Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Last Bastion of Freedom?

So much for press freedom in the US. Here is the personal story of a PBS reporter being arrested and thrown into jail for 9 hours for standing on the sidewalk and trying to interview pepper-sprayed demonstrators:
When I saw the young women get pepper sprayed, I ran over to interview them. While holding a microphone and wearing a badge identifying myself as an employee of “WNET – New York Public Media,” I found myself suddenly roped into one of the large nets. I was thrown against a wall and handcuffed with hard plastic zip-tie restraints. I sat on the sidewalk with about 50 others. I yelled over and over “I’m press! I’m with WNET MetroFocus! Please do not arrest me.”

I did not possess the press credentials that NYPD allocates to journalists. (As MetroFocus is less than three months old, neither I nor my journalist colleagues have yet met the NYPD’s qualifications.) So even though I work as a professional journalist, the NYPD lumped me in with everybody else.

Lumped me in indeed. I was in police custody for nine hours, eight of which I spent in a jail cell at the 1st Precinct.

An NYPD spokesperson told MetroFocus on Monday that 87 people have been arrested in total since the Occupy Wall Street protests began last weekend; however, the Daily News reported that at least 80 people were arrested on Sept. 24 alone, mostly on charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing traffic. The NYPD would not comment further on my arrest.


I also met Rosa A., 33, in the police van while we were being transported to the 1st Precinct for processing. She had been shopping at the Barnes and Noble on Union Square when she saw the protesters outside. As many New Yorkers do when they see something unusual, she snapped a picture. And she was arrested.

“I’ve never been arrested,” said Rosa A., in visible pain from the plastic handcuffs. “I was just there looking at magazines.” She laughed, lightening the mood in the police van. Even our arresting officer, in the van with us, chuckled.
The rich on Wall Street never have to worry about this grubby reality of dealing with brutal police. They can buy their "justice". For the rest of us, to make democracy work we have to demonstrate to get politicians to pay attention. And that means being roughed up and jailed for exercising the "guaranteed freedoms" of the Constitution. As Anatole France so succinctly put it:
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
Sadly, for the average Joe in America they don't realize the "Mr. Policeman is Your Friend" is only true if you are a billionaire. If you live on an average pay cheque, the police are there to make sure you don't linger too long near the property of the ultra-rich.

The good news for all these arrested people is that unlike the shattered societies that the US has created in Afghanistan and Iraq where the "police" are as likely to take you out in the desert and put a bullet in your head as to take you to jail, in the US the police can be brutal and the courts can be slow, but usually you can "get off" after you tell your story to a judge. But as the society gets more like a banana republic and the judges are all from the ultra-rich, it is much more likely that the judges will find you guilty even if you claim to have only stepped out of a store to "take a picture of a demonstration". And it is much more likely that a certain percentage of people will simply "disappear" in the "judicial" system never to be seen or heard from again.

No comments: