It can still be police violence without looking dramatic

It frustrates me pretty deeply that in this city, police violence (whether from city or state police) toward protesters is often not seen as such. The police here are better at PR, I think, than a lot of others. They don’t want to look bad in public. And they know that they will look bad in public if there are dramatic photos of clouds of tear gas, or flashbangs going off. Or if there are photos of uncontrolled cops chasing people down the street waving fists or batons. So they don’t do that. Instead, they do tight, controlled, formations and block as much media off as they can. They shine lights to make it harder to photograph or film what’s going on. They get in close and hit, choke, grab pressure points, or throw people around – something that, in a closely-packed crowd, won’t even be noticed by most people who aren’t right at the line, let alone by media. And then they arrest people, and they tighten the cuffs. Sometimes they tighten them a lot.

And then, they brag everywhere about how wonderful and restrained they were. And most of the media abets them.

We saw this after the last Occupy raid. It was a model for the nation, we were told. Completely peaceful. No injuries. The media was almost entirely shut out of the space, and livestreamers and photographers in the camp had lights shined at them to make it harder for them to document what was happening, and were some of the first targets. One reporter who had covered the protests sympathetically was pulled across the street, not even allowed to stand with the other media. Things that mostly did not make it into media coverage of the raid: Police holding a protester who was already cuffed and secured, in a pain hold, injuring him. Police throwing someone onto the gravel and laughing at her when she was upset about her partner’s arrest. Police cutting into protesters’ tents with large bladed weapons while the protesters were still inside gathering their things – it was 5am and most people had just been awoken – terrifying some of them into panic attacks. Police hitting a terrified woman who was trying to disperse hard enough to knock her down. Protesters being cuffed so tightly that their hands swelled up like balloons and their wrists were sliced. Multiple protesters with bone or tendon injuries that required higher medical care.

Now, with the Ferguson solidarity protests sweeping the nation, we’re seeing the same thing again. Possibly all the worse because these protests are more racially diverse than our Occupy was. The police showed so much restraint! They were so wonderful! Look, no clouds of tear gas here! No protesters injured!

If no protesters were injured, then why did some of the released arrestees go to the hospital to get injury care, and where did those photographs; of injuries come from?

I was pretty near the front, though not right at it. The police were in a pretty tight, careful formation, and the crowd was tightly packed near the front as crowds are wont to be, making it hard to see anything if you weren’t in that area. The front line at the biggest standoff was quite long, and I couldn’t see more than a small portion of it. In my small portion, I saw protesters being grabbed by the neck and throat (police here seem inordinately fond of throat grabs), protesters being elbowed and thrown to the ground, and a female protester being grabbed by her hair by cops who were trying to drag her away, plus a couple of arrests, including one before there had been any attempt by the line of protesters to walk forward. It looked like about 20% of the cops were responsible for most of the problems. In one case, I saw someone knocked to the ground and a wild-eyed cop attacked them on the ground, appearing to be kicking or kneeing them repeatedly, before being pulled back into the line by other officers. In the background, some unknown police equipment shining bright light into our faces.  Based on reports and videos, what I saw in my portion appears to have been pretty typical across the front line. I later checked one hoarse-voiced protester for injuries (she had bruising) after she’d been struck multiple times and had her windpipe compressed by the police.

There have also been reports from arrestees and jail support volunteers, that queer and trans protesters, especially women of color, constituted a very disproportionate number of arrests, with more than 10% of arrestees being trans and most being queer, and trans arrestees being misgendered and verbally abused by police.

It’s not Ferguson. I medicked in Ferguson back in August, during the period where the police were throwing chemical agents around like candy and charging trapped screaming crowds with assault rifles pointed (and again for the Ferguson October convergence, though that was a very different atmosphere). I know the difference. Nor is it, say, the NATO Summit of 2012 (another situation without clouds of tear gas), where blood was running in the streets and there were broken bones aplenty and even life-threatening injuries. But that doesn’t make it at all acceptable. It shouldn’t have to be those things before people say that it wasn’t okay. It shouldn’t have to look dramatic for the cameras before people say that it wasn’t okay. And frankly, it shouldn’t have to involve heavy riot gear or military equipment before people say that it wasn’t okay – those things can be tremendously frightening and add different kinds of not-okay-ness, but I’ve seen police inflict brutal violence on protesters with none of that. Police brutality isn’t police brutality because it’s photogenic.

(Photo credit: The second throat grab photo linked in this post was taken by Paul Weiskel.  I don’t know who took the first photo, let me know if it’s yours.  The injury photos are credited in the tweets that I link to.)

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