As I write this, the Occupy Wall Street movement is about eight weeks old and long-tolerant municipalities are weary of having their parks turned into tent cities. Residents near the camp-out sites have been inconvenienced and legitimate businesses have lost revenue in already difficult economic times. These cities are now relying on their police departments to keep the peace and clear out the demonstrators, some of whom have ignored both official pleas and court orders to move on.
Our country’s most basic tenet – the Constitutional right to freedom of speech – is something we guard with our lives. As a journalist, I believe in the protestors’ right to have their say, but I do not believe they have the right to efface public property, interfere with the livelihoods of others, put the safety of the public at risk or cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars that most cash-strapped jurisdictions simply do not have to spend.
Officers who are doing their jobs and following orders to clear the crowds out are now facing a tsunami of criticism from many in the media. Huffington Post media editor, Jack Mirkinson, authored one blog entry that deserves a closer look.
Appearing in the online opinion website, Huffington Post, on Nov. 17, Mirkinson’s piece is headlined, “Journalists Arrested, Beaten by Police.” As if the headline alone isn’t misleading enough, take a look at the first sentence: “As thousands of Occupy Wall Street protestors took to the street on Thursday, journalists once again found themselves a target of police violence and arrests.”
The blog post then presents a litany of complaints from individuals Mirkinson identifies as journalists. What he doesn’t say in his blog is how the journalists’ behavior factored into anything that happened: Did they refuse to move on? Did they block police, get in their way or otherwise cause problems when officials tried to do their jobs? When the public reads his posts, they could easily assume that the “journalists” were simply standing there, doing their jobs and complying with police orders when they were each attacked by police for no reason.
What I also find disturbing about Mirkinson’s OWS blog post is that it’s simply a string of allegations, with no original reporting or verification, much less regard for the officers who had to wade into this dangerous mess. No matter what the Huffington Post tries to infer, journalists are not above the law.
While the press lionizes the OWS movement, they only obliquely report on its side effects. Many politicians have adopted a kid glove approach to the protests, allowing them to endanger the safety of the neighborhoods in which they have taken place and exposing those who have to clean it up (and by that, I mean law enforcement) to danger and ridicule.
There is no doubt that police have had to walk a tough line during these incidents: They have been accused of inappropriate use of force and overreaction. Have there been incidents where police did not act appropriately? Of course there have and no one excuses bad behavior of that sort. But many in the media and some bureaucrats have excused equally bad behavior on the parts of many protestors, and that is simply not acceptable.
Police have been given the order to keep the peace and, when cities grow tired of dealing with the OWS protests, clearing them out. In most cases they do so as carefully as possible, but it is not reasonable to expect law enforcement officers to put their personal well-beings on the line in order to pacify those who sympathize with OWS or want to use the protests to further their own political gains.
Maybe it’s me, but I’m tired of seeing police turned into villains. They deserve better from both the public and the press.
Editor's Note: Mirkinson's entry "Journalists arrested, Beaten by Police" can be found at www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/17/occupy-wall-street-nov-17-journalists-arrested-beaten_n_1099661.html.