The postmodern relationship between press and police during unrest

I was pissed off when I saw the Baltimore Police order regarding "Media Zones at Pennsylvania Avenue and North Avenue or Areas with Other Large Congregations of People" last night.

The order stated that "Media with official credentials must go to designated media zones (as designated by yellow tape) at 10 pm when curfew begins."

When I talked to Sgt. Jarron Jackson in the Media Relations Department of the BPD, he defended the zones and explained that it did not mean that media could not roll around the city checking out conditions in areas when there aren't large crowds. But he also said something to the effect of: "We let you be exempt from the curfew, didn't we?"

To be clear, the answer is: No. You did not. The Baltimore Police Department does not have the authority to override the First Amendment. You can't take credit for allowing the press to observe what is happening in the city. But thanks anyway. 

As it turned out, at City Hall at least, there was no yellow tape and other than one moment when one very angry officer charged the press and told them to get on the sidewalk, the press was cordoned off in the same way they have been every other night, by lines of riot police. 

On Tuesday night, the first night of curfew, there were a few more protesters or residents out, but the police helicopters first told the media to leave or they would be arrested. When they shot off rounds of tear gas it was primarily at the press. And the media goons like Don Lemon and Geraldo Rivera—who I saw talking to Baltimore Spectator, the local blogger and broadcaster who was the first person arrested in the Freddie Gray protests—dutifully played their role.

After curfew at Pennsylvania and North avenues on Thursday night, there were only a few residents out. But the intersection was full of police and media, who were each playing their part for the others. When officers brought out dogs, it was as though they were acting out the role of Alabama police in the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s and, at some level, it seems, even they had to know this. 

In addition to everything else going, postmodernism hit Baltimore, a thoroughly modern city, this week as people imitate things they have seen in the media. Protesters know how to protest because of pictures they've seen. Cops are acting like cops on TV. And the TV is acting like TV. 

I've seen a lot of posts saying "the media is doing X." The "media" is doing a lot of things right now and a lot of those posts are bullshit. But a lot of people are really busting their asses, doing what we should be doing: Our essential job is to be out on the streets or in the courtrooms or digging through documents to record what is happening. 

But as long as the big TV people all stay at the same places and watch each other, the police don't have to cordon us off. We've done it to ourselves. 

There was a point Friday night at City Hall when everyone realized that there was seriously no one left but police, press, and a couple of young kids against Israeli apartheid. The cops in riot gear suddenly broke the line as if someone said "Cut!" and everybody wandered home through the empty streets. 

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