Last night at 1 a.m., NYPD officers dressed in riot gear moved in to Zuccotti park, the first and largest location for the Occupy movement, and evicted protestors. There were many causes for concern during last night’s raid, one of which was the use of a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) on protestors, as reported by the New Yorkist’s twitter account. An LRAD is a device designed for use in Iraq and Afghanistan and can damage the hearing of entire crowds. Of course, the clearing of Zuccotti park was all in the name of “public safety,” according to an official statement by Mayor Bloomberg, but perhaps most telling is his statement that it was “at Brookfield’s request” that the NYPD cleared the park. Brookfield Properties, the corporation that owns the park, is one of the nation’s largest commercial real estate companies. Perhaps most concerning, however, is the deliberate and nearly total media blackout that the raid was carried out under.
An attack on journalistic freedom
Information about last night’s police raid on Zuccotti park has come almost entirely from Twitter posts by protestors and journalists. This is because the NYPD enforced a media blackout that grounded news helicopters and forcibly denied journalists entry to the park. Many journalists tweeted their experiences using the hashtag #mediablackout, relaying stories about being roughed up and even arrested.
Among those arrested were NPR freelancer Julie Walker and New York Times reporter Jared Malsin.
This complete media blackout speaks to the dangerous situation in America with respect to journalistic freedom. The anonymous, riot gear-clad police seem to have no issue with using violence to prevent the media from reporting their actions. Whereas the practice of police confiscating individuals’ cameras has become an unfortunately commonplace act that has provoked only a small amount of ire from the public, a large-scale and systematic silencing of the media is a different matter. This may serve as a sign that the facade of niceties between those that wield the threat of violence in society and those that serve to inform the public is slowly crumbling. The attacks on journalistic freedom in America are becoming more brazen and obvious. And more violent.
Potential media backlash
Of course, there is the possibility that the media blackout during the eviction of Zuccotti park could backfire on Bloomberg and the NYPD. After all, one of Occupy Wall Street’s greatest problems has been the lack of coverage from traditional media outlets. Now, it would seem, it’s personal for the journalists that work for America’s largest news agencies. For example, the New York Observer reported via Twitter that CBS reporter Manuel Gallegas had remarked that “they’re kicking everybody out. Write about it.” Though the mainstream media may have toed the line with respect to their previous coverage of the Occupy movement, this blatant attack on their freedom as press agents may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Before last night, the press enjoyed a degree of separation from the tension between protestors and police. They were free to peer inside the conflict and hum and haw about the various issues presented. But last night, journalists from the mainstream media and the Occupy protestors were treated as equals by the police, and that meant violence and arrests. It could be that last night marked the moment when the media’s attention shifted to the police and state response to the Occupy movement. Whether this affront to freedom of the press becomes a call to scrutinize the actions of those in power or is swept under the rug by the mainstream media remains to be seen, but one can only hope it’s the former and not the latter.