On June 12 at around 2 a.m., Omar Mateen went into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and gunned down 49 people while wounding at least 53 others. After Mateen was killed by police and the massacre was finished, the nation quickly went into mourning for those who lost their lives, most of whom were queer people of color.
Hours afterwards, a vigil was held in New York City outside of the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that kicked off the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Those riots were in response to police harassment and attacks against the queer and trans folks who frequented Stonewall, but on June 12, 2016, a large crowd of people was gathered to mourn with a number of heavily-armed police nearby as reporters swarmed around asking people how they felt. A group of about 200 people decided to leave the vigil to take the streets and march. They marched from Stonewall to Union Square, had another speakout, and then made their way to Times Square. The group, now made up of a few dozen people, were on the street most of the way there and even had a die-in at one point. But by the time they reached 42nd street, police decided they had had enough of queer people and their allies marching in the streets. Police on horseback can be seen on multiple videos charging at the group while commanding them to get on the sidewalk. Chants of “We are not afraid!” then rang out in response to the police’s attempts at intimidation. Two mounted police nearly trampled people as they attempted to corral the marchers like cattle while cops on foot arrested four people just before 10pm. One of the four arrested was injured by police and had to be hospitalized. Three of the arrestees were all held for more than 24 hours, a violations of the right to a speedy trial in NY case law, while the one who was injured was held for about two days.
Several people posted video of the incident almost immediately (re-posted below). Multiple people tweeted first hand reports and shock at the actions of the NYPD. There was ample material readily available on the internet for journalists to write a complete report of the night’s Orlando solidarity actions in NYC, which ended with this attack by the NYPD.
One might assume that journalists covering the Orlando solidarity actions, especially local NYC journalists, would want to write about police on horseback charging at people marching in solidarity with those killed in Orlando, or at least mention the arrests and injury in their report. Journalists could easily connect this to the Stonewall Riots, Pride month, and the long history of police violence against queer and trans people. They could contrast the police behavior against the marchers with the fact that the NYPD deployed 500 more cops around the city to supposedly “defend” sites important to the LGBTQ community. They could talk about the admiration Mateen had for NYPD. Or they could talk about the cops’ actions as one of many forms of homophobic violence in general. There was no shortage of angles.
But instead, almost every media outlet, including local NYC outlets that generally pick up on these first-hand youtube and twitter accounts, fawned over the NYPD protecting LGBTQ landmarks and omitted the NYPD’s attack, assault, and arrests entirely.
Gay City News published a piece, which also appeared in their sister paper The Villager (which has since been removed), that mentioned the vigil at Stonewall and a “more somber” interfaith vigil at Judson Memorial Church, but there was no mention of the marches or the arrests. They didn’t fail to mention that the Stonewall vigil had “heavy protection from the New York Police Department” though. The Daily Dot noted that the march “was ignored by police and allowed to continue despite a lack of permit” but made no mention of mounted police charging at marchers. Vice News mentioned the march to 14th street but said nothing about what happened after that.
CBS New York mentioned police “guarding” the block at Stonewall but said nothing about the marches or arrests despite having a reporter on the ground up until an hour after the arrests happened. NBC New York quoted NYPD Chief James Waters at the Stonewall vigil saying that the cops would be “protecting” the LGBTQ community but didn’t include anything on the marches or arrests. ABC News didn’t even mention anything on the marches, police on horses, or the arrests. The first image shown by PIX11 was of heavily-armed cops outside of Stonewall, and they made sure to also quote Chief Waters assuring the LGBTQ community that the NYPD would be “protecting” them. There was nothing about the marches, attacks by mounted police, or the arrests though.
Pink News wrote a piece pinkwashing the NYPD, essentially portraying them as former oppressors that have been redeemed since the days of the Stonewall riots and who have been transformed into modern-day protectors of the LGBTQ community. Despite their abundance of articles on the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, they still haven’t written anything on the marches, the arrests, or the attacks by mounted police on people marching in solidarity with Orlando. AM New York had plenty of pictures of the vigil at Stonewall but had absolutely nothing about the marches and arrests. The New York Times also apparently didn’t think the marches, the attacks by mounted police, the arrests, or the injured marcher was news that was “fit to print.” Their coverage was totally confined to the vigil at Stonewall. In addition to praising the NYPD for standing in front of LGBTQ landmarks heavily armed, several outlets also praised the NYPD for showing restraint in policing the demonstrations and even reported that there were no arrests.
Film The Cops editor Keegan Stephan e-mailed several of these sources requesting a correction, providing links to video of the incident and eyewitness accounts and contact information. Only Gothamist updated their post. DNA Info later ran a separate story on the arrests and injury.
For most of these outlets, the basic narrative was that a sorrowful yet G-rated vigil occurred at Stonewall where people spouted liberal platitudes about everyone loving each other and not spreading hate. Also, despite the fact the vast majority of the people killed in Orlando were queer people of color, most of the people interviewed by TV outlets like CBS, NBC, ABC, and PIX11 were white men.
Passive forms of mourning were spotlighted while those who chose to mourn by taking the streets were minimized if not totally ignored. Rather than talk about people marching on the streets chanting “Stand up, fight back,” many outlets instead made sure to include that people stood outside Stonewall and sang “We Shall Overcome.” Many of the reporters apparently weren’t around for the marches, and the few who were there didn’t stick around beyond 14th street. It seems most of them just got what they needed from the Stonewall vigil for a feel-good piece and then left. And of course, media coverage emphasized that police were “protecting” the vigil and the wider LGBTQ community even though those who were arrested, injured, or nearly trampled by cops on horseback probably didn’t feel so protected by the NYPD.
As Progressive Queens noted, the NYPD seized on people’s fears of terrorism to pinkwash their violent history and still troubled relationship with the LGBTQ community, and the press dutifully supported their effort while omitting the facts.