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Dear News Media Colleagues,
It seems we have a case of deja vu all over again. I read last week where the various counties surrounding Denver are passing ‘anti-protest ordinances’ much like Los Angels and Philadelphia did in 2000, and Boston and New York did in 2004.
In 2003, Miami went through this same drill in anticipation of the FTAA protests, and below is a copy of the letter which I wrote at the time to the Mayor and members of the Miami City Commission, which was also copied to a large part of the news media in South Florida detailing what I felt were serious concerns having to do with the inability of the members of the news media being able to protect themselves during any protests that resulted in folks being tear gassed and/or shot at with rubber bullets.
I believe that the issues that I raised in 2000 are every bit as important and relevant today for Denver and St Paul as they were in 2003 in Miami and rather than reinvent the wheel I am attaching a copy of my 2003 letter which spells out what I think are issues that could very well affect those of us on the streets during the conventions.
As a working member of the news media, I am most especially concerned – having been shot with rubber bullets in in Los Angeles in 2000 – about the restrictions on carrying protective gear such as a riot helmet and tear gas mask.
For those members of the news media who work for corporations that are subject to OSHA laws, these restrictions create a myriad of health and legal problems, even before the issue of the degree – or lack of – coverage of these events that will result as a result of these ordinances.
I believe that the ACLU and the various members of the Denver news media need to seriously review the proposed ordinances, and take steps to protect ALL the members of the news media from these sanctions.
I must also point out that the Denver news media folks need to take the position that in standing up for members of the news media that they do so for EVERYONE and not just their employees and home town folks. Fortunately in 2003, the NPPA stepped up to the plate and got involved and were instrumental in helping to get the ordinance rewritten to allow us to carry gas masks and riot helmets.
Even with that, we still had a nasty situation where after my letter and the concerns that it raised, the Miami Chief of Police went to the Miami Herald and assured them that their staff would not be subjected to any type of harassment as long as they were properly identifiable. That is why the Miami Herald staff on the streets during those protests wore traffic vests. Everyone else was more or less left to fend for themselves.
I would urge my colleagues in both Denver and St Paul to pay special attention to these temporary ordinances that are being implemented, and to make sure that we don’t get caught in a situation where we are subject to injury for doing our job.
MY 2003 LETTER
September 11, 2003
Mayor Manuel A. Diaz
RE: ISSUES CONCERNING THE NEWS MEDIA AND THE UPCOMING FTAA PROTESTS IN NOVEMBER
Dear Mayor Diaz and Members of the Miami City Commission:
The upcoming Free Trade Area of the Americaâ€™s Ministerial meeting to be held in Miami this November is, as many with knowledge of these kinds of events are now conceding, a completely new and uncharted situation facing the City of Miami, and other cities and municipalities within Miami-Dade County.
As I write this letter, the City of Miami Police Department has caused to be introduced an amendment to Chapter 54 of the City Code, which the Miami Herald reported this morning to be a â€œcontroversial new ordinance,â€ seeking to restrict â€œobjects such as glass containers, gas masks and poles to hold up sign,â€ among other items.
In light of this request, and in light of what is now known about the actions of both protesters and police at previous protests of this kind, I feel compelled as a member of the working news media who will be on the streets covering this protest, to raise the following concerns on behalf of myself and my colleagues.
I believe that it is critically important that clear public policy be articulated on the following issues in order that there be as little confusion, or after the fact disputes regarding the rights and responsibilities of the media in reporting on this protest. I must add parenthetically, that some of these issues impact also on protesters and the average citizen who might choose to witness these events. I do not feel empowered or privileged to speak on their behalf because I believe their interests are best served and supported by groups such as the ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild, the editorial boards of the local newspapers and television stations, and by the various leaders of the protest groups coming to Miami, who I would suspect have already opened discussions with the police.Â
Before starting, allow me to support my standing to raise these issues with you.
Since 1997, I have been engaged in a long-term historical project to photograph contemporary protest movements in America. During this period, I have attended well over 100 major and minor protests, including the WTO, IMF/World Bank, both 2000 political conventions, and all that followed, numerous Haitian protests, and all of the protests associated with Elian Gonzalez. One outcome of this project has been the recent release of my award winning book, Protest In The Land Of Plenty.Â
I have, I believe itâ€™s safe to claim, attended more protests than any other American in recent time, and in that capacity I have had an opportunity to witness the behavior of both protesters and police, and have been subjected to the antipathy of both for favoring neither. The below concerns are based on my first hand observations and experiences.
ISSUE NUMBER ONE: WHAT WILL THE PUBLIC POLICY OF THE CITY OF MIAMI BE AS ARTICULATED THROUGH ORDINANCE AND/OR PUBLISHED POLICY BY THE MIAMI POLICE DEPARTMENT TOWARDS THE NEWS MEDIA IF THEY CONDUCT SWEEPS AND/OR ROUNDUPS OF UNPERMITTED PROTESTERS ENGAGED IN MARCHES AND OTHER GROUP ACTIVITIES DESIGNATED AS UNLAWFUL?
In virtually all of the previous large protests held in this country in recent years protesters have taken to the streets to carry out protest marches without being given â€œpermits.â€ In some instances, the police, for various reasons have allowed the protest marches to work their way to a conclusion without stepping in and conducting large-scale arrests. In the cities where the police have engaged in large-scale arrests â€“ most notably Washington, D.C., – everyone within the perimeters established by the police have been arrested, including members of the news media and the general public.
What will the policy of the police in Miami be? Will the news media be allowed to cross through the police perimeter and continue to report and photograph what happens, or will they be subjected to arrest?
ISSUE NUMBER TWO: WHAT RESTRICTIONS WILL THE CITY OF MIAMI AND THE MIAMI POLICE DEPARTMENT THROUGH ORDINANCE AND/OR PUBLISHED POLICY, ENACT TO INSURE THE POLICE NOT ATTACKING MEMBERS OF THE NEWS MEDIA TO PREVENT THEM FROM REPORTING AND/OR PHOTOGRAPHING ACTIONS THAT THEY WOULD PREFER WERE NOT REPORTED?
It has been an unfortunate practice in previous protests throughout the country that at some point, individual police officers, either lacking strong supervision, or in rarer cases, given free reign by their superiors, have engaged in uncontrolled attacks on members of the news media as a result of the mediaâ€™s efforts to record unlawful or excessive police tactics used against protesters.
I have been personally subjected to this kind of behavior on numerous occasions across the country, and can attest that on just one night during the Elian Gonzalez protests, I was chased by Miami Police on 3 separate occasions while attempting to photograph them manhandling individuals they had thrown to the ground while placing them under arrest.Â
On one of these occasions I managed to take a photograph of a UNIVISION, Channel 23 colleague who was not as successful in fleeing, and was himself arrested while trying to shoot video of the Miami Police arresting a woman on the corner of Flagler Street and NW
This is a very serious problem, which must be addressed on a political, as well as a policy and training level. Chief Timoney has been quoted as saying that Miami does not need to have photographs of police beating on protesters. As a citizen I agree. As a photojournalist, and on behalf of my colleagues, we do not want to be attacked, beaten or have our equipment broken or seized if we attempt to take such photographs.
ISSUE NUMBER THREE: WHAT WILL THE POLICY BE REGARDING THE NEWS MEDIAâ€™S ABILITY TO CARRY BOTH TEARGAS MASKS AND RIOT HELMETS, NOT WITHSTANDING THE PROPOSED PROVISIONS OF CITY OF MIAMI PROPOSED ORDINANCE (J-03-722), AMENDING CHAPTER 54 OF THE CODE OF THE CITY OF MIAMI?
Today, the Miami City Commission passed on first reading, a temporary amendment to Chapter 54 of the Miami City Code limiting, restricting and/or outlawing 13 different categories of items including everything from water pistols, to sticks for signs, to tear gas masks, riot helmets and body armor.
It is not my interest or desire to get into the middle of the debate over the merits, or lack thereof concerning this amendment. I am sure that both civil libertarians and representatives of numerous protests groups have their opinions and concerns, and are mapping out their own strategies to deal with this ordinance should it become law.
My concern, and I believe that it will be the concern of many of my colleagues once they learn of this proposed ordinance, is the prohibition of tear gas masks and riot helmets, and the question of whether it will it apply to them.
It is a reasonable observation that the language of the ordinance as it currently exists would prohibit through itâ€™s lack of definition of the term â€œany person,â€ the police from having any of these items as well as the protesters. The police, would Iâ€™m sure, claim that in fact that was not accurate nor the intent of the proposed ordinance since they were not engaged in the protest, and this ordinance is directed specifically at the protesters.
In accepting that reasoning, we in the news media are also not engaged in the protests. We are reporting on what happens at the protests. Therefore, this ordinance should neither on its face, nor in its language preclude members of the news media from being allowed to carry tear gas masks and riot helmets for their protection.
In the present version of the ordinance, body armor is prohibited â€œfor the purposes of enabling the wearer to engage or attempt to engage in unlawful activity.â€ At the same time bulletproof vests are prohibited without regard to intent. While my personal concern is for a riot helmet, I am sure that some of my colleagues would be equally concerned for the ability to wear a bulletproof vest.Â
Furthermore, since many members of the news media are reporting on these protests as â€œemployeesâ€ of both large and small corporations subject to the provisions of OSHA, the acknowledgment in the ordinance that the tear gas masks are designed to protect, â€œ the respiratory tract and face against irritating, noxious or poisonous gases,â€ raises a very serious question of health concerns and the legal liability of these corporations knowingly sending their employees to cover these protests when, regardless of the intent of this amendment, common knowledge and experience would allow reasonable people to conclude that there continues to exist a high degree of probability these protests will get out of hand
If members of the news media are allowed to protect themselves against tear gas and projectiles throughout the rest of the world, there is no reason why that right should be denied us in Miami.
This issue merits further deliberation and discussion on how to accommodate the safety concerns and legal liabilities of the news media.
ISSUE NUMBER FOUR: WHAT IS, OR WILL BE, THE PUBLICLY ARTICULATED POLICY OF THE MIAMI POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND ALL OF THE OTHER POLICE DEPARTMENTS DURING THIS PERIOD REGARDING THE USE OF LEATHAL WEAPONS, AND THE FIRING OF RUBBER BULLETS AND/OR BEAN BAGS?
I cannot express to all of you who receive this letter the seriousness of this issue. As one of over 300 individuals, including protesters, bystanders and news media who were shot by the Los Angeles Police Department with rubber bullets and beans bags on the first evening of the 2000 Democratic Convention, this is an issue fraught with medical and legal ramifications, including not only the possibility of great personal injury to individuals, but very serious legal liability for the City of Miami.Â
Rubber bullets can, and do kill people. They certainly have been known to seriously injure and/or maim people. One young woman in Los Angeles lost an eye that evening, and had I turned my head in either direction by as little as 2 inches I too could have lost an eye, or been far more seriously injured by the rubber bullet that hit me in the temple.
The conventional explanation and policy for using these weapons is that the rubber bullets and bean bags are supposed to be shot into the street, and as they skip off of the street, they are intended to hit people in the legs acting as a deterrence.
Far too often, the practice of the police, as amply documented, has been to fire directly at peopleâ€™s bodies and heads, and as the police in Los Angeles demonstrated, to wantonly open fire on everyone, whether they be protesters, bystanders and/or news media.
What is the articulated policy of the Miami Police going to be on this issue?Â
It is a given in this country that the news media has both a right under the First and Fourth Amendments, and an obligation under historic and acknowledged public consent to cover and report on events that can and do irrupt into civil disturbances as long as they do so without interfering with police operations.
The issues I have raised above go to the ability of the news mediaâ€™s ability to carry out this responsibility without in turn becoming a target or victim of the very police whoâ€™s actions will be of great public interest during the upcoming protest.
I do not believe that any of the concerns that I have raised will impede on the ability of the police to carry out their functions fully during these protests, and I believe that a sensible and articulated series of policy directives covering these concerns will allow myself and my
I hope that this letter will provide you with insight to issues that the City of Miami has not faced before, and that it will be seen as an effort to deal constructively with these issues.
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