First OWS Trial Ends in Acquittal Thanks to Citizen Journalism
Despite thousands of Occupy Wall Street-related arrests in New York City in the past nine months, Alexander Arbuckle’s case was the first to wind up going to trial. When citizen journalist footage of the events contradicted the police’s stated reasons for arresting protesters, Arbuckle was ultimately acquitted, reports The Village Voice.
Not long after New Year’s Eve turned to New Year’s Day, Arbuckle was arrested alongside several other Occupy protesters, and charged with disorderly conduct. The police alleged that Arbuckle had been standing in the street and blocking traffic. Arbuckle’s arresting officer, Elisheba Vera, even testified with this story at his trial, which Arbuckle labeled “a total fabrication.”
Ultimately, you don’t even have to take Arbuckle at his word that he remained on the sidewalk that night. Multiple pieces of evidence entered into the courtroom helped to exonerate Arbuckle, as well as refute police testimony. For one, the photographs that Arbuckle took on his own camera illustrated that he was snapping pictures from a position on the sidewalk.
The second important piece of video comes from Tim Pool, a popular live-streamer of Occupy events. Pool’s footage shows that the police officers were the only people walking in the street and blocking traffic, while Arbuckle and protesters were, in fact, on the sidewalk. Finally, the NYPD’s own video footage of the night supports the other clips. At all points, Arbuckle appears to remain out of the street.
Today, Pool tweeted about his role in the case: “Step 1 – exonerate innocent. Step 2 – prosecute Officer for lying under oath.” It’ll be interesting to see whether Officer Vera will be charged or even reprimanded for this offense, considering the overwhelming evidence that she falsified her account of the night.
After so many arrests, the fact that Arbuckle’s case is the first to go to trial indicates that most are either accepting a plea bargain on the charges or that the charges are being dropped altogether.
Perhaps the most amusing fact about this case is that Arbuckle was there to support the police, not the protesters. As a political science/journalism major at New York University, Arbuckle came to the protests to document the Occupy movement from the police’s perspective. “I felt the police had been treated unfairly in the media,” Arbuckle said. “All the focus was on the conflict and the worst instances of brutality and aggression.”
However, if this is how the NYPD treats their allies, they may soon find themselves friendless. In February, Arbuckle could have accepted an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (basically a guilty plea with no consequences so long as the defendant stays out of trouble in the near future), but he rejected the offer. “It would have been nice to have everything over and done with, but it would have been an acknowledgement of guilt, and I knew I wasn’t guilty,” Arbuckle said.
Arbuckle’s attorney Paul Keefe asserts that this case demonstrates how NYPD is overstepping its grounds when dealing with journalists and civilians. “It’s just a symptom of how the NYPD treats dissent,” Keefe said. He credits the frequent presence of cameras at these protests as a key tool in keeping the police from overstepping their bounds.
Ultimately, the first trial’s results send a couple of messages to Occupiers. First, pleading is not the only option for arrested protesters. Second, citizen journalists are pivotal to the movement in maintaining transparency and fighting injustice.
Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue