Sunday, October 02, 2011

No Exit to Brooklyn

There are conflicting stories about what happened on the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday. The Times reported an entrapment maneuver by the NYPD but twenty minutes later backed away from that story. The Guardian reports conflicting accounts of the same event (some saying the police led the protesters on, some saying the police did no such thing) but paints a clear picture of non-violent non-threatening protesters manhandled by police. One documentary filmmaker and photographer was there, and her version of events is unambiguous: the police created a situation and exploited it.

I'm reminded of the children's story: "Come into my parlor, said the Spider to the Fly." Did the New York police entrap the protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge? Was their retreat strategic? Did they have arrests in mind?

There is a justification for entrapment which argues that the crime is obviously a crime. But didn't the police have bullhorns? Why didn't they announce, loudly and clearly, "If you walk onto this thoroughfare you will be arrested." Did they? Why didn't they?

Plain, unelaborated reportage can suggest all kinds of things, can be interpreted to the preference of a diversity of readers. But blunt questions can and should illuminate the reporting by laying out the obvious things that were not said, that were not done, that were enabled, that were suggested falsely.

A policeman who says "After you" could be inviting you onto a prohibited roadway or inviting you to buy illegal drugs; but law abiding citizens might believe the police are giving permission, might believe they are offering a temporary license to do something, or an escape from a place that has suddenly become too small for the crowd that has assembled.

The police have a responsibility to the crowds they are policing that is greater than their responsibility to the absent and powerful groups the assembled are there to protest. The New York Police Department is there to protect and defend New Yorkers, all New Yorkers, not just the owners of New York but the renters, the hired workers, the unemployed New Yorkers, the students going to school there, the recent graduates who live there, the powerless as much or more than the powerful. The powerful have their own protections.

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