Media Missing New Evidence About Genoa Violence
January 10, 2003
Police in Genoa, Italy have admitted to fabricating evidence against globalization activists in an attempt to justify police brutality during protests at the July 2001 G8 Summit. In searches of the Nexis database, FAIR has been unable to find a single mention of this development in any major U.S. newspapers or magazines, national television news shows or wire service stories.
According to reports from the BBC and the German wire service Deutsche Presse-Agentur (1/7/03, 1/8/03), a senior Genoa police officer, Pietro Troiani, has admitted that police planted two Molotov cocktails in a school that was serving as a dormitory for activists from the Genoa Social Forum. The bombs were apparently planted in order to justify the police force's brutal July 22 raid on the school. According to the BBC, the bombs had in fact been found elsewhere in the city, and Troijani now says planting them at the school was a "silly" thing to do.
The BBC and DPA also report that another senior officer has admitted to faking the stabbing of a police officer in order to frame protesters. These revelations have emerged over the course of a parliamentary inquiry into police conduct that was initiated by the Italian government under pressure from "domestic and international outrage over the blood-soaked G8 summit in Genoa" (London Guardian, 7/31/01). Three police chiefs have been transferred and at least 77 officers have been investigated on brutality charges.
An "embarrassing" inquiry
More than 100,000 people participated in the 2001 Genoa protests, most of them peacefully. Italian authorities, however, prepared for the protests by ordering 200 body bags and designating a room at the Genoa hospital as a temporary morgue (BBC, 6/21/01). Twenty thousand police and troops were on hand, armed with tear gas, water cannon and military hardware as authorities enclosed part of the city in a so-called "ring of steel," with many railways and roads closed and air traffic shut down.
The U.S. press routinely gloss over this militaristic response, instead invoking the demonstrations as proof of the threat posed by globalization activists. Even the killing of Carlo Giuliani-- a protester who was shot in the head, run over and killed by police after he threw a fire extinguisher at a police vehicle-- is recounted by U.S. media as a timely "lesson" for activists that, as Time magazine put it, "You reap what you sow" (7/30/01).
As FAIR documented at the time (FAIR Action Alert, 7/26/01), most U.S. media responded to the violence with sensationalistic reports on the drama "in the streets of this gritty port city" (ABC World News Tonight, 7/20/01), but showed little curiosity about fundamental questions, such as why Italian forces were armed with live ammunition. (As for the substantive political concerns motivating the protests, they were all but ignored).
The July 22 police raid which has become a focus of Italy's parliamentary inquiry was carried out on the headquarters of the Genoa Social Forum-- the umbrella group coordinating the protests-- and the neighboring Independent Media Center (IMC).
It received largely indifferent coverage in the U.S., but reports in independent and non-U.S. media indicated that some 200 police officers brutally beat sleeping activists in an attack that led to more than a dozen of the arrestees being carried out on stretchers, some unconscious (Guardian, 7/24/01). Of the 93 people arrested at the school, 72 suffered injuries. All were eventually released without charge (DPA, 1/8/03).
The coverage of this attack on the nightly newscasts of the U.S.'s three major broadcast networks was instructive. At first, ABC World News Tonight did not report the raid at all. CBS Evening News (7/22/01) mentioned it in passing, with the reporter noting almost approvingly that "the tactics were heavy-handed, but the streets were quiet today." Commendably, NBC Nightly News (7/22/01) devoted more significant attention to the attack and reported organizers' claim that all the arrestees had been non-violent and were "the latest victims of police brutality."
A couple of weeks later, it emerged that some of the victims were American. The three nightly newscasts then showed somewhat more attention to the issue of police brutality, running reports that included footage of the blood splashed on the floors and walls of the school (ABC, 8/8/01; CBS and NBC 8/11/01). CBS distinguished itself poorly again by introducing its follow-up report with excuses: "However provoked the Italian police were during the rioting around last month's summit in Genoa, their behavior has become the subject of an embarrassing domestic inquiry in Italy."
Embarrassing is one word for it. Amnesty International found a few others, saying that police at the summit seemed to show "scant concern" for human rights (The Wire, September 2001). Amnesty characterized the arrests at the school as illegal and cited reports that detainees were "slapped, kicked, punched and spat on and subjected to verbal abuse, sometimes of an obscene sexual nature…. deprived of food, water and sleep for lengthy periods, made to line up with their faces against the wall and remain for hours spread-eagled, and beaten if they failed to maintain this position." In addition, "some were apparently threatened with death and, in the case of female detainees, rape." Detainees also reported being denied prompt access to lawyers and medical care.
Discrediting the left
The new admissions from Italian police that they attempted to frame activists in order to justify their own violence are very significant, but there was other, earlier evidence of misconduct that reporters could have followed up.
Much of this evidence was documented by Rory Carroll, a reporter for the London Guardian newspaper. He reported as early as July 24, 2001 that "an interior ministry source" had admitted that "the raid had turned into a revenge attack by police." In the same story, Carroll reported a claim from the Genoa Social Forum that "the homemade bombs were probably planted."
Another story by Carroll (Guardian, 7/23/01) focused on allegations that segments of the supposedly anarchist "black block" in Genoa-- the group most often held up as proof that globalization activists are violent-- were in fact provocateurs from European security forces. Groups of black-clad people "burned buildings, ransacked shops and attacked banks with crowbars and scaffolding" during the protests, reported Carroll. Some attacked journalists, "smashing their equipment and tearing up their notebooks." Yet "few, if any" of these people were arrested, and local activists seemed not to know the people involved.
The Guardian quoted Francesco Martone, a Green Party senator for Genoa, alleging that police and neo-fascists "worked together to infiltrate the genuine protesters" and discredit the left. It also quoted an Italian communist MP, Luigi Malabarba: "I saw groups of German and French people dressed as demonstrators in black with iron bars inside the police station near the Piazza di Kennedy. Draw your own conclusions."
Despite the numerous questions about who instigated most of the violence in Genoa, "Genoa" has become a kind of shorthand for "violent protesters" in mainstream media.
For instance, it was common for mainstream news stories to link activists gathering to protest the June 2002 G8 Summit in Banff, Canada, to the supposedly dangerous demonstrators of Genoa. The New York Times (6/27/02) described Canada's extreme security measures as a response to Genoa, "where violent protesters battled the police." But what about the violent police? Many outlets simply write them out of the story.
To continue with the New York Times-- though they're far from the only outlet at fault-- consider the paper's coverage of a massive November anti-war march in Florence. Framing the story (11/10/02) with warnings about government fears of "a reprise of the bloodshed and chaos" of Genoa, the Times stated that officials were "still haunted by that melee," and that officials had debated whether to permit demonstrations at all. With such partial information, a reader might naturally-- and incorrectly-- assume that most of the violence was caused by out-of-control protesters.
Just last month (12/15/02), the New York Times ran an article about the lingering impact of the protests, stating that for over a year, Italy "has been haunted by the violent clashes between the police and antiglobalization protesters." It's a reasonable premise, except that the Times' selective reporting suggested that protesters bear all the blame. Amazingly, the article noted the prosecutions of 11 people recently arrested for looting and property damage during the protests, but failed to mention Italy's ongoing inquiry into police brutality.
In contrast, the inquiry seems to be getting serious attention in Italy. According to the BBC (1/7/03), newspapers such as La Repubblica and Il Secolo XIX have been publishing transcripts from the inquiry, and one report on the television channel Rai Uno stated: "Now that the investigation into the G8 events is drawing to a close, suspected truths which had already emerged are being officially confirmed."
Considering how fond U.S. media are of dramatic stories about protester/police "clashes," they should be able to find the energy to carefully investigate such incidents. This is crucial journalistic work; the right to peaceful assembly is central to democracy. The public deserves to have access to follow-up investigations of what happened at Genoa's "violent" protests.
If you'd like to encourage media outlets to follow this story, some media contact information is available at:
Join FAIR's e-mail list & receive news, action alerts and much more...