>We know this country has become polarized on multiple levels. We know that a thriving democracy is a struggle. But we also know that there is a difference between the messiness of democratic action and the actions of heavy handed social control. Sometimes (usually) messiness is better, though it is unpredictable.
With this in mind I have been curious about the two big political party conventions and the manner in which those with the guns and body armor are going to support democracy. The Democratic National Convention seemed to go off without a hitch. They even opened up a giant stadium to let in everyone they could. The Republican National Convention (RNC) is another story. So far there have been numerous riots, police violence, and arrests.
Question: Should police use force against peaceful political protesters? I can understand trying to stop violent protesters from hurting others or damaging property – though property is not so nearly as sacred as human life or well being. Although I am against violence I am not against being rowdy and noisy for important social and political concerns. Consider this video* of police attacking apparently peaceful protesters at the RNC:
What you see in this clip are people walking along a street. What you also see and hear are heavily armored police officers shooting some of the walkers with rubber bullets, which is even more aggressive than hitting someone with a baton in my opinion. The police also use tear gas to split up the crowd. I cannot tell exactly what is was these particular walkers were doing that was so bad, but I doubt rubber bullets and tear gas was necessary… unless the goal is to make sure, with complete certainty, that the hierarchies of power remain intact and understood.
Or consider this video clip that hearkens back to those flower-power protest images from the 1960s:
I cannot say the woman in the green tank-top is acting in the most wise manner (at least for her own safety), but take a moment to compare the dress and collective action of the two different kinds of people in this video. One group seems rather loosely organized at best, wearing ordinary street clothes, and looking much like you and your friends. The other group is clad head-to-toe in black armor (rainbow plaid armor is not nearly as menacing), is fully organized into a phalanx, and is looking like extras from a Robocop movie. Honestly, I bet they love putting on that stuff.
Democracy is messy. Protest are necessary. Violence should be avoided. And people should be able to march up and down the streets without fear of tear gas, rubber bullets, or menacing storm troopers inciting violence. (I say inciting because their very presence, demeanor, and visual appearance is designed to be threatening.) I cannot help but think of some police officer yelling “This is no time for democracy, this the the Republican National Convention!” Or, the police thinking these protesters are stupid idiots for showing up with flowers to a tear gas fight.
But other interesting things have been happening related to the RNC. These include the raiding of homes of “suspected” protesters, such as in this video:
In light of that video remember these important words:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. (Amendment 4 to the U.S. Constitution)
Has line been crossed here? I can’t say for sure, but seems likely. I doubt there was probable cause.
And there was the raiding of homes of “suspected” journalists (who WERE journalists), such as in this video:
In light of this raid consider these important words:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (Amendment 1 of the U.S. Constitution)
Has line been crossed here? Looks probable.
Police also confiscated citizen journalists’ cameras and computers, as described in this video:
What is going on here? What is the answer to the question: Why are these police actions necessary? What is being protected? What is gained?
Not necessarily more important than the above situations and police actions, but certainly very critical when it comes to the importance and necessity of a free press in a democracy, here is a clip of the intrepid Amy Goodman of Democracy Now being arrested for investigating the brutal arrest of her producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar:
And here is the video taken by Nicole Salazar as she was beaten and thrown to the ground by police even though she was telling them she was Press and was clearly wearing her Press card around her neck.
One can only conclude one of three things: 1) The safety of the police and of others was so grave that the police had no other choice but to treat her that way, 2) the police became so angry that their emotions made them act irrationally, or 3) there is a planned and concerted effort to intimidate and control any media that does not conform to the predictable and safe (to the established hierarchy of power) norms as exhibited by the major networks. The first choice is, at best, a stretch, and mostly likely ludicrous. The second choice is probably partly true, but too many law enforcement individuals were involved for it to merely be runaway emotions. The third is the most likely scenario, and is born of fear. And fear is one of the greatest threats to democracy.
A whole lot of questions are raised by these video clips, and there are many more videos of the same. I would argue that we are witnessing a time in which a sector of the population is living in fear that their world will not last, and that sector are those currently in positions of power. This may or may not be true. I also believe, however, that this is really nothing new. We have seen this many times before in this country in many different forms. In fact, that is part and parcel of the story of humankind.
Keep this in mind, if a free press is critical for a thriving democracy then it will, by definition and implication, be a threat to someone. If a democracy is threatening to those who need predictable power to get and keep what they want, then, logically a free press is a threat to those people. What do we have if we don’t have a free press? Do we have a democracy?
* Several of the video clips above were produced by The Uptake.