Probably 97 percent of police act professionally toward protesters. But the other 3 percent are armed and dangerous, and know that they’re unlikely to be held accountable.
By Josh Holland for Alternet
November 18, 2011
Occupations across the country have born the brunt of some violent police tactics, and in a world where everyone has a camera-phone, a lot of their brutish behavior has been caught in photographs and on video.
Police work is difficult and dangerous, and the majority of officers on the street behave like pros. When it comes to controlling crowds of angry protesters, they’re often put into tense situations and ordered to do things they may not want to do by commanders who are far removed from the scene. I’ve witnessed a lot of restraint from cops, which of course doesn’t make the news.
But being human, cops are also prone to fear and rage like everyone else. A minority of cops, like a minority of protesters, lose their cool in tense situations. The difference is that they aren’t amateurs – they’re well trained and have guidelines that they’re required to follow. When a cop loses his or her cool, it can be terrifying. And when a protester exercising his or her right to assemble and speak is a victim of excessive force, it also violates the United States Constitution.
Unlike protesters, cops are also armed, and it’s difficult to hold them accountable for their actions when they don’t behave professionally. Most civilian review boards are toothless and ineffectual. But, as Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told AlterNet last month, “public video recording has dramatically changed the landscape of police accountability, no question about it. It’s a lot harder for police to sweep allegations of abuse under the rug when it’s on video and on YouTube.”
Below are some of the most stunning incidents of police officers going wild on Occupy protesters around the country. To be fair, we don’t always know the context in which these violent actions occurred – what happened in the moments before the incident was captured on camera. At the same time, when you look at these images, keep in mind that the rule of thumb in use-of-force cases is that police are prohibited from applying more physical force than is necessary to accomplish a legitimate law enforcement task. When they exceed that measure, they’re committing a crime.
The Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris on Friday ordered French Internet service providers to block access to Copwatch Nord Paris I-D-F, a website designed to allow civilians to post videos of alleged police misconduct. The decision was applauded by the police union, Alliance Police Nationale (APN), which argued that the website incited violence against police. Jean-Claude Delage, secretary general of the APN, said that “[t]he judges have analyzed the situation perfectly—this site being a threat to the integrity of the police — and made the right decision.” Opponents of Internet censorship were also quick to comment on the judgment. Jeremie Zimmermann, spokesman for La Quadrature du Net, a Paris-based net neutrality organization, called the order “an obvious will by the French government to control and censor citizens’ new online public sphere.” The site was ordered to be blocked immediately.France does not have an equivalent to the US First Amendment [text], which prohibits the government from making any law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” In August, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that there is a clearly-established First Amendment right to film police officers performing their duties in a public space. The Center for Constitutional Rights filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that concerned individuals and cop-watch groups have a right to record the activity of police in the public. The case stems from a 2007 incident when police officers arrested Simon Gilk after he openly recorded three police officers arresting a suspect on the Boston Common.
DeBray Carpenter aka Fly Benzo and his brother, Tommy Clayton aka Pladee, are being choked yet again by the San Francisco INjustice system. His third arrest since he began leading the protest against the police murder of Kenneth Harding was Tuesday, Oct. 18, probably to silence him on Saturday, Oct. 22, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality. Pack the courtroom for Fly’s next hearing on Thursday, Oct. 27, 9 a.m., 850 Bryant in Dept. 12.
For more information, including on ways to contribute, see SF BayView Newspaper
On Tuesday afternoon one day after DeBray Carpenter who is known as Fly Benzo, a resident, activist and hip-hop artist in Bayview/Hunters Point spoke at a well attended press conference in preparation of the October 22 Day Against Police Brutality, he was talking about Yes on Prop H (school placement/desegregation proposition) when San Francisco cops started filming him, and then he started filming them filming him. The cops tried to take his camera; Fly tries to defend his camera. The police start attacking Fly, Tommy, his older brother, goes in to defend Fly, one officer fell while trying to do a ridiculous take down and he hit his head.
Both Tommy and Fly were beat up and went to the hospital before they were taken to jail. Tommy was ORd but charged with resisting arrest and battery.
Fly was charged with resisting, battery and attempting to incite a riot. The arraignment has been put over to Monday at 9:00 a.m., Department 12 at San Francisco hall of (in)justice, 850 Bryant.
Who is Fly Benzo? According to Jeremy Miller, executive director of the Idriss Stelly Foundation, “Fly is a young, articulate, charismatic man from a radical family. As a young organizer who is on the rise, I feel that the SFPD is trying to clip his wings.”
It should be noted that after SFPD chief of police Suhr got booed out of the Bayview Opera house meeting after the police killed Kenneth Harding, Fly Benzo was illegaly arrested for disrupting that meeting. He and his family have been targeted and retaliated against for standing up and speaking out against police brutality. And now he’s been arrested and assaulted for copwatching.
The Oscar Grant Committee stands in solidarity with Fly Benzo and demands all charges be dropped against him and his brother Tommy.
People around the country are rightly outraged at NYPD Deputy InspectorAnthony Bologna after multiple recordings of him indiscriminately pepper-spraying unarmed Occupy Wall Street protesters surfaced. If not for those recordings, Bologna would likely have never been identified and held accountable for his ruthless behavior.
Meanwhile, in the state of Illinois residents are regularly arrested for recording on-duty police in public, regardless of the circumstances, thanks to a draconian eavesdropping law, which I wrote about extensively here.
Illinois is one of a handful of all-party consent states, where it is illegal to record a conversation unless everyone involved has given permission to do so. But the law is most restrictive in Illinois, where it is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison to record on-duty police officers.
Earlier this week, ABC News reported on the case of Louis Frobe, who spent a night in jail and faced 15 years in prison last August after using his flip camera to record a traffic stop. Frobe was pulled over for speeding and the officer was not pleased when he realized he was being recorded, even as his squad dash cam was routinely recording the traffic stop as well. ABC News details the confrontation:
Officer: “That recording? Frobe : “Yes, Yes, I’ve been… Officer: “Was it recording all of our conversation? Frobe: “Yes. Officer: “Guess what? You were eavesdropping on our conversation. I did not give you permission to do so. Step out of the vehicle.”
Louis Frobe was then cuffed and arrested for felony eavesdropping.
“I was terrified. I was absolutely terrified. I was begging him, I said I didn’t know about this law. Would you please take the camera – this is no big deal – and smash it. You know I didn’t know about the law,” Frobe told ABC7.
The charges were ultimately dropped, as usually is the case. But after experiencing the worst night of his life and spending a night in Lake County Jail, Frobe was too angry to let it go. So he got a lawyer and filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the law.
It is widely recognized across the country that recording in public, where there is no expectation of privacy is guaranteed by the First Amendment, which is why the ACLU of Illinois is currently challenging the law. Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit, who is on the panel hearing the case, was quoted by the Chicago Sun-Times as saying the following:
A senior appeals court judge said Tuesday that if Illinois’ eavesdropping law were expanded, gang bangers and “snooping” reporters would run rampant, secretly recording conversations unchecked.
“If you permit the audio recordings, they’ll be a lot more eavesdropping. … There’s going to be a lot of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers,” U.S. 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner said. “Yes, it’s a bad thing. There is such a thing as privacy.”
Given the brutality being dished out at peaceful protesters in Zuccotti Park, Judge Posner is clearly on the side of officers like Bologna and those who prefer to shield authority figures from any degree of accountability.
While the panel is set to issue a written ruling in the coming months, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to Illinois. Thus far, exchanges between the Occupy Chicago protesters and Chicago police have remained civil. But should they take a turn for the worse, let’s hope that protesters armed with smartphones can record footage of the chaos without having to spend a night in jail or face 15 years in prison.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Transit officials said Friday that they blocked cellphone reception in San Francisco train stations for three hours to disrupt planned demonstrations over a police shooting.
Officials with the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, better known as BART, said they turned off electricity to cellular towers in four stations from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday. The move was made after BART learned that protesters planned to use mobile devices to coordinate a demonstration on train platforms.
“A civil disturbance during commute times at busy downtown San Francisco stations could lead to platform overcrowding and unsafe conditions for BART customers, employees and demonstrators,” BART officials said in a prepared statement.
The statement noted that it’s illegal to demonstrate on the platform or aboard the trains. BART said it has set aside special areas for demonstrations.
The American Civil Liberties Union questioned the tactic.
“Shutting down access to mobile phones is the wrong response to political protests,” the ACLU’s Rebecca Farmer said in a blog post.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation said on its website that “BART officials are showing themselves to be of a mind with the former president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak.” Mubarak’s regime cut Internet and cellphone services in the country for days early this year while trying to squelch protests demanding an end to his authoritarian rule.
BART officials were confident the cellphone disruptions were legal. The demonstration planned Thursday failed to develop.
“We had a commute that was safe and without disruption,” said BART spokesman Jim Allison.
The demonstrators were protesting the July 3 shooting of Charles Blair Hill by BART police who claimed Hill came at them with a knife.
A July 11 demonstration disrupted service during the rush-hour commute, prompting the closing of BART’s Civic Center station. Several arrests were made.
BALTIMORE — Baltimore police officers deleted videos from a man’s mobile phone after he recorded a confrontation between officers and a female friend at the 2010 Preakness Stakes, violating his constitutional rights and wiping away a year and a half of memories of his young son, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday. The suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland challenges the detention of Christopher Sharp, the seizure of his phone and the deletion of the recordings as unconstitutional. The ACLU argued that law enforcement officers in Maryland, including Baltimore police officers, “routinely threaten to arrest or punish civilians who document police activity, using the Maryland Wiretap Act and related, inapplicable infractions to back up these threats.”