FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

No News is Not Good News

Is it news when police photograph and videotape demonstrations?

Apparently for American editors and reporters, making that news judgement depends on where the demonstration occurs and what nationality the police are.

When a hundred artists gathered outside a Beijing courtroom in mid-November to protest the jailing of artist Wu  Yuren, who had earlier been beaten by police and jailed because he had gone to a police station to file a complaint against a landlord, the New York Times ran an article by reporter Andrew Jacobs which pointedly noted that police officers had videotaped the crowd, and then quoted a demonstrator, artist Dou Bu, as saying, “I was scared to come out here today, but you have to face your fears.”

But a week earlier, when several hundred backers of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a black journalist on Pennsylvania’s death row for the killing of a police officer, demonstrated in front of a Third Circuit federal court building in Philadelphia, where a three-judge panel was rehearing an argument on his sentence, and local police not only videotaped the officially sanctioned rally, but also aggressively photographed and taped a group of journalists waiting to be allowed into the courtroom early, there was no mention of their action in any media, local or national.

In Philadelphia, and in cities across the country, it has become routine for police departments to openly and surreptitiously videotape participants in demonstrations, and to assemble files on demonstrators, even when the events are entirely peaceful and without incident, and when the rallies or marches have been issued city permits.

Philadelphia Police officials insist that the photographing and videotaping of protests is legal and is not intended to intimidate dissent. Lt. Raymond Evers, who heads the Philadelphia Police public affairs unit, says the purpose of such photographic records is “crowd control and training.”  He claims the department wants a record so that if any violence occurs, police can show what happened, and how police responded, and also so that any perpetrators or malefactors can be identified later.

That doesn’t explain what happened at the Abu-Jamal hearing, however.  On Nov. 9, some 12 journalists who had come to the Federal Courthouse on 6th Street, just two blocks from the old Independence Hall where the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were signed, to cover an appellate court panel hearing reviewing a federal district judge’s 2001 ruling that lifted Abu-Jamal’s death sentence, found themselves surrounded by Philadelphia Police who began photographing and videotaping them at close range. The reporters, who had been credential-checked and then herded by US Marshals down a kind of “cattle chute” constructed of temporary metal barriers, to a holding point in front of the court building’s main entrance, were unable to avoid being repeatedly photographed.

Many, including journalists from abroad, expressed shock and dismay at the police actions. “Is this how they treat the press here in America?” asked one reporter from Agence France Presse.

Linn Washington, a local journalist with the Philadelphia Tribune, America’s oldest African-American newspaper (and a member of the ThisCantBeHappening! news collective), who was singled out for photographing and videotaping by police cameramen as he walked down the chute alone to join the other journalists, said, “It was absolutely a process designed to intimidate us.”

Journalists who asked the police pointing the cameras, and accompanying officers in civilian clothes from the department’s civil affairs office, for an explanation for their actions, and for information concerning what would be done with the resulting photographs and video records, were met with a stony silence.

It is likely that their images may end up intelligence files held in Washington, DC.

A couple of years ago, at an anti-war rally in front of the municipal building across the street from Philadelphia’s City Hall, I spotted an unidentified and unmarked police videographer standing alongside legitimate TV cameramen recording speakers at the permitted event, and also panning the assembled crowd. Noting that he had no identifying TV station placard on his camera as the other cameras had, I asked him what station he was with. When he ignored me, I asked a couple more times, at which point he aggressively and silently turned his big videocamera directly on me.  At that point, I identified him to rally attendees as a police officer. He and an associate I hadn’t noticed earlier immediately hurried off to a nearby Police Department van and left the scene.

When I later called the police department to ask about the taping, I was told that it was routine to tape demonstrations, and that because the Philadelphia Police are part of the federal Anti-Terrorism Joint Strike Force, copies of such tapes would be provided to the federal Department of Homeland Security.

In other words, in America, participating in a First Amendment-protected activity–protesting at a rally that has been granted a city permit–can get your image added to some terrorism file in Washington, DC.

Is that also what happens to the images of reporters who are simply performing their First Amendment role of reporting on a court hearing?

No doubt.

But is this news in the American corporate media?

Apparently not.

If police tape demonstrators or journalists at a political event, it’s only news if it occurs somewhere like China.

DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run online alternative newspaper.

 

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail