Police brutality on wheels

by Allen Hines

Jody McIntyre, a 20-year-old activist and blogger with cerebral palsy, joined the ongoing student demonstrations in London. On Dec. 8, he says, police struck him on the shoulder with a baton and twice that day dragged him from his wheelchair. A fellow activist caught the second incident on a cell phone. The video, which sparked a police investigation, garnered media attention.

Several British activists have been struck with batons and otherwise roughed up by police. Alfie Meadows, a student at Middlesex University, required emergency brain surgery after a police officer struck him to the head. That police are brutal in fighting unrest seems to be a given among mainstream media outlets and the violence perpetrated by police is scantly reported.

McIntyre’s case spiced up police brutality, though, giving it a more vivid “if it bleeds, it leads” angle because he was a disabled person. Sadly, the reason the brutality McIntyre suffered made news is the pitying attitude mainstream media affect toward disabled people.

While the case rightfully made news broadcasts, the significance of the event soon became skewed by bought-off media. McIntyre’s status as a disabled person allowed for distractions from why activists were in the streets and what the police were doing to maintain control.

Coverage of the abuse was not about the consequences of a free market and financial deregulation. It wasn’t about economic collapse or the government revenue lost from massive unemployment. It wasn’t even about cuts to state programs or tuition increases, which led students to rise up. Nor was it about the relationship of the police to the government and whose interests they protect.

Corporate media have no interest in reporting all that.

The story was simply that police dragged a disabled person from his wheelchair. Reports mentioned the demonstration itself only to give the audience context for police repression. Reporting only that a disabled activist was dragged from his chair clearly leaves gaping holes in the story around his being dragged from his chair. Holes in stories can be exploited.

Lacking context, demonstrations can be made to look very scary, effectively dampening dissent. The message in many of the reports about McIntyre is that the police have control of the situation and anyone – anyone – who challenges the state will be brutalized. Those who resist will face violent state repression. Who’s next?

Tied to this message is the idea that protesters bring violence on themselves. Protesters should expect to be hit with batons and pepper-sprayed. We bring violence on ourselves because these are the things police are supposed to do to promote “law and order” for a minority. We’re the fools for standing against inequity and oppression.

BBC anchor Ben Brown made that point clear when he suggested that McIntyre was rolling toward police in his wheelchair, provoking the attack. In 25 years as a disabled person myself, I have yet to see a manual wheelchair that could pose a threat to anyone, let alone a police officer.

The intent of this sort of media coverage is disempowerment. Jody McIntyre is a member of a constituency – disabled people – who are routinely met with discrimination in all aspects of their lives. His being on the streets, standing up to a system that institutionalizes oppression, makes sense.

The reality not covered by the BBC is that, disabled or nondisabled, regardless of our constituencies, we all have needs that are not met by our lawmakers. We need a change. We need to go in the streets and make it.