While everyone seems to be obsessed with the inadvisable tactics of a few lone wolf protesters, I would like to draw attention to an overlooked aspect of the events on Sunday. According to multiple sources, the Twitter accounts of #OpAlbuquerque and #APDProtest were censored. There were also reports of Facebook censorship, and it is rumored that the media were prohibited from filming live footage during the late night hours in front of the APD building. It is extremely disturbing to know that such control of information took place in our city.
In most situations, The People have a right to know what is happening, whether or not the government thinks it is correct. In limited cases where there is significant government interest, information can be censored. These situations usually revolve around classified information involving current national security. I highly doubt that reporting about flying doughnuts, rocks and a few cans of spray paint can be considered classified information vital to national security.
Some may argue that the information was censored for public safety. To them I ask, what was the danger posed to the public? Yes, there was one person out of many hundred who carried a suspected “weapon.” Yes, a few idiots caused a dangerous situation on the freeway. What is ignored is the fact that the majority of the protesters behaved themselves. They quickly defused the “weapon” situation, which is proof that they did not have any intention to cause harm. The individuals did not remain on the freeway for a long period of time, which removed the last possible legitimate public safety concern.
Others argue that the protest march infringed upon the rights of others. People were unable to drive home and mind their own business. They were denied their rights to privacy. To those individuals, I ask why they are not complaining about the pro-life protesters who march up and down residential streets protesting UNM. These pro-life protesters are carrying signs that graphically depict aborted fetuses. They claim that they are exercising their freedom of speech by disturbing families in their homes and subjecting young children to emotionally disturbing material. They claim that the images are part of their message and are protected.
I argue that anger and disobedience are part of the message against police brutality and are protected. The right to protest in public places belongs to the right wing, the left wing and everybody in between. Therefore it is difficult to see how censorship during a protest like this has any justifiable governmental interest.
So why would they do such a thing? It is a PR tactic to change the focus of the general public. By controlling the information released to the public and relabeling it as “violent mayhem,” the government stops the momentum of the movement. They spoon-feed the media and the public information that they deem critical. Mayor Berry’s PR team did an excellent job by acknowledging the original “peaceful” intent of the movement, while they altered public opinion of protesters in general. The move was pure genius and has been fairly effective.
I acknowledge that some of the actions of a few people over the course of a few hours in one single day were unacceptable and ill-advised. But that should not blind us to the fact that the actions of multiple police officers over multiple days in the course of multiple years have been unacceptable and ill-advised! The protesters were arrested for asserting their rights and will be penalized by the system. Yet APD seems to believe that it is above the law.
APD and Mayor Berry need to realize that they represent the people, they do not rule them. We have the right to stand up and tell them how we feel. They do not have the right to censor the information that we receive to make that choice. I challenge everybody to look into the real events that took place on Sunday. For those of you who commend APD for their actions to stop the protesters, I ask that you reconsider. The protesters threw a few doughnuts and rocks at police officers dressed in full riot gear. The police officers responded by launching multiple canisters of a very painful gas at bystanders who were being non-violent. The response to marching protesters was a full-scale military-like occupation of our city. It was almost the equivalent of martial law. The so-called protesters at Yale and Central were (un)Occupy members who were conducting their regularly scheduled monthly meeting. They did not react to police until the officers started shoving and grabbing some of the marchers.
We must remember that the United States, New Mexico and Albuquerque belong to The People. We make the rules and have the right to hold our government accountable. It is scary to think that they will use censorship tactics and military-style operations against us if we challenge them. Please remember that the real issue at hand cannot be forgotten. APD must be held accountable for their brutality. We must stay united no matter what a few select individuals do. We must also demand a free press. If Twitter voluntarily blocked those accounts, we must strike back. Delete your accounts until Twitter publicly explains its actions.
This is our country and these are our rights, do not give them away so easily just because a PR team tells you to.
UNM law student