Live Streaming, Occupy, and Omertá
by Sue Basko
Some Occupy camps inculcated omertá, a code of silence vis-à-vis authorities akin to that practiced by groups as far apart on the social spectrum as the Mafia, street gangs, and Ivy League fraternities. Ironically, at the same time, the Occupy groups were videotaping and posting online or live streaming everything – their meetings, protests, special events, reports, and often simple daily living.
Live streaming in particular made (and is making) Occupy unlike any protest movement before it. Viewers nationwide and worldwide watch the streams. The streaming experience is unlike any other visual medium, in that it is live, conducted by one person (the streamer) and there is direct interaction between the viewers and the streamer, through several streams of chat emanating through Twitter, facebook or the stream site itself. The streams have a very now-ness about them, particularly at times when the streamer faces possible danger, injury, or arrest.
If you have seen these, you cannot forget: Spencer Mills (@Oakfosho) at the Occupy LA raid night with an officer pointing a gun at his head point blank; Spencer repeatedly telling the man, “That isn’t necessary,” until he finally lowered the gun. Tim Pool (@TimCast) near Zuccotti Park in New York City, being hassled and threatened by Black Bloc mischief makers letting air out of police car tires. On another occasion, Tim Pool being followed through the crowd by a man dressed in black, who puts up his hood and attacks Tim.
Both Tim and Spencer, and dozens of other streamers nationally, have brought countless hours of live Occupy to the internet viewers. Things I have witnessed in these videos include: NYPD arresting people on New Year’s eve, in arrests that amounted to random street kidnappings of people truly doing nothing even slightly illegal. NYPD arresting a legal observer for the act of observing a rough arrest. Oakland Police turning “move-in day,” when the protesters planned to take over a building as a social center, into a police riot. The Oakland move-in day stream was witness to every conceivable error in crowd management: tear gas canisters shot directly into a crowd, kettling of mass crowds, shocking beatings of defenseless individuals.
The Occupy LA raid night was heavily photographed, videotaped, and streamed. Viewing these reveals no violence from the protesters, and hugely disproportionate police activity. One video reveals what some have told about: protesters trying to leave the area, only to be lied to and tricked by police, who said they would be escorted out, and then found themselves zip-tied and sent to jail. Watching these videos, such terms come to mind: police state, doomsday, apocalypse, fascism, overkill.
Elsewhere, Occupy streams revealed other things: Occupy Chicago had a stream of a bossy policewoman stealing away their just-donated bottled water and tossing it into a garbage compactor truck, with no reasoning other than she said so. Then there is the Chicago video of police asking each protester if they want to be arrested, letting each make a choice, and calmly arresting those choosing to be arrested. This video is possibly even eerier and more disturbing that videos from other cities of police rambunctiously corralling protesters.
Occupy streams from various cities also show a lot of the same: Protesters heckling the police. Protesters disrespecting basic civility. Protesters acting like thugs. Protesters with filthy mouths shouting at police. Protesters trying to incite other protesters to violence. Protesters who seem irrational, confused, mentally ill, or senseless.
The omnipresence of cameras at Occupy events is known. A basic assumption, or at least hypothesis, would be that people would be on their best behavior while being videotaped. Yet, some streams show a few police mercilessly attacking protesters. And other streams have shown some protesters behaving in very unflattering ways. There seems to be a certain percentage of people who cannot adapt their behavior, cannot control their behavior well enough to act decently, even while on camera. "The Whole World is Watching" does not stop some people.
The presence of streams seems to have, overall, had a positive effect on the Occupy movement, in making it known, creating a “fan base” for it, finding donors among that fan base, allowing vicarious participation, and allowing inter-Occupy comparisons.
Has the presence of live streamers had an ameliorating effect on potential violence from police and/or protesters? This is hard to judge, whether there would have been more violence if live cameras had not been present. However, this seems inarguable: that the presence of video or streaming cameras has made the most violent or abusive acts known quickly, indisputably, and widespread. If there had not been video cameras present when John Pike pepper-sprayed the seated students, this incident would have been a rumor, or known only to those who cared to read through lengthy and possibly contradictory descriptions. Because video cameras were present, we were able to watch the action from multiple angles, to see how blithely callously the students were treated. The same is true with many other scenes of appalling police violence over the past few months.
Now we come to the question that has been raised of whether live streamers cause Occupiers to be arrested for crimes. Each element of this seems to be false.
First, there would have to be Occupiers committing crimes. Occupy is a peaceful movement, with no actual membership, but with the criteria that to be an Occupier is to be peaceful. Therefore, committing any acts of violent criminality means one is not truly an Occupier.
Second, there is talk of protecting one's “comrades.” This assumes that an Occupier, a protester, or a streamer views those committing crimes as their “comrades.” That assumes something very insulting – that protesters associated with Occupy are accepting of crime. Why should they or would they be? Why would or should Occupiers working toward a better world accept and protect criminal behavior?
Third, the assumption is made that crimes committed at Occupy events, in locations being live streamed, are common or likely. In fact, there appears to be a very few such incidents nationwide. There is a great deal of video evidence of what might be considered annoying or discourteous behavior by protesters, but very little of anything that might even remotely be considered criminal.
In fact, I do not know of a single case nationwide where a live streamer’s video has been used to bring criminal charges. There is rumor of such in one case, known as the Oakland Ice Cream Trio, but this has not been verified and seems highly unlikely. In fact, in that case, there was probably plentiful surveillance video from cameras mounted on a bank and other buildings. In that instance, it is likely that streamers’ video could eventually be used to show the charges are highly trumped-up. In other words, steamers' video is not likely to help put these “comrades” in prison, but to save them from it. Some protesters are not exactly angels, and it is common practice for very exaggerated criminal charges to be lodged against them. The existence of the streamers’ videos gives these defendants a solid chance at combating what would otherwise be their word against that of a police officer or victim.
Fourth, the assumption is being made by those calling for a banning of live streams that the presence of a live stream video is more likely to lead to criminal charges than it is to lead to charges never being brought, or to charges being dropped, or to video possibly being used as a defense. It appears that the presence of live streamers presenting unedited, live, nearly irrefutable evidence, must have been a factor in the decision of prosecutors to file almost no criminal charges against the hundreds of people who were arrested at Occupy Oakland Move-In Day. Hundreds of arrests at the Occupy LA raid have netted very few criminal charges, and of those, many were done away with by attending a free class. Video from Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, and many other cities has served to protect and defend protesters. Most likely there will be civil lawsuits against Cities and police where the streamers’ videos will be evidence of illegal tactics or brutality.
Fifth, attempts to control the known live streamers in no way removes cameras. The police always have cameras; protesters should also have cameras. Also, in any large crowd, there are other streamers, others shooting non-streamed video, and many taking photos. Today, cameras are prevalent and pervasive, especially in large crowd gatherings. In addition, there are public and private surveillance cameras mounted all over. A few years ago, the City of Chicago mounted cameras on street poles, so that the entire city is now on camera. Other cities have cameras, but perhaps not such a comprehensive system of them. Many businesses and homes have cameras. Newer surveillance cameras are so small and match décor, they are not noticeable. Therefore, the argument against live streamers at Occupy protests is a specious argument, for one cannot control the presence of cameras in any public location.
In conclusion, live streaming cameras have added an excitement and home participation to Occupy, the streams have brought Occupy to national and international prominence, and the video of protests has acted overall to protect protesters from false criminal charges, as well as to provide evidence in future civil lawsuits.
Viva la streama.
http://occupypeace.blogspot.com and http://suebasko.blogspot.com
Top Photo credit: Photo by Aaron Kuehn, Occupy LA raid.