Norman Solomon’s Column
After a police officer shot Carlo Giuliani in the head, Time magazine published a requiem of sorts — explaining that the 23-year-old Italian protester pretty much got what he deserved.
“One man died in Genoa; a man, we must presume, who was swayed by the false promise that violence — not peaceful protest, not participation in the democratic process — is the best way to advance a political cause,” Time‘s article concluded. “It is not too much to hope that the next time his friends stoop to pick up a cobblestone, they will remember a lesson learned when plows first broke the Mesopotamian earth: You reap what you sow.”
The sanctimonious tone, etched with gratification, was not unique to the largest newsmagazine in the United States. Quite a few commentators seemed to accept — or even applaud — the killing of Giuliani as rough justice. “Excuse me if I don’t mourn for the young man who was shot dead by police during the economic summit,” wrote Houston Chronicle columnist Cragg Hines. “It was tragic, but he was asking for it, and he got it.”
In Genoa, assaults by Italian police were systematic and widespread, causing hundreds of serious injuries. But American news accounts tended to be cryptic. “Italian police raided a school building housing activists and arrested all 92 people inside,” the Wall Street Journal reported on July 23. “Afterward, the building was covered with pools of blood and littered with smashed computers. Several reporters at the school were hurt; one had his arm broken. Police said 61 of the detainees had been wounded in riots that preceded the raid, but neighbors described hours of beatings and screaming coming from the school during the raid.”
On July 25, when I called the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Manhattan-based group had not yet issued a statement. But program director Richard M. Murphy told me: “CPJ is extremely concerned by reports that working journalists were attacked by both police and protesters while covering street demonstrations at the Genoa summit.” The comment was evenhanded to a fault. The vast majority of the reported attacks on journalists were by police.
Unlike colleagues assaulted while displaying press credentials, reporter John Elliott was on an undercover assignment among protesters. Watching a water cannon move through tear gas, “I felt a massive blow to the back of my head,” he wrote in the Sunday Times of London. “For a second my vision whited out. I had been hit by a police truncheon.”
As more police ran toward him, Elliott quickly tried to regain his journalistic identity by yelling, “Giornalista inglese!” But the clubbing went on. “Two policemen dragged me along the ground, shouted at me in Italian and then hit me some more. My cycling helmet disintegrated under their blows. Truncheons whacked my back, arms and shins. They dragged me over railway lines towards a signal box where I was ordered to put my head on a steel rail. I tried to obey, unable to believe this was happening. Gripped by fresh impulses of violence, they started kicking my head, back and legs. Repeatedly they pushed me to the ground for a fresh pasting.”
News accounts routinely declared that the fatality in Genoa was unprecedented. But an essay in the London-based Guardian debunked that media myth. “The members of the Landless Movement of Brazil (MST) could tell you that Carlo Giuliani … is not the first casualty of the movement challenging neoliberal globalization around the world,” Katharine Ainger wrote. “The MST suffer ongoing persecution for their campaign for land reform in Brazil, their opposition to the World Bank’s program of market-led land reform and to the corporate control of agriculture through patents on seed.”
Ainger cited other deaths that have gone virtually unreported in mass media: “Recently, three students protesting against World Bank privatization were shot in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Young men fighting World Bank-imposed water privatization have been tortured and killed in Cochabamba, Bolivia.”
Meanwhile, around the planet, those who perish from lack of food or drinkable water or health care have little media presence. The several thousand children who die from easily preventable diseases each morning, and afternoon, and evening, remain largely media abstractions. When will news outlets really scrutinize the profit-driven violence that takes their lives?
While such institutionalized violence is massive and continuous, supporters of corporate globalizing agendas benefit from the propaganda value of the street violence by “Black Bloc” participants in Genoa (who, according to eyewitness accounts, comprised no more than 2 percent of the protesters there). It would be surprising if those Black Bloc units were not heavily infiltrated by government-paid provocateurs and the like. Historically, covert police agents have often pushed for — and helped to implement — violent actions in isolation from a mass base. In sharp contrast, there is scant record of police agents trying to foment militant, nonviolent civil disobedience on a large scale.
A global movement with literally millions of participants is continuing to organize against the colossal daily violence of the world’s biggest institutions. Progressive websites that are genuinely grassroots and international — like www.indymedia.org and www.zmag.org — reflect vibrant resistance to a corporatized future. Other futures are possible, to the extent that people are determined to create them.