Zombie: Anatomy of a Video - Democratic Convention 2008
(Cross-posted at Pajamas Media.)
How the media and left-wing blogs combined to create a police scandal out of thin air
The real story behind the Alicia Forrest/Carlo Garcia arrests.
On Tuesday, August 27, during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, I witnessed an incident that seemed at the time to be rather minor, but which over the subsequent days turned into a major scandal — primarily due to a video posted online by the Rocky Mountain News. This carefully edited video shows Officer Stewart of the Denver Police knocking Alicia Forrest of Code Pink to the ground during a protest, and then, after an edit, Forrest getting arrested by other officers. This video has created a firestorm among left-wing blogs, and also engendered many follow-up stories in the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, Westword, and other mainstream Denver media outlets.
However, I personally witnessed the entire incident, from the beginning to the end, and can say without reservation that the Rocky Mountain News video is intentionally deceptive, and crafted to make the protester (Alicia Forrest) appear to be a victim of needless police brutality. I have photographic and video proof, shown below, that Alicia Forrest “asked for it” in the sense that she disobeyed police commands to stay back and also taunted the police; and that she was not seriously injured by Officer Stewart; and that the Rocky Mountain News in particular committed an act of media malfeasance by purposely posting on their site a deceptive video that left out all the context surrounding the incident. Furthermore, many blogs jumped on the story and trumpeted it as evidence of police misbehavior, when in fact there was no misbehavior at all.
The report below has 25 photos and four short videos, but bear with me and read all the way through to the end in order to see the full story. The full incident lasted many minutes and is a little complicated, but can easily be followed photo-by-photo in the report below.
Let’s start things off with the one-minute-long Rocky Mountain News video that is the focus of the scandal (originally posted as part of this article). Watch it now. What are your impressions? Doesn’t it seem like that innocent little girl was first beaten and then arrested by the police for no reason? Shocking, isn’t it?
But that’s not the entirety of what happened. Keep reading to see the full story that the Rocky Mountain News (and other media outlets) didn’t want you to see.
The story began when a group of extreme anti-gay Christian preachers showed up in Civic Center Park to reproach the mostly left-wing crowd gathering for an unrelated parade and protest march.
They immediately drew a large circle of detractors and media.
Dozens of people were yelling at and getting into arguments with the Christians. These two men mockingly simulated gay sexual acts to taunt the preachers.
But it wasn’t all fun and games and mockery. As the minutes passed, the atmosphere began getting more and more confrontational, as revealed in this video showing a radcial group chanting “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Christian fascists go away!”
Eventually, the police felt they needed to intervene in order to prevent a possible outbreak of violence. Mounted police moved in and told everyone to step back and stop pressing in around the preachers.
The police then tried to set up a defensive perimeter.
I originally moved a bit away, as instructed, and so missed exactly what happened next, but according to the Denver Post, “Carlo Garcia, a leader of protest group Recreate 68, had asked police to escort the [anti-gay Christian] pastor out of the park. Instead, police said Garcia posed a threat and arrested him.” I saw that the Recreate 68 guy (later identified as Carlo Garcia) had been confrontational and threatened to remove the Christians himself, because he didn’t like what they were saying; the police replied that everyone was entitled to free speech, no matter what their point of view; when Garcia wouldn’t back down, they arrested him. The Las Vegas Sun published this photo of Garcia menacingly grabbing or wielding a pole.
Here’s a photo taken of him being arrested, moments afterward.
OK, everything up until now has been simply a precursor, setting the stage for the controversy that was to follow. As Garcia was being led away, a very large group of protesters, members of the media and just plain hangers-on followed the arresting officers, swarming around and demanding that they “let him go.” Many photographers (myself included) scrambled to record the action, and it was here that I first encountered the Code Pink member whom I later learned was called Alicia Forrest. You can see her in the foreground of this picture, wearing pink clothes and a pink crown. Notice how, of all the photographers, she was standing closest to the mounted officers.
In fact, in every picture I took, Forrest was always the one person closest to the action and most aggressively challenging the police. Despite the fact that the police very loudly and forcefully ordered everyone to “GET BACK!”, Forrest would not get back.
Here you can see Carlo Garcia being escorted by the police, and Alicia Forrest once again testing the limits of acceptable behavior by crowding in as close as she could get. Furthermore, despite having a camera, she was obviously not a journalist, because she was wearing a “protest outfit” (Code Pink-style clothes) and was among the people yelling at the officers “Let him go!” and “Police brutality!”
This video shows the second part of the convoy/chase, in which police transported Garcia from the middle of Civic Center Park over to Bannock Street. Pay close attention to how the police officers repeatedly command everyone to “GET BACK!” and “Back AWAY from these people — NOW!” and even despite all that, Alicia Forrest is still visible fleetingly at two different points in the video being very close to the arresting officers. Now, as you can see, she wasn’t the only person venturing too close, as several other photographers would on occasion either purposely or accidentally find themselves at the front of the crowd. Even I got shoved forward several times, and thought myself in danger of being shoved back by the police. And to be perfectly frank, if a police officer had pushed me backwards during one of those moments where, through crowd dynamics or inattention, I found myself at the front of the pursuing crowd, then I would not have been surprised, nor would I have accused the police of brutality. Because the police felt they were in a very precarious situation, and the crowd was not obeying their commands.
But Alicia Forrest (seen here at the lower left) was nearly always the most aggressive one of us. In this picture, even after being directly commanded many times to step back, she’s right in the face of an officer (Stewart, in fact, the one who moments later would knock her backwards), taking a picture of Carlo Garcia and yelling at the police to let him go free.
The chase came to a brief halt as the police had to wait for the arrival of a vehicle to transport Garcia to be booked. In Old West style, the mounted police circled their horses around him and the arresting officers, in an attempt to keep the hostile crowd at bay.
This video shows the police horses walking in a circle.
Garcia was screaming to the crowd that he was innocent. The police presence had by this time increased significantly.
Now we’re almost getting to the crucial part.
The police vehicle arrived and Garcia was brought over to it. He was none too happy with the situation.
They bundled him on to the vehicle…
…as the swelling crowd swirled around and pressed forward.
The three photos below were taken by someone standing right near me during the melee. After both Garcia and Forrest had been later taken away, and I had seen that this photographer had captured a crucial moment, I approached him and offered to share photos with him, and we exchanged email addresses. The following day I sent him some of my photos, and he sent me these three, which I had requested. (The other photographer wishes to remain anonymous.)
Here we see Alicia Forrest standing face-to-face with Officer Stewart, who had just told her (for the millionth time) to move away, and who puts up his baton to create a defensive wall, and to give her (this time) a gentle shove back.
But Forrest simply would not obey him (nor any of the other officers). Instead of backing up, she actually leaned forward, and started taunting Officer Stewart even more aggressively. As seen in the photo above, he had just finished trying to push her backwards, using his baton, which Forrest didn’t like, so she dared him to “Fuckin’ do it again!” At that point, Officer Stewart simply lost his patience with this annoying gadfly who obviously felt her pink clothes rendered her immune to criticism or to police enforcement. It was moments after this photo was taken that the scene depicted in the Rocky Mountain News video took place.
Here’s the contextless video again. You can hear Forrest saying “Fuckin’ do it again!”, and then Stewart taking her up on her offer and saying “Back it up, bitch!” as he clonks her on the forehead or on the sunglasses, causing her to fall backwards. The “crack” you hear is not the sound of his baton on her skull, but rather that of her pink plastic bullhorn hitting the pavement and all its batteries falling out.
At that point other photographers rushed over to document the scene. Officer Stewart can be seen maintaining his stance.
Now we’re back to my photos. You can see the dropped bullhorn and its batteries scattered on the ground, as Forrest clutched her head.
An instant later, another protester kneeled down to attend to her.
Now, pay close attention to the next three photos.
He asked her if she was OK, and she started to get up.
It was at this point that all the other photographers either stopped taking pictures and videos, or more likely, stopped showing the world their imagery, because it didn’t convey the narrative that they wanted to tell (i.e. of Forrest as victim and the police as brutes).
Because just seconds later, Forrest got up…
..and walked away under her own power, apparently uninjured.
Some time later, journalists had gathered around her and she was starting to spin what undoubtedly was going to be a lopsided version of what had happened, and it was then that the police finally detained her for interfering with another arrest (as shown in the second half of the Rocky Mountain News video and in this photo, taken from this site).
Now that you’ve seen the whole story, look at the original video again. You can see that the Rocky Mountain News, or at least “George Kochaniec,” the videographer named at the beginning, purposely cut off the film at the exact moment before Alicia Forrest got up off the ground and walked away, perfectly healthy. The only possible explanation is that the RMN didn’t want the public to see that part, since it didn’t convey the proper impression. And Kochaniec says he didn’t witness the earlier part of the melee, so one supposes he didn’t have a full record of Forrest’s misbehavior. Hence, the resulting video and article in the Rocky Mountain News lacked the necessary context.
I wasn’t sure this entire incident was even such a big deal, until I saw that it was getting traction all over the Internet. The YouTube video, as of this writing, already has 269,000 views; many blogs, such as this one, this one, and this one, among hundreds of others, portrayed Forrest as a wholly innocent victim, and Officer Stewart as a maniacal bully. (Only the Marco Chacon blog and the weekly paper Westword seemed to grasp that the RMN video must have left out all the context.)
(On the off-chance that the video ever gets taken down off of YouTube, you can also watch it here on LiveLeak.)
There were several mainstream media articles about this incident, too many to summarize here. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! even had a short television report about the incident, naturally taking the anti-police position.
Officer Stewart is now reportedly under investigation, and the story continues to grow day by day. And yet everyone is working with only a small percentage of the necessary information, and they’re basing their actions and conclusions on the inherently deceptive Rocky Mountain News video, which served its intended purpose of discrediting the police.
After viewing the full story, what’s your opinion? Do you think Officer Stewart should be investigated or suspended? Do you think the Rocky Mountain News committed journalistic malfeasance? Either way, email the URL of this essay to the Rocky Mountain News, or the Denver Police “Independent Monitor”, or the Denver Post, or blog about it yourself.