On Friday, March 23, Paul Gattone, the lawyer representing many of the Occupy Tucson arrestees, held a press conference to protest the Tucson Police Department’s recent actions against the occupiers at Vente de Agosto park downtown. Despite the fact that five occupiers had been arrested two nights before the press conference, and two the night before, no mainstream media turned up.
One might think that seven arrests resulting from the police going after political activists would seem to warrant some news coverage, but the decision makers at the mainstream news outlets in Tucson decided not to cover either the arrest of the occupiers or the press conference denouncing the police actions.
Some of the extra-legal actions and abuse of authority by the Tucson Police Department that were highlighted in Mr. Gattone’s press release include:
1. Camping gear is now illegal, according to the TPD. The TPD even stated that it was illegal for one of the Occupiers to have his truck parked alongside the park because it had camping gear in it. No ordinance was, however, cited by TPD regarding laws against having camping gear in the back of one’s vehicle.
2. The police have repeatedly ignored the city park curfew of 10:30 p.m. to illegally arrest people whose crime appears to be holding signs. On the evening of Friday, March 23, 2012 at around 9:30 p.m., three individuals were arrested while walking within the four feet easement mandated by the police the night before. The victims were protesting with signs; no blankets or any other personal possessions were present. One individual was reportedly knocked to the ground and injured as the TPD arrested the three.
3. Among the illegal and irresponsible police actions are constantly-changing definitions of park and sidewalk boundaries and the subsequent entrapping and arresting of protestors.
4. The TPD has exercised selective enforcement, violated their own policies with regard to handling evidence, and refused to return personal property of protestors in deliberate indifference to the law. Many occupiers had their possessions confiscated without property receipts given to them as is mandated by city law. Moreover, for many of the protestors, the jackets, clothes, shoes and other necessities taken by the TPD and never returned constitute all of their worldly possessions. Regardless of what you think of Occupy Tucson, the police actions constitute illegal seizure of property.
The unlawful actions and abuses of Occupy Tucson by the TPD warrants investigation and reporting. However, the mainstream media is only interested in scratching the surface of a story and not taking a longer view of a new movement.
Thus, even when the local media reports on Occupy Tucson, they report various allegations about there, e.g., “being a split” in the movement, or about drugs being used, or fights, or anything that will get attention and ratings so they can sell more car commercials on the page or at the next news break. These stories are part fabrication, part conflation and none of these stories are backed up by interviews with actual occupiers.
Instead, the media relies on “official sources” and, in our case, that means the police, Chief Villasenor, and the city council; the media seldom actually talks to the people in movement. It is true that the mainstream media did give some coverage to the Occupy movement in its early days last fall, but now that coverage has disappeared. We have to ask why is it that they no longer seem to have any interest in covering the occupy movement. Is it because Occupy is no longer the new and novel sensation that it was in October? Is the decision to ignore the movement intentional, and why is Occupy Tucson no longer news worthy? Are they saving an extra column of space or five extra minutes to cover, for example, the new Arizona football coach even though the economic and political inequality Occupy Tucson focuses on effects everyone?
Whatever the reason, this lack of media coverage presents a problem for Occupy Tucson and all social movements because in the modern world of politics it often seems that if you aren’t covered in the mass media, you don’t exist. Thus, members of Occupy Tucson, even though we undertake actions of creative disobedience that result in a whole string of arrests, are then asked by members of the public whether we even exist because “they don’t hear anything about the Occupy movement anymore.” On the positive side, the experience of being frozen out of the mainstream media has reminded all of us at Occupy Tucson why it is that alternative media is so important.
Co-authored by Greg Evans, Paul Gattone, and Tex Shelters of Occupy Tucson with help others in OT