On the other side
We are used to seeing police officers in news reports on the other side of the barricades that protesters form when they take to the streets, and discussions continue about police brutality towards various groups throughout the world, not least the US. The past week, however, has seen hundreds of policemen in France taking on the role of protester themselves, demonstrating to highlight the violence perpetrated against them by civilians. The coding scheme we use on the Screening Protest project is designed with a confusing world like this in mind. It allows us to capture the plurality of roles any given actor may play in a report – such as both ‘protester’ and ‘member of the law and order forces’ in this specific case.
Apart from this twist in what is usually perceived as a classic police-protester dichotomy, there is something else about this manifestation that makes it particularly interesting. The French police chose the Place de la République as the site of what Al Jazeera called their ‘march of anger’ – a site heavy with the memory of the horror of the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, and of subsequent mourning. With the anniversary of the attacks less than a month away, the Al Jazeera reporter hinted that the choice of location is significant, especially when paired with the protesting police officers’ complaints: they can no longer protect citizens under current working conditions. They have been calling for the state to intervene, to reduce the possibility that the scenes from Place de la République a year ago repeat again.
When coding news items that have protests in focus, all these elements are important for our work – the symbolic value of the location chosen by protesters, how the problem is framed in a given news report, and the identification of an actor at whom protesters’ claims are directed.
Screening Protest — "On the other side," in The Screening Protest Project, October 26, 2016