IN THE LATEST CLASHES along the Occupy Oakland front lines, comics journalist Susie Cagle says she’s attained a wholly unsought distinction:
“I now have the extremely dubious honor,” Cagle tells Comic Riffs, “of [being the] first professional journalist arrested more than once at an Occupy event.”
Cagle’s arrests have attracted added attention to one of her journalistic goals since October: “Part of me was drawn to Occupy Oakland because I wasn’t seeing other sources of consistent information.” As a freelance reporter and through her Twitterfeed, she has sought to report her version of on-the-ground events. (Cagle has even started her own Occupy Coverage donation site to raise funds for her work.)
Comic Riffs caught up with Cagle on Monday to get her take on the Occupy Oakland skirmishes and arrests over the weekend, as well as her larger sense of events after four months of reporting what she calls an “intensely visual experience.”
MICHAEL CAVNA: Your Twitterstream and comments over the weekend indicated that some media outlets were getting key facts wrong — including reports of “improvised explosives.” What’s your take on the most recent clashes between police and protestors?
SUSIE CAGLE: So much of the reporting that comes out of Occupy Oakland jumbles the timeline. Neither I nor any witnesses I spoke to — protestors, journalists and bystanders alike — saw any "improvised explosives" thrown at police.
The police kettled the marchers — contained them in one area with no way to leave — twice. The first time, they declared an unlawful assembly, but provided no escape route, and then shot tear gas into the crowd, sending people into a panic and forcing them to escape by tearing down fences around a lot, by the park, where they were contained.
Occupy [protestors] did not storm or attempt to take over the YMCA [as reported]. Employees there opened the doors for people begging to be saved from a kettle and mass arrest action where 300 to 400 people were taken down — including myself and other journalists. There are also several reports that Occupiers broke into city hall shortly thereafter. Property was definitely vandalized, but several people have told me they did not break in — that the doors were actually open.
MC: More personally, you say you were arrested and “unarrested” — and that you held up multiple press badges. Can you describe what happened, and how it was different from your first arrest.
SC: I was certainly better papered this time around — I had a press pass from the Freelancers’ Guild, a division of the Pacific Media Workers union. ... [The pass] expires November 2012. And [I had] my Oakland Police Department press pass, which expired at the end of 2011. ... They only give them out for calendar years — I'd just gotten it at the end of [last November].
I was very outspoken as I was being pushed into the kettle by police rather violently. [Here’s an audio clip of the arrest.] I said, “I'm Press, I'm leaving peacefully — where can I go that I won't be arrested?” They first didn't answer me, then pushed me further into the kettle. When I continued to ask how I could leave, an officer removed me from the crowd. I asked if I was being detained, and he hushed me as he marched me with my hands behind my back to the curb, where I was zip-cuffed.
I said repeatedly that I wanted to speak to a sergeant or public information officer, and my arresting officer told me to "cooperate" many times. ... After a call to the PIO, a sergeant released me “as a favor,” “using discretion” after about 45 minutes, and then I was escorted outside the perimeter, so I was unable to continue reporting on the arrests. The PIO acknowledged [Monday] that I should not have been arrested or escorted away, according to their crowd control and press handling policies or the operational instructions that PIO had written and distributed for the day.
I now have the extremely dubious honor of [being the] first professional journalist arrested more than once at an Occupy event.
MC: What are you finding most compelling about Occupy Oakland as a journalist — and particularly as a graphical journalist?
SC: Occupy Oakland is volatile, complicated and ever-shifting, full of compelling characters who I've grown to know and watch change over the last few months. Being able to see the story develop as it has has provided me with great deep perspective into not just what happens, but why it happens — the motivations behind the actions, and the lead-up to and decompression of them as well.
Drawing so much of this humanizes those people in a way that I don't believe we see in the rest of the press. Not to mention, if you've watched the footage, you know this is an intensely visual experience. I've also been recording a lot of audio in the field, and I'm working to do some slide shows of art with that audio.
My paintings are going to be in a show at SomArts in San Francisco opening on March 9 with the Yes Men and others, about work that walks the line of criminality.
For Cagle’s first installment of paintings, you can go to this link.
A TALE OF TWO OCCUPY CARTOONISTS: From arrest to arresting humor — how diverging journalists respond to the movement