A controversial photo showing a Boston police officer with his hand on the neck of a protester, taken at Sunday’s Massachusetts Tea Party Coalition "Tax Day Rally" on Boston Common, has sparked outrage and caused some to again question the tactics employed by police at events such as this.
Photographer Paul Weiskel, a junior at UMass Boston, snapped the controversial photographs while on the scene to document the Tea Party rally, and he says it is his belief police acted inappropriately during the action.
While he was photographing a counter-protest, which he says was largely LGBT activists protesting the “homophobic,” anti-gay speakers included in the event by the Tea Party, he turned around to see a uniformed Boston Police officer with his hands around the neck of a counter-protester, who did not appear to be resisting or demonstrating any other signs of belligerence.
“I turned around and saw the cop had the guy by the neck,” said Weiskel during a telephone interview, “I don’t know exactly what happened [to provoke the incident]... The cop had the kid by the neck, and then he pushes him and pushes another photographer ...”
According to a report in the Boston Occupier, Occupy Boston’s official free publication, the man in the photo is a counter-protester who was physically assaulted by a Tea Party supporter. During the ensuing exchange, the counter-protester was shoved out of the way by the officer in the photo, who then appeared to aggressively grab the person by the neck.
Weiskel was able to snap multiple shots that detail the actions of the officer, but, he said, when police saw him taking photos their attention immediately turned his way.
According to Weiskel, the officer approached him and “took two swipes at my camera, knocking it out of my hands.”
The UMass Boston student said it appeared police were only concerned with his camera, and he did nothing to provoke them other than taking pictures.
“He had no grounds for coming at me,” Weiskel said. “I was nowhere near the incident. He didn’t go after me, he went after my camera.”
When asked if he felt the actions of Boston Police were overly aggressive and unwarranted he answered unwaveringly in the affirmative.
A total of three arrests were made during the Tea Party’s Tax Day Rally, and none of the people photographed by Weiskel were arrested.
Tensions at the rally flared due to the inclusion of anti-gay speakers Scott Lively, of anti-LGBT group Abiding Truth and Brian Camenker of similar group Mass Resistance. Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum was also scheduled to speak at the event, but ended up being a no-show.
According to the Boston Occupier, the rally of roughly 150 people turned on the counter-protesters with chants of “Get A Job!” to counter the refrain of “Racist, Sexist Anti-Gay, Tea Party Go Away!”
Perhaps the most damning photographs, apart from those depicting a police officer with his hands on a person’s neck, are of the same officer allegedly attempting to take Weiskel’s camera away. A clear violation of a recent court ruling that allows photographers to take picture of police officers in public.
The Boston Police Department responded to the photo flap this morning.
“The department will need an appropriate amount of time to properly determine the context of the photo and what took place before and after,” Boston police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll told the Boston Globe in an e-mail this morning.
She characterized the counter-protesters as an “unruly” and “combative” group who were trying to disrupt a permitted protest.
“The aggressive nature of these individuals required officers to call for numerous additional units to respond,” Driscoll said. “As we always do after a day of aggressive protests, the department will review all of the activity that took place during the course of the day including the photos that have surfaced from the event.”
The photos were posted to the picture sharing website Flickr, and captured the moments when counter-protesters rushed the stage at the Tea Party sanctioned event.
Weiskel said he does not personally know the person in the photos, and plans to contact the ACLU regarding the officer's conduct.
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