The “news” has been dominated by negative images and narratives of police officers dealing with the sometimes blurry line between protests and violence. I just witnessed the New Orleans Police Department handling a protest in front of the federal building in downtown New Orleans, and I thought it was important to share what went down.
My drive back downtown from an appointment in the suburbs was detoured by a police blockade. I had no idea why this main thoroughfare in the city was blocked as I went around it. Walking back to my apartment from the parking garage, I saw that a protest in front that had led to NOPD blocking off the street because some of the protesters were sitting in the street.
I had no idea how long the standoff had been going on between the police and the protesters, but apparently I arrived when the situation had reached the tipping point. An NOPD officer using a bullhorn warned the protesters sitting in the street that they were in violation of municipal code and that they were being ordered to leave the street; but the protesters refused to leave, however.
There were about 10 protesters sitting in the street with about 75 protesters cheering them on from the sidewalk. A protester with a bullhorn barked out chants that were parroted by the protesters.
The protest was sprinkled with several messages, including Black Lives Matter; but the main theme of the protest was a demand for the $600 in unemployment benefits that had been offered by the federal government.
In the face of negative news about law enforcement and protests, I felt it was important to share my eyewitness account of how police cleared the street of protesters.
NOPD officers approached the protesters sitting in the street – leaned over and talked to each of them. I was not in a position to hear what was being said, but it was obvious that it was an official request by police to leave the street. In each case, after a brief conversation, each of the protesters voluntarily got up and was escorted by the officers to an area where it appeared the protesters were given citations.
The NOPD officers handling the protest and the blockage of a main street through downtown New Orleans appeared to do an excellent job of removing the protesters and clearing the street.
The protesters should be credited with not resisting arrest and accepting their arrest as a consequence for their actions. While I could argue that blocking a main street through a downtown area is a step beyond peaceful protesting because it impedes traffic, including my attempt to return to the parking garage, overall there was no violence; and they did peacefully leave the street.
I realize that my eyewitness account of this encounter between police officers and protesters in downtown New Orleans does not invite either side to passionately condemning the other side, but it is a true account of what really happened.
It is important to remember that the news we all see span across our screens and monitors does not necessarily represent the majority of police/protester encounters.
The nature of news is to focus on the extremes with any story as a way of attracting the attention of the largest possible audience, so we are wrong to allow what we see on the news to define who we are as a country.
On my radio talk show and social media, I always face the dilemma of how to present topics and issues with the goal of presenting compelling content, but I will never ignore the positive even though the negative will attract more attention and engagement.
This eyewitness account of police officers methodically removing protesters from the street without violent reaction is not as interesting as an account where either the police or the protesters where engaged in physical violence – but part of telling the stories in the news should always include the less appealing positive stories.
If the audience realized the role it plays in what and how stories are covered – we may start to see a greater tendency to focus on the positive. Let this serve as an example of how the audience can do a better job of responding to the positive and not just the negative.