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Occupy DC Video Footage Raises Questions About Misconduct By Police And Protesters

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WASHINGTON -- Does an Occupy DC video that the movement claims shows police violence against protesters actually show police misconduct? Experts think the footage is too vague to be definitive.

Earlier this week, Occupy DC released a video showing protesters and the police engaging outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last Friday night. The protesters clearly think it proves they were the victims of police violence. The video is titled "Occupy DC Police aggression / brutality / violence 11-4-11," and a blog post about the video, posted anonymously on the Occupy DC website, is titled "VIDEO: Cop chokes peaceful Occupy DC protester."

The anonymous author of the post cites this video as "yet another example of a series of violent actions against peaceful Occupy DC protesters on Friday night."

In the most violent part of the video, a person who appears to be a Metropolitan Police Department officer seems to pull a kneeling person back, as a crowd around them takes pictures. The video then goes into slow motion and there is highlighting around what looks like the officer's hand on a protester's neck.

This scene is then shown again, from a closer angle. The moment at which the officer pulls the protester back, with his hand on her neck, is repeated in slow motion. Then the video freezes on that one shot, again with a highlight bubble, before fading to a series of stills featuring text that reads, "Join the fight for justice," "We are the 99%," "and so are you." The film ends with an invitation to join Occupy DC's nightly general assembly meetings.

Another, longer video of this incident is also on the Internet. There's no hiding what the person who put this video on the internet thinks is happening -- this video is called "Child caught between Occupy DC protesters." This video shows that the police officer tugged on the protester's jacket trying to pull her away from a child before placing his hand on her neck, and that his hand was there for no more than a few seconds. It also appears that the protester whose neck was touched was blocking the door to the convention center, and was in a highly agitated state.

Does either video show inappropriate behavior on the part of the police?

The shot of the officer's hand on the protester's neck "is not good," said Samuel Walker, a professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha's School of Criminal Justice who studies police accountability.

Walker told The Huffington Post that the Metropolitan Police Department's murky reputation informs his interpretation of the video. For a decade, MPD has been under reform orders -- MPD entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Justice Department in 2001 -- but Walker says it's not certain if reforms have stuck.

There's also the problem of MPD officers' extracurricular criminal activities. Walker says the fact that so many officers are charged with crimes themselves -- more than 20 have so far been indicted in 2011 -- gives him pause.

"I know that I'm looking at a department that had trouble in the past," he said. "And just most recently was exposed to a whole bunch of criminal indictments. That tells me that there's a lack of supervision and accountability. That's what I bring to watching the video. I am prepared to believe from everything I know from the last decade or so that Washington D.C. would be a prime suspect for not having its officers well trained and supervised."

But Walker says he still can't say for sure, watching the videos, that he is witnessing police misconduct, the way he could when he saw the video of Oakland police shooting Scott Campbell with rubber bullets.

"These videos are not clear," he said. "It's just too ambiguous. It just isn't clear what's going on. The Oakland video, it's clear. They seek this one guy out, who had a video camera, and shot him."

David A. Klinger, an associate professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and former police officer, tells HuffPost that without a transcript of the video, and without more context, he can't say that the police behaved inappropriately. He does, however, see the protesters behaving badly.

"It's obvious to anyone with an IQ of about six that these people had purposely introduced these children to a contentious situation," he said. "In my read, it's all about trying to create something that is not going to look good for the police. And then the police are put in a difficult position."

Assuming the police had a lawful reason for using physical force at all to move the protester in the video -- such as because she blocked an exit, after being ordered to move -- then the police officer putting his hand on her neck is unproblematic, Klinger says.

"That's about as low a level of physical force as you can get," he said. "If the officers were to tase somebody, if they would have struck somebody with a night stick, I could understand that people could be upset. This is a big nothing in terms of the use of force."

On Wednesday, Occupy DC's website had a new blog post, with a new video that the protesters claim show the police department is mischaracterizing them as violent. This video shows two members of the D.C. police force visiting McPherson Square on Tuesday night, where they told protesters that they believe it's a fringe element causing trouble. They said that the protesters will have their First Amendment rights protected, but that they can't set up blockades.

One police officer then mentions having seen some YouTube videos of the protests in which some protesters were blocking people around the convention center last Friday night. "Someone was hit by someone in a jacket," the police officer says in the video.

The video then cuts to text: "Someone was hit by somebody wearing a jacket? You mean the conference attendee that plowed through a woman? This guy."

Then it cuts to another scene from outside the Washington Convention Center at the protest last Friday night. It's the scene conservatives have held up as proof of Occupy DC's depravity -- except the protesters assert that it is evidence that they are in fact the victims.

Dolores Broderson, a 78-year-old retired schoolteacher from Michigan attending the Defending the American Dream Summit, was shoved to the ground just outside the convention center after pushing through a group of protesters blocking the door. A man in a jacket, also pushing through the crowd, falls down on top of her.

The video makes it difficult to tell whether the man in the jacket "plowed through" Broderson, like the Occupiers claim, or if he fell on top of her while pushing through a blockade of protesters. Some of the right have used the footage to characterize the protesters as "leftist nutjobs and thugs," but the hectic nature of the video makes it difficult to tell what actually took place.

Flickr photo by Chris Wieland.

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