A funny thing happens when one uses the term “police state” to describe behavior by authorities in response to the Occupy protests.
Free Speech Zones
In late November, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa released a midnight press release in anticipation of a raid on Occupy LA, which included this line: “During the park closure, a First Amendment area will remain open on the Spring Street City Hall steps.” The absurdity of that statement should be immediately apparent to anyone who understands how real journalism works. Good reporters don’t obediently stand in a “First Amendment area,” deliberately placed far away from the heart of the story. Reporters need to be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with protesters, precisely so they can witness how the police interact with them.
Earlier in the month, journalist Josh Harkinson reported on being alerted to the existence of something called the “frozen zone” when he attempted to cover the eviction of Zuccotti.
A white-shirted officer moved in with a bullhorn. “If you don’t leave the park you are subject to arrest. Now is your opportunity to leave the park.”
Nobody budged. As a lone drum pounded, I climbed up on the wall to get a better view.
“Can I help you?” an burly officer asked me, his helpfulness belied by his scowl.
“I’m a reporter,” I told him.
“This is a frozen zone, all right?” he said, using a term I’d never heard before. “Just like them, you have to leave the area. If you do not, you will be subject to arrest.”
He grabbed my arm and began dragging me off. My shoes skidded across the park’s slimy granite floor. All around me, zip-cuffed occupiers writhed on the ground beneath a fog of chemicals.
“I just want to witness what is going on here,” I yelped.
“You can witness it with the rest of the press,” he said. Which, of course, meant not witnessing it.
“Why are you excluding the press from observing this?” I asked.
“Because this is a frozen zone. It’s a police action going on. You could be injured.”
His meaning was clear. I let myself be hustled across the street to the press pen.
“What’s your name?”
His reply came as fast as he could turn away: “Watch your back.”