Friday, September 5, 2008

The Right of People Peaceably to Assemble

During this week’s Republican National Convention, 818 people were arrested for protesting near the St Paul Xcel Center.

Police in riot gear fired rubber bullets and shoved protesters to the pavement. News reports identified the protesters as anti-war anarchists. Police PR argued that, based on information gathered undercover by cops infiltrating the groups, the protesters—or some factions among the protesters—intended more destructive actions to disrupt the convention. Such a conspiracy may have existed, but to my knowledge no one in the media has yet asked the police for the evidence.

Is it not possible that, as in past police actions, the government infiltrators triggered the riots for the sake of discrediting the protest?

Four women, ages 38 to 53, were arrested in a peaceful protest sponsored by CODEPINK Women for Peace. According to the group’s Website, the police provoked the arrests:

“In protest of the war and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's pro-war and pro-drilling positions, the CODEPINK women had been singing and dancing in crowns, sashes and pink clothing, when police surrounded them and began to push them up onto the sidewalk and against a metal fence set up in the plaza. The women complied but continued to be pushed to the side and were told [to] clear out. In symbolic sign of civil disobedience, saying free speech cannot be caged and all of America is a free speech zone, the four women tried to crawl under the fence. Police pulled them through to the other side and arrested them.”

The police counted 10,000 people at these protests (protest organizers counted three times as many). Either number is significant, since “official” conventioneers (delegates, alternates, party officials, lobbyists, volunteers, members of the media, and guests) numbered only 45,000.

By contrast, in the last week of August, about 190,000 attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver, plus some 21,000 local volunteers. Police arrested 141 protesters outside that convention, including a dozen or so pro-life protesters led by Randall Terry. Denver police reportedly used hard batons and pepper spray to control fewer than 2000 protesters.

Unlike 1968, the press largely ignored these protests. In most cases, the media did not report on the causes the protesters represented, in favor of statistics and reports of violence and destruction of property. The coverage, such as it was, relied almost entirely on police sources.

Arguably the views of these protesters—both on the left and the right of the political spectrum—deserved at least as much attention as opinions about Michelle Obama’s Jackie-inspired dress or the huggability of Sarah Palin’s young daughter (not the knocked-up one). Furthermore, the media should have expected that at least a portion of their audience might be interested in understanding better the First Amendment implications of the corralling, beating, and jailing of regular Americans who wanted their voices heard, in addition to the scripted self-congratulations inside the convention walls.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...