I spent the better part of last night having a “conversation” with two of the people on my Facebook list who hold diverging political viewpoints from myself. I use conversation in quotes, because this wasn’t really a conversation. It was rather an ideologue shouting up an incendiary piece of rhetoric and my calmly explaining to that person how the information that they’re looking at is biased. I should have taken the advice of everyone in the universe and “don’t feed the trolls.” Often I can’t help but attempt to challenge someone who holds an opinion based on misinformation. Because that’s where this is coming from, misinformation and a lack of intellectual curiosity to explore the veracity of the claims being presented.
OWS & Crime
The majority of this conversation I had last night focused around the belief that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are a band of criminal thugs who are out to destroy America. This is a pretty standard talking point of conservative media outlets, and pretty much only conservative media outlets. On October 11th the New York Times ran a story about the complexity of dealing with criminal activity among the encampment in Zucotti Park, following in the wake of a female camper who was raped. They discuss the competing narratives within the police reports about activity surrounding the event and talk about the steps that the OWS protesters had taken to provide on site security for the encampment. In the wake of this article, conservative media outlets began characterizing the Occupy Wall Street protest as being nothing but “crime all the time,” exacerbating the image of the group as a lawless mob. And there is no doubt that growing security risks were a problem within the encampment. It was a large event that ran for months with only volunteers who had varying degrees of security training, an inconsistent approach to dealing with conflict, and a very confusing relationship with police. But this doesn’t mean that they are, as a whole, a group of criminal thugs. Just that security at the event was difficult to maintain, and that is true in a lot of large public venues where people are emotionally engaged.
And then there is the story of Nkrumah Tinsley who was captured on video stating that they were going to burn New York City to the ground. Again, this story was picked up by conservative news outlets, ran like the wind, and painted the entirety of the protesters as violent, firebombing anarchists. My conservative friend said “why didn’t they shout him down? Why didn’t they say, that’s not us?!” The implication is that the protestors support that message. So, I went looking for the video, and here it is.
As you can see, Nkrumah Tinsley, the person who goes on this screed, is at first being supported by the human microphone. This is a technique whereby the people surrounding a speaker repeat what the speaker says to increase the volume of the comment for other people to hear. After the human mic repeats “On November 17th…” Tinsley launches into his firebombing idea. But the human mic stops. They don’t spread that message, they don’t amplify his words. And the people around him look awkward and walk away. There are only two people who are supporting this message in the video, one is the person who Tinsley is high fiving at the end of his first tirade, and the second is the casual supporter who’s standing next to him at the end of the video. Tinsley, is one person, with maybe two supporters, at a protest of thousands of people. And his own mother, in court, said that he has always had mental problems. These protests are public events and people who are emotionally disturbed are drawn to these places, especially if he or she believes that s/he has a message to impart to the world. Managing that is a challenge for anyone who operates in a public environment.
Not to mention that public events are also subject to the work of agents provocateurs. Early on in the Occupation happening in Washington DC a similar protest was being formed to make a statement about unmanned aerial drones. Patrick Howley, a journalist working for the American Prospect, a conservative publication, intentionally infiltrated the protest going to march on the Air and Space Museum. His instigation of the crowd at the Air and Space museum led to him and other protesters being maced by security staff at the museum and forcing the museum to close two hours early.
My concern in this part of the conversation was that biased media sources and their proponents are using a broad brush to characterize the entirety of the protesters as a lawless band of thugs. This is both oversimplifying the problems and practicing guilt by association. The overwhelming majority of the people involved in occupy protests are peaceful people who are there to support a message. The criminal acts of individuals, and the rants of delusional people are the exception and not the rule. By this crazy train of logic everyone involved in college sports supports pedophilia, just because of the rape scandal at Penn State.