Saturday, April 16

All Hail the Smart Mob!

When bad news turns good:

Dennis Kyne put up such a fight at a political protest last summer, the arresting officer recalled, it took four police officers to haul him down the steps of the New York Public Library and across Fifth Avenue.

"We picked him up and we carried him while he squirmed and screamed," the officer, Matthew Wohl, testified in December. "I had one of his legs because he was kicking and refusing to walk on his own."

From all I heard at the time, the GOP convention protests were hearteningly peaceful; but there's always a few bad apples, and testimony like that looks like an open-and-shut case. But after Officer Wohl's testimony (reports the New York Times)

"[...T]he prosecutor abruptly dropped all charges.

During a recess, the defense had brought new information to the prosecutor. A videotape shot by a documentary filmmaker showed Mr. Kyne agitated but plainly walking under his own power down the library steps, contradicting the vivid account of Officer Wohl, who was nowhere to be seen in the pictures. Nor was the officer seen taking part in the arrests of four other people at the library against whom he signed complaints.

A sprawling body of visual evidence, made possible by inexpensive, lightweight cameras in the hands of private citizens, volunteer observers and the police themselves, has shifted the debate over precisely what happened on the streets during the week of the convention.

For Mr. Kyne and 400 others arrested that week, video recordings provided evidence that they had not committed a crime or that the charges against them could not be proved, according to defense lawyers and prosecutors.

This wasn't just a one-time thing, either; even worse was the case of

[...] Alexander Dunlop, who said he was arrested while going to pick up sushi.

Last week, he discovered that there were two versions of the same police tape: the one that was to be used as evidence in his trial had been edited at two spots, removing images that showed Mr. Dunlop behaving peacefully. When a volunteer film archivist found a more complete version of the tape and gave it to Mr. Dunlop's lawyer, prosecutors immediately dropped the charges and said that a technician had cut the material by mistake.

Gee, it's a good thing the prosecutors didn't "accidentally" edit out the part of the tape that seemed to support their case. Of the more than 1000 demonstrators arrested, some 162 pled guilty; many more are being spared by the efforts of citizen actions like "I-Witness Video, a project that assembled hundreds of videotapes shot during the convention by volunteers [link added]". Ther's not much on the Web about the project, but it's at the front of what we can expect to become a long line of activists keeping the law honest. I'm sad, if not too surprised, to see how needed it is.

I believe it was the brilliant playwright Tom Stoppard who said "The point of non-violence isn't to get beaten up; it's to get beaten up in front of the media" (at any rate it sounds like Stoppard). In 1968 Chicago, demonstrators chanted "the whole world is watching" as they were attacked by police in front of network cameras; the movement's Achilles heel ever since has been that sometimes the networks don't show up. Now that has ceased to matter. Power to the people!

(The Times story, btw, "Videos Challenge Accounts of Convention Unrest", by JIM DWYER (Published: April 12, 2005), has no doubt disappeared into a bloody paid archive. There's more about Dunlop, and it's worth a read, but we non-subscribers have to get by on fair use. As fair as I can make it anyhow. Bur that's another post entirely...)


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