Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pershing Park Mass Arrests Got Media Yawn at the Time

DC agreed to pay $8.25 million this week to hundreds of individuals wrongfully arrested at Pershing Park in 2002. That's how badly they messed up -- how eager they were to settle.

But at the time, did many reporters get that rounding up people standing in a park and arresting them en masse is not how it's supposed to work? No.

Here's FAIR's useful article from the time checking out the coverage. For the most part, the mass arrest of people standing in a park just wasn't a big issue.

The coverage in the Post was sad at first. The initial article, a Style-section front super-snark by David Montgomery ("Taken for A Ride; Police Turn the Bike Strike Into a Tour de Force") missed that the police had done something, you know, illegal. In a follow-up article three days later on the front of the Metro section ("Did DC Police Go too Far?"), the Post finally asked some good questions. The Post has covered the case some over the years, but not like the City Paper's close coverage. The Post article today is on the back of the Metro section.

The coverage in the NYT was light. The protests were covered via a section in the article on the meetings; that something was wrong about the 649 reported arrests was not apparent. The FAIR article has much more from the time.

So will this happen again? Will the media 'get' it next time there is police misconduct at a demonstration? Or are false arrests of demonstrators only news if they happen in Tehran?

The criminalization of dissent became very normalized here in this decade. 9/11 was a big part of it, but I don't think that's everything.

The Secret Service under Bush would kick people out of public events if they held signs saying the wrong thing. Michael Bloomberg, who is progressive on many issues, also helped mainstream an anti-free-speech position.

Next time there is police misconduct at a demonstration, think about how it would be covered by the American press if there were the same facts in Moscow. It's not too much to ask.


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