The world was watching, and what did they see?
By RICHARD ROEPER email@example.com May 21, 2012 3:47PM
A man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask takes a picture as speakers voice their concerns during NATO protests on Monday. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 2, 2012 8:36AM
As local news cameras panned the crowd during the clash between protesters and police Sunday afternoon, it was impossible to miss the block-letter message on one sign:
“F--- THE POLICE”
Except there weren’t any dashes.
This is one of the risks when you go with live coverage. You might not be able to cut away in time from a moment of spontaneous violence, a protester shouting an obscenity — or a sign like the one we saw on TV.
Not that the TV stations were being irresponsible. It’s not as if the cameras lingered on the sign while a Ron Magers or a Bob Sirott said, “As you can see, at least one of the protesters has a special message for the police.” It was just a small piece of the fabric of a tumultuous scene, indicative of the mindset of some of the more confrontation-minded protesters.
As for that slogan, it’s been invoked by some in the (self-appointed) rebel culture at least since 1988, when N.W.A released “F--- Tha Police” on the group’s seminal rap album “Straight Outta Compton.”
I’ve seen signs including the phrase at a number of NATO protests over the last couple of days. I also saw two “Save Ferris” signs and a man holding a placard proclaiming, “I WANTED A BIGGER SIGN.” In terms of changing the world, they’ve all got about the same punch.
Here’s my hypothetical for you. Let’s say the guy who was wielding that sign on Sunday is home one night, and someone breaks into his house. Does he welcome him with open arms and say, “Brother, I am a fellow traveler fighting against the Man. You don’t have to rob me. Let me make you a peanut butter sandwich, and we’ll share our stories of rebellion!”
Or does he hide under the bed and call the police and hope they don’t notice the “F--- The Police” sign in the kitchen?
The whole world is filming
One of the many differences between the demonstrations of 1968 and 2012: Four and a half decades ago, only journalists and documentarians were recording the battles between police and protesters. This time, if you don’t have a camera or at least your mobile device rolling at all times, you’re in the distinct minority.
(Another difference: More costuming in 2012. I’m a clown! I’m the angel of death! I’m that guy from “V for Vendetta!” I’m a skeleton! I’m a bandana-wearing rebel! I’m a dollar sign! Sadly, haven’t seen any of the “Avengers” yet. Then again, I suppose Tony Stark’s the ultimate 1 percenter, and Captain America would be considered gauchely jingoistic.)
Even as some protesters jostle with police officers or get in their faces to wish them a lovely day, they’re pointing their phones or cameras at the action. There’s this sense of, “I’m going to capture this moment, and it’s going to go viral, and it’s going to change everything!”
Indeed, some of the raw footage shot by citizen journalists and activists makes for compelling viewing. The professional news crews can’t capture everything. Whether it’s a NATO rally in Chicago or an Occupy protest in New York or a Tea Party gathering in Washington, it’s a positive that we can see events from so many different perspectives.
But even as many protesters will tell you, the “mainstream media” are just tools of the government and won’t tell you the real story, they have their own agenda. Just because someone shoots an event with a cell phone instead of a network-issued camera doesn’t make it a pure truth. We still have to ask questions like what happened just before the cameras started rolling, what was the context, was the footage edited to advance a certain point of view, etc.
If the whole world is watching, it feels like half the world is recording.
As for the real violence in Chicago over the weekend: at least 22 shot, seven dead, including a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old. That’s the all-too-familiar reality in this city.
One last observation. A few months ago, “Anonymous” called for 50,000 protesters to descend on the city. Seems like that call to arms fell about 48,000 short.