to make its own rules on photography. But the Winter Garden has no restrictions, except in cases of photoshoots involving an obstructive amount of gear. Earlier this year, even, I was at a photoshoot of a toddler inside the atrium.
Of course, police are obligated to enforce the law, and civil disobedience/arrests are a key component of any movement of fundamental change. That’s beside the point here though. The point here is that if nothing unusual is happening, then why the need to hide actions from view? You can turn on “Cops” and watch full-on police work against hardened criminals, but why is it that that you can’t watch the arrest of someone who, at worst, is resisting arrest for not following police orders (or in many cases not following them quickly enough due to crowds, etc)
To an OWS supporter, the answer is clear, but twisted: For whatever reason, American cities do not want the world to watch. But the blatant logic of this argument should stir concern even in the non-supporter, or the indifferent. We’re all watched by camera every time we enter a store, and the common perception is that: “if you’re not doing anything wrong, why care?”. Shouldn’t the same be applied all around? If the police feel they are doing nothing wrong, why care if they’re being watched?
As a funny side note –
After their arrest at the Winter Garden, a number of livestream videographers were held at a local precinct. A fellow livestreamer came to await their release and kept filming inside the station lobby. In the back, police were monitoring live feeds and suddenly realized that one of them was coming from right under their roof! I saw this live…
Another side note –
In a Quinnipiac Poll yesterday, it was found that 49 % of New York City voters approve of the mayor’s handling of the protests, and only 44% approve of the NYPD’s response to OWS. 81% agree that OWS has a right to protest, and 68% support the movement. http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1302.xml?ReleaseID=1680
Posted on December 15, 2011, in NYC present, occupywallstreet, photography, Uncategorized and tagged civil disobedience, d12, occupy wall street, ows, photographic right, photography, photography and the law, police, police violence, rights. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.