If it Bleeds, it Leads: Why it Took Police Violence to Make the Media Notice 'Occupy Wall Street'
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A bit after 10 p.m. on Saturday night in occupied Liberty Plaza, there was a celebration around the media tables. Photocopied facsimiles of Sunday’s New York Daily News were being passed around and photographed. After having held the plaza with hundreds of protesters at any given time for a week, and having kept the blocks surrounding the Stock Exchange barricaded by police all the while, the protest was finally getting serious news coverage.
“The Daily News!” I heard someone say on the plaza. “It’s because this is a sus tained occupation.”
Exclaimed one of those doing media relations, “We’ve already won!”
Just a few hours earlier, it seemed certain that a full-on police dispersal would come that night. Contingency plans were being discussed by the protesters’ General Assembly. But now the Daily News cover and the presence of TV vans seemed like guardian angels, ensuring that they’d make it until morning.
So what occasioned the media’s sudden interest? To what do these protesters, who purport to represent “the 99 percent” of Americans disenfranchised by a corrupt corporate and political elite, owe these headlines?
Police violence, of course.
Marking the one-week anniversary of the beginning of the occupation, a large march was planned for noon on Saturday. Several hundred marchers paraded around the plaza to their favorite chant, “ All Day, All Week! Occupy Wall Street!” They then headed down to the Wall Street area, where police arrested several of them, including filmmaker Marisa Holmes. From there, the march continued up to Union Square, two and a half miles north. It arrived there, then turned south again toward Liberty Plaza. Around 3 p.m., near Fifth Avenue and 12th Street, the police attacked. Unrolling plastic orange barriers, they isolated a crowd of marchers, along with the reporters following them, and began mass arrests for blocking traffic. This was a brutal process. Caught on cameras were scenes of one protester being dragged by her hair, others being slammed into the pavement, and a group of women, netted and helpless, being downed by pepper spray. In total, police say they arrested 80 people. With not enough room for them in vans, many were taken away in regular city buses. The march thereafter dispersed, and those who weren’t arrested made their way back to Liberty Plaza.
In an article that recounts as many gory details as will fit, the Daily News devotes only two short paragraphs to what the protest is actually about and what protesters have been doing all this time: “attempting to draw attention to what they believe is a dysfunctional economic system that unfairly benefits corporations and the mega-rich.” True, but too little. The real story for the Daily News, it seems, is not this unusual kind of protest, or the political situation which it opposes, but the chance to have the word “busted” on the cover next to the cleavage of a woman crying out in pain.
ABC’s Channel 7 Eyewitness News, despite being one of the day’s most zealously-persistent outlets, ran a doubly fallacious headline Sunday morning: “ Occupy Wall Street Protest Gets Violent Overnight.” For one thing, the protest itself did not get violent. Protesters attacked nobody. They threw no stones, they carried no weapons. The police got violent. Secondly, the arrests and violence did not happen “overnight” but during the day—an error the article repeats several times. This seems especially odd since the Channel 7 reporter and cameraman were witnesses to what did happen during the night, which their article confusingly splices in with an account of the day’s arrests: a mainly silent, completely peaceful vigil march on the sidewalk to Police Plaza to ask after the protesters arrested that afternoon—with locked arms and peace signs held high—accompanied the whole time by officers carrying orange nets, followed menacingly by empty police vans, and barricaded several times from reaching their destination.