The photo above is of a Kentucky University journalism student, with press badge, being doused with chemical spray before he was arrested. Note that it's clear he, the only one in range with a camera, is being intentionally targeted by the officer. The photo was taken by Matthew Rourke of the Associated Press, who was also arrested shortly after taking this photograph.
-source: The Kentucky Kernel
-source: The Kentucky Kernel
Slowly, but steadily, we are losing the battle against police misconduct.
The number of cases of misconduct appear to be growing...
Yet efforts to enact accountability reforms are constantly under attack by police organizations and grow more ineffectual each day as new loopholes in current accountability systems are discovered and abused.
Police unions and other organizations designed to increase the influence of the police in the political arena are growing rapidly in number and in strength...
Yet the number of citizen activists and organizations that deal with police misconduct issues are diminishing in number and in ability to talk freely about abuses.
New laws are continually being enacted to protect the police from charges of abuse and to keep the public in the dark about cases of misconduct, yet activists and the press continue to have access to disciplinary information restricted and their voices censored.
If all of this wasn't bad enough, then came St. Paul Minnesota where at least 9 journalists and photographers were detained so far this week while covering the police response to protests and several other journalists and police misconduct activists were detained and/or subjected to "preemptive" raids.
While those who were targeted in those raids have continued to cover police activities as best they can, the implications of these intimidating tactics and the arrest of credentialed journalists have sent a chill over all who try to cover police misconduct issues and act as advocates for victims of police brutality. It appears to signal a new chapter in the story of constant battle to improve accountability, the use of direct police action against critics by the police without any second thought to adverse public perception or civil rights abuse charges.
Even before these ominous actions were undertaken against those who dared to speak out against brutality and report about corruption, many have had to deal with more subtle forms of intimidation and threats by police officials and government agencies which have already taken their toll on the number of people who are willing to stand up and speak out about civil right and human rights abuses in the US.
In fact, several sites and organizations that cover police brutality have grown silent without any explanation in recent months. Most recently, just last month in fact, one of the most outspoken voices against police misconduct, BadCopNews, suddenly went quiet after posting volumes of information and stories of abuses in the US, at an average of at least a dozen stories of misconduct a day since 2001 in fact.
I've counted at least 6 other sites and organizations that have gone quiet this year alone, and I fear the actual number is likely much higher. While we can only speculate about the reasons why these citizen journalists and activists go silent, it's reasonable presumption that it has much to do with the intensive harassment such writers receive from the police, and not just the police departments that they normally cover.
This site itself, in fact, has been harassed by police organizations and officers from across the US, with messages ranging from illegitimate threats of legal action to outright threats of bodily harm and/or death if the site's writer, me, ever came to their town. Sadly, I'm not alone in that as I know of at least 5 other writers that have had to deal with similar threats, one of whom suddenly disappeared without a trace in July.
Things were already looking grim before those events of this week shattered the perception that, perhaps, our best chance at avoiding the possibility of such threats against us being acted on would hinge on us continuing to speak out about abuses, to continue to be seen and visible. It's now clear that this isn't the case as many of the journalists and activists who were arrested haven't even been mentioned in the media and experienced abuses and denials of medical care while imprisoned.
These are frightening times, if any readers wonder why I devoted so many posts to what was happening all the way out in Minnesota, consider this... if the police there can get away with doing that to credentialed members of the press, imagine what police anywhere in the US could get away with doing to one of us.
Don't get me wrong, I don't plan on voluntarily going under, if I am silenced it will be against my will, as I'm sure is true for those brave people still covering the protests in St.Paul as well. But I do want people to think about just how grave what happened in St. Paul this week really is. I want people to understand just how dangerous of a risk it is that the voices raised against police abuses are in danger of being silenced like this...
After all, if none are left to speak out about such abuses, just think how much worse those abuses are going to get.