Speaking of #fail

I’m going to unpack this tweet I made earlier today, mostly because it doesn’t make sense without context (140 characters, sorry) and because the column in question is frustrating insofar as it relates to Occupy Wall Street (lol remember that?).

A bit harsh, but read on.

A bit harsh, but read on.

I agree with the central thesis of the Daily Beast’s column, Why Industry Hashtags #Fail: because they’re easy targets that are easily co-opted by critics and can easily go viral. The notion of a social media campaign – corporate or otherwise – going completely toe-up is catnip in the twittersphere.

As a case study the author used #MyNYPD, a social media debacle in which the NYPD tried to solicit photographs of friendly interactions between officers and the public. It failed miserably. Social-savvy activists, including the main Occupy Wall Street Twitter account, began to collate photos of abuse (perceived or actual) by the NYPD, mainly in the context of the protests.

I was tracking with the column until I read this:


Why Industry Hashtags #Fail, by Samantha Levine. The Daily Beast – May 5, 2014.

The author is right, none of the established news organizations that deigned to cover the protests delved into accusations of wholesale misconduct or systemic brutality. However, that’s not – as she suggests – evidence that such widespread, systemic conduct did not occur.

And is it really a base instinct to question the police department’s handling of Occupy, something that neither Bill de Blasio nor Bill Bratton has really addressed in the context of future protests? No news outlet here in New York, that I’ve seen, has even attempted to take the police department to task for illegally detaining people or the widely documented instances of abuse of power and force. No news outlet that I’ve seen took a comprehensive look at how the NYPD reacted to Occupy and came back to the police department with questions.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying there was widespread, systemic brutality in the NYPD’s handling of Occupy protestors, though if presented with such a case I’d have no problem believing it based on what I personally saw. I’m not saying the NYPD isn’t well-liked, as I believe they are by everyday New Yorkers.

What I am saying is that even though the point of the column – why industry hashtags don’t work – is ultimately made, claiming that there wasn’t systemic abuse in the NYPD’s handling of Occupy because there weren’t any news reports about such a thing is lazy and careless in any context. The question was never really asked. My larger point is that the question should have been, and should still be, asked of the NYPD.

Forget for a minute the ideology behind Occupy Wall Street. There’s a right way and a wrong way of handling protests, especially those that are big enough to warrant a full-scale response from the world’s largest police force. I’m not convinced the NYPD handled it anywhere close to the right way. And there hasn’t yet been a reckoning from those who have since come to power.

What’s going to happen next time, like if New York City wins its bid to host to the 2016 Democratic National Convention?

I’ll close with this excerpt (linked above as well) from The Atlantic that looked at the 14 most egregious allegations of abuse by the NYPD during the Occupy protests and was based on an eight-month study conducted by law clinics at NYU, Fordham, Harvard and Stanford.

14 Specific Allegations of NYPD Brutality During Occupy Wall Street. The Atlantic - July 25, 2012

14 Specific Allegations of NYPD Brutality During Occupy Wall Street, by Conor Friedersdorf. The Atlantic – July 25, 2012

Occupy had its run in the mainstream news cycle, and has long ago ceased being much of a story. But the media largely failed in holding police departments across the country accountable for how they handled Occupy protesters. There are bound to be more large-scale protests in New York, and we would do well to start asking the questions that should have been asked and answered years ago, perhaps starting a national dialogue among law enforcement in the process.


About Daniel Fitzsimmons

Staff writer for the Manhattan weeklies Our Town, Our Town Downtown and the West Side Spirit.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Essays, Media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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