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May 6, 2012

NYPD “Snatch and Grab” Tactics Illustrated (and, Why the Pics are So Scarce)

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In a May Day piece on police tacticsIn These Times details the NYPD’s new ”snatch and grab” tactic for countering the Occupy movement and other large protests. In a nutshell, the strategy involves the lightening-fast intimidation and scooping up of protesters in ones and twos as much as possible away from the glare of media scrutiny.

If  going “low key” will make intimidation harder to see, the way newswire photos are utilized these days will make it doubly difficult. That’s because most news coverage is pretty general, representing a “snatch and grab” in its own right: only the most dramatic shots (or series of dissimilar shots) will be published to illustrate one overarching story (i.e. May Day Demonstrations: Occupy vs. NYPD).

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That’s why news consumers were most likely to have seen only one of the two photos just above (which were published widely), but never would have seen or known that the protester was first cornered between a brick wall and a roll-up door in a driveway away from the demonstration.

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Even in those ubiquitous news photo galleries where editors can and will dump 30, 50, even 100 photos, it’s still rare to get much connection or narrative between the photos. If you do, what connects the dots mostly consist of  general themes rather than anything deeper or investigative.

Having the time and the space here, and because our interest is the visual and political narrative, we can focus in on what we’re “not supposed” to see or we’re shown in a moment and ignore. With that focus, we have the opportunity to see the evidence, captured by the combined efforts of Getty photographers Spencer Platt and Emmanuel Dunand, of the NYPD’s use of snatch and grab tactics.

Platt, by the way, has been documenting these lightening strike intimidation and detainment tactics for months.

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In November 2011, during the eruption of protests after NYC cleared out Zuccotti Park, he captured this powerful set of images (still accessible on the Getty editorial sales site) of the police roughing up a young woman protester after a confrontation in a building lobby. The blurriness of the photos (and, especially, the expression on the policeman’s face at the end) conveys the instantaneousness, aggression, and furtiveness of this police action.

It is clear to us that the bandwidth for reporting, visual and otherwise, is all too narrow, especially when social justice and free speech are concerned. But there is another point to make: while the marketplace uses only a limited number of visuals to report a story, it doesn’t mean that the photographers, those men and women on the ground collecting imagery and witnessing events, don’t have a lot more truth to show and tell.

(photo 1: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images caption: Occupy Wall Street protestors are arrested by New York City police officers during a demonstration across the street from the New York Stock Exchange on April 13, 2012 in New York City. In preparation for massive May Day demonstrations, Occupy Wall Street protestors continue to hold weekly “Spring Training” demonstrations. photo 2 & 3: Spencer Platt/Getty Images caption: A man is arrested during an Occupy Wall Street protest in lower Manhattan on May 1, 2012 in New York City. Hundreds of people ran through the streets of New York pursued by police after a Labor Day march concluded in the early evening. Occupy Wall Street has joined with unions during the May Day protests, a traditional day of global protests in sympathy with unions and leftist politics.photo 4 & 5: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images caption: Policemen arrest Occupy Wall Street participants after they staged a march down Broadway as part of May Day celebrations in New York, May 01, 2012. photos 6 – 9: Spencer Platt/Getty Images caption: A protester affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street Movement is arrested by police in the Financial District on November 17, 2011 in New York City. Protesters attempted to shut down the New York Stock Exchange today, blocking roads and tying up traffic in Lower Manhattan.)

  • DennisQ

    What are the substantive charges that are the basis of these arrests?  It’s difficult to believe that a person cornered between a roll-up door and a brick wall is disrupting traffic.  It’s more likely that the arrests are made for disorderly conduct, which New Yorkers understand is cop-speak for disrespect of the police . . . a crime in New York.  These bogus arrests are followed up with phony prosecution before judges practicing bogus jurisprudence.  The cops are given leeway because the protesters are annoying.  That is the larger betrayal of real justice here.  Even people who oppose the protests should be alarmed at the extra-legality of the means used to deal with them.  The law has to have some kind of righteousness behind it; otherwise we give moral consent to thuggishness.  It’s a slippery slope to tyrrany to lock people up because you don’t like what they have to say.

  • Scarabus

    That obstructive “Getty” watermark is totally unacceptable, Michael! Yours is a non-profit academic site. Considering the amount of credit and publicity you provide Getty, they ought to be thanking you, not pissing on you.

    Reminds me…

    I once read an interview with the guy who oversaw the construction and establishment of operations at the original Getty Museum in Malibu. Old Getty himself never saw that museum in person, though apparently he micromanaged the whole enterprise from England. The guy in Los Angeles said he got a sharp memo from Getty, complaining about his having bought an electric stapler or pencil sharpener.

    The micromanaging oil magnate is dead now, but his penny-wise, pound-foolish spirit seems to live on. Morally shameful, empirically short-sighted, and damaging to freedom of academic inquiry. This sort of thing is very, very bad. I hope you’ll both avoid organizations like Getty and consult with organizations committed to legalizing fair academic, not-for-profit use.

    In a commercial society, protecting for-profit exploitation of intellectual property rights is important. In a free and democratic society, protecting the rights of not-for-profit intellectual scrutiny and analysis is even more important. This is important!

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      Scarabus,

      The point of the watermark is two-fold. The first is to highlight that the photos exist as part of the Getty inventory. Second point is that publishers largely ignored them so this is basically the form they exist in. circulate. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. I should add, BagNews, at least our Notes section, doesn’t need anyone to supply us imagery, however, as our typical focus is the analysis of photos that are already published (which we are entitled to reproduce for the purpose of analysis under copyright law). As for Getty, I have a great relationship with a lot of people there, including many of their fine photographers.

  • bks

    Can you arrest the 99% in ones and twos?

        –bks

  • Spencer Platt

    Great analysis once again Michael! Looks like it will be a very hot summer and a busy one for you.Hope to catch up with you when you are in New York…Spencer

  • http://twitter.com/gmokery George Mokray

    According to David Graeber, NYPD is now using sexual and physical assault as a tactic against demonstrators too.  Again, away from the camera’s lens as much as possible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Schmidgall/100000849399025 Chris Schmidgall

    I’ve heard folks in Portland characterizing this as a new tactic as well but it seems familiar to me from 2000-2002. Here are some pics from the unauthorized march this May Day in Portland. Tug of war between protestors trying to save their comrades from the clutches of the police. 
      Not pictured was a new tactic. The first attack on the march consisted of very large cops on bikes charging the front corner of the march and diving off their bikes at speed while throwing haymakers and tackling protestors. 

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