Perspectives

Media, protests and threats to 'democracy'

By FinalCall.com News | Last updated: May 23, 2012 - 4:23:30 PM

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Whitney Lewis, 24, of Chicago at NATO protest May 20. Photo: Richard B. Muhammad
(FinalCall.com) - The Chicago and national corporate media were fawning over the performance of police officers facing off against demonstrators who came to protest the NATO summit, May 20-21, in the city. The performance of the officers was lauded and the police superintendent praised for being on the frontlines with his troops and for dealing properly with protestors.

     EDITORIAL    

The incident most-often pointed to as a sign of successful police operations came at the end of a major march Sunday, May 20, in a clash between police officers and a small group of protestors. The group apparently did not disperse quickly enough. The demonstration had wound through downtown streets to within blocks—a short, safe distance away—of the meeting of international leaders. Police ordered the group to move and shortly afterward, pushing, shoving and clubbing started—with blows exchanged from both sides.

Police were praised for their “restraint,” perhaps especially with ghosts of the 1968 Democratic National Convention and bloody Chicago police clubbing of protesters hovering. Mainstream media screeched about provocations from demonstrators and cool-headed cops. It was surreal, however, to hear the media touting the virtues of police power and tactics with little or no appreciation for the basic right to protest. Protests are noisy, raucous and passionate events as a rule. The protest downtown was for the most part peaceful and well-orchestrated with U.S. citizens making political and social statements.

In a democracy, shouldn’t there have at least been some discussion of the right to protest and the need and expectation for police restraint to balance everyone’s rights and safety?

Certainly police officers should not be attacked or assaulted as they carry out their role as peacekeepers and ensure all legitimate rights are respected. As protestors had the right to march and freedom of expression, business owners and residents along the parade route had a right to safety and peace. These two rights are not exclusive but actually are a balancing act that pays homage to the Constitution and the ideals Americans profess to hold dear.

Are the powers of the state and the crackdown on dissent so pervasive and so regular that if heads are not busted at the first sign of a sign or a banner it is cause for celebration? Some veterans who returned from Afghanistan expressed horror and shame watching protestors regularly beaten and abused by “peace” officers. These veterans say even with violent assaults on American soldiers in a foreign land and a war zone, they were made to respect the Afghan right to protest. They didn’t see the same respect for the rights of protestors at home.

City police departments have become increasingly militarized and often look more like an army than a force that respects and protects the rights of people who want to express dissent. Demonstrators are often treated like they broke the law because of opposition to wars paid for by taxpayer dollars and the blood and lives of their children.

To help justify and promote the narrative of police restraint and control, media outlets shared tales of scary black-clad troublemakers. Some media outlets reported on “Black Blocs,” or what they called groups of anarchists, determined to pick a fight with law enforcement. But as one Chicago media outlet reported police officers surrounded and contained this group as it massed and marched. It may make good copy to paint this as a picture of two rival armies going to war, but in reality a handful of aggressors are no match for hundreds of officers in full battle gear, backed up by horses, sound cannons, paddy wagons, tear gas, pepper spray, batons, guns, police cars and helicopters. Anyone picking a fight and hoping to win would be hopelessly deluded. It was also reported that some officers were dressed like and mixed in with the Black Bloc. Some might call that an undercover operation, while others might call it lacing the protest with agent provocateurs.

A couple days before the actual meeting protestors starting arriving in the Windy City to make a statement and to exercise a basic right in a democracy—the right to protest. It is a right enshrined as free speech in the Constitution and one that should be cherished.

People don’t take to the streets for no reason and the anti-NATO protestors were no different—they are fed up with spending and deaths from war, killings of civilians and soldiers in the name of peace that never comes, austerity programs and government cutbacks as political leaders who bemoan a lack of resources never fail to find money to attack, invade and occupy.

People are angry, scared and don’t see any way out. They don’t believe anyone is listening to their voices and they don’t trust their elected leaders to represent their interests.

They also don’t trust the media because the same reporting, the same storylines, the same questions betray the same alliances. “Almost all media that reach a large audience in the United States are owned by for-profit corporations—institutions that by law are obligated to put the profits of their investors ahead of all other considerations. The goal of maximizing profits is often in conflict with the practice of responsible journalism,” notes Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

“Not only are most major media owned by corporations, these companies are becoming larger and fewer in number as the biggest ones absorb their rivals. This concentration of ownership tends to reduce the diversity of media voices and puts great power in the hands of a few companies. As news outlets fall into the hands of large conglomerates with holdings in many industries, conflicts of interest inevitably interfere with newsgathering,” added the anti-censorship and anti-media bias group.

If the media is not performing the fundamental task of honest reporting and promoting discourse, it is failing miserably at its job. And if an informed public is essential to a healthy democracy parroting lines to please advertisers and owners isn’t a good thing. It only hides the truth until the explosion comes.

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