Message to Pittsburgh Police: We’re All With The Press

The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania police have arrested a 41-year-old man for using Twitter to post messages about police movements during the recent protests surrounding the G20 Summit.  Also, FBI agents entered the man’s home in New York City and confiscated computer equipment.  The man is charged with directing others to avoid apprehension.  The police declared the entire protest in Pittsburgh illegal, giving themselves the apparent freedom to charge anyone who helps the protesters.  But anyone could have read the Twitter postings anywhere in the world.  It was a public announcement about what the police were doing in plain sight.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stated that if this were happening in Iran or China, it would be condemned as a human rights violation.  It most certainly is.

Police movements are public knowledge.  Posting to Twitter about the whereabouts of police during a protest is simply the publication of public information.  There is absolutely nothing illegal about it.  If I stand on a street corner with my cell phone and Twitter about the movements of police cars, I’d be doing exactly what this man was arrested for.  If those cars happened to be on their way to intercept a criminal, could the police come and arrest me for aiding that criminal?

The problem of police brutality and illegal actions against protesters is wildly out of control all over the nation.  In Los Angeles you have the police violently attacking a peaceful gathering of immigration protesters in MacArthur Park.  The riot police beat up television journalists and smashed their cameras.  Later, the department had to pay over fourteen million dollars to private citizens and has even more to pay to the journalists they attacked.  In Minneapolis the police burst into a home containing the organizers of a peaceful group planning protests for the Republican National Convention.  The police held the organizers at gunpoint, tied-up on the floor for hours, just to keep them away from the convention. These were young highly-educated people with attorneys present on scene being held at gunpoint by a police force with no other intention than to prevent the exercise of their right to free speech and public assembly.

Look at this video from the G20 protests in Pittsburgh.  Pay special attention during the arrest and assault on some protesters at the 5 minute and 12 second mark.  What do you see?  It’s a press photographer clearly wearing some sort of credential on his chest.  He saunters through the melee without concern.  He’s carrying a camera.  The cops ignore him because he’s got that press credential. Then at the 6 minute and 15 second mark you hear a cop arresting someone and he says: ‘You’re with the press?  Who are you with?’  Presumably, he’s going to let a member of the press go instead of arresting him.

I think this video is fascinating because it shows who the free press really is.  Look at what the protesters are doing. They are using cameras against the police. Everywhere you look someone is trying to point a camera at the police.  The press is the people with all the cameras pointed at the cops.  The credentialed press photographer is walking around with his credential.  He’s filming nothing at a moment when protesters are being abused, beaten with sticks, and pepper sprayed.  The press is the other people.  The ones with the cameras who are being chased and beaten.  That’s the press.  We are the press.  We film bovine imbeciles with sticks and helmets and we upload our movies to YouTube.  There’s always something to film when a cop’s got a stick in his hand.  Everywhere you turn someone with a camera is catching some jackass cop murdering or beating someone.  It’s a war.  Cameras against cops.  And the big one hasn’t hit yet.  It’s coming.  Something will snap and when it does it will be covered by the free press on the ground live in the struggle right up close in a cop’s face.

The fact of the matter is that most of these G20 protesters are highly educated literate people. They are vastly more intelligent than the cops. The cops actually know that. It irritates them and they are itching to beat people up.  It’s universal to all police forces.  When you get a crowd of these people in body armor with sticks and guns you have an extremely volatile situation on your hands.  The masks confine the cops’ breathing and vision, increasing anxiety and tension.  These cops don’t think well and they are far more dangerous than the crowds they are trying to control.  I’m all for sticking cameras in their faces.  And Twittering about their movements.  It’s legal.  It’s free speech and it’s protected.

And yessir, Mr. Pittsburgh cop, we’re with the press.

We’re All With The Press.

Cambridge Cop Refuses to Apologize for Unconstitutional Arrest of Black Professor

So President Obama sat down today for beers in the Rose Garden with professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the cop who arrested him for being uncooperative and making loud insulting remarks to the police while inside the comfort of his own home.  Apparently, Obama felt bad for having called the Cambridge police ‘stupid’ after receiving news of the arrest for what the police call ‘disorderly conduct’.  Many disorderly conduct laws have actually been ruled to be unconstitutional and the idea that a person could be arrested for insulting a police officer while on his own property is frightening.  Anywhere in the United States, a person is free to insult police officers without fear of arrest.  Such speech is fully protected by the U.S. Constitution.  We are also free to not cooperate with a police officer when asked questions or when asked to step outside of our homes.  We can refuse totally without any fear of arrest whatsoever.  Any police officer who arrests someone under such circumstances is breaking the law and is denying someone their clear constitutional rights.  I would not have any beers with such an officer.  I would not attend any meetings with him and the president.  The officer said in his press conference that both men had agreed to ‘look forward, rather than backward.’ I’m really not sure what forward he could possibly mean.  It would be more productive to look squarely backward at his illegal and shocking arrest of a man who simply didn’t like him.

I watch the officer in the video above and I see a person of limited intelligence, with no understanding of his unlawful act.  Harvard University needs to move itself the heck out of Cambridge if this guy is an example of how the locals are thinking up there. What an embarrassment.

Christopher Hitchens has written an excellent short article about why race is not as important a factor in this episode as one’s constitutional right to mouth off at police officers.

Also, in Washington, D.C. this week a young attorney was out with his friends discussing the Gates arrest.  He decided to have some fun and test the constitutional principal which gives protection to people to who express their dislike of police.  He walked past several police cars that had stopped another vehicle and he chanted ‘I hate the cops. I hate the cops.’

According to him, he was immediately rushed by an angry D.C. police offer who pushed him against a utility box and said, “Who do you think you are to think you can talk to a police officer like that?”  The officer arrested the young attorney for disorderly conduct.  The young man now has an actionable claim against the police department and is probably going to sue them and win because, contrary to what the cop thinks, the young man does have the right to talk to a police officer like that.  Many police seem to think that because they protect security they have rights and privileges beyond what the U.S. Constitution provides.  This problem is getting worse, not better.  The fundamental right to freedom of speech and the right of free assembly in this country is under direct and heavy assault from police who see their responsibility to protect security as trumping all other rights and constitutional safeguards.

Police who do not understand that people can insult them and dislike them and say nasty things to them should be dismissed immediately from duty wherever they serve.  And our president should feel free to call them stupid.

Cambridge Police Arrest Famous Black Professor for Breaking No Law

APTOPIX Harvard Scholar DisorderlyWell-known black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was returning home from a trip when he and his driver found that the front door to Gate’s home was jammed. The professor went into his home through the back door and and helped the driver push the front door open. Meanwhile, a neighbor, suspecting a burglary, called the police. Of course, you might wonder why the neighbor didn’t spend a bit more time figuring out that the homeowner was simply opening his own door. But that’s not the real story.

The real story is that when the Cambridge, Massachusetts police showed up, professor Gates didn’t like the way the officer treated him and he did not cooperate fully with the officer.  Remember that in United States we are under no legal obligation whatsoever to cooperate with a police officer who is asking questions.  We don’t have to say anything.  Professor Gates decided that since he was inside his own home the cop had no business asking him to prove that he was in fact in his own home.  This is a perfectly justifiable attitude to have inside one’s own home.  A police officer must be extremely cautious in dealing with a situation like this, especially when it becomes quite clear to anyone of average intelligence that it really is the homeowner the officer is dealing with.  So professor Gates decided to give the officer a good piece of his mind.  He apparently refused to show ID then changed his mind and did.  He apparently told the officer that he was being racially profiled and that he was suffering under the treatment given to blacks by law enforcement.  He may have insulted the officer and yelled at him.  He may have insulted the officer’s mother.

The officer says that there are radio call recordings that will prove professor Gates was yelling in the background.  So, this Cambridge police officer arrested professor Gates for ‘disorderly conduct’ – in his own home.  Disorderly conduct for being angry at a police officer in his own home.  Disorderly conduct is a very vague statute in most states, used primarily to give officers the ability to round people up for simply being uncooperative.  Basically, if a cop doesn’t like you, he or she can arrest you for ‘disorderly conduct.’

I post about this episode at length because it goes straight to the heart of free speech in this country.  Law enforcement versus free speech is the subject.  We are living during a time when law enforcement seems to think it can record the phone calls of American citizens without a search warrant, physically assault journalists during the Democratic and Republican conventions, and harass photographers in public places while attempting to confiscate their equipment.  Police in Minneapolis, Minnesota staged an armed assault on a young peaceful protest group just prior to the Republican Presidential Convention in 2008.  They burst into their house with weapons drawn and made these young people lie on the floor while illegally searching the house because they wanted to prevent the group from protesting near the convention.  Much of this was caught on video and witnessed by onlookers.   Many police officers around the nation seem to have very little understanding of what constitutes protected free speech and what constitutes a real threat.  Some officers actually do understand the difference but choose to ignore the law.

If professor Gates insulted the officer in his home, it’s protected free speech.  If he insulted the officer’s mother, it’s protected free speech.  I he called the officer a racist, it’s protected free speech.  None of it matters in the slightest.  The correct response from a police officer in such a situation is to shrug it off and say, ‘Have a nice day.’  To arrest someone for behaving the way professor Gates did is outrageous and stupid.  Just like president Obama says: the Cambridge police acted stupidly.

Now the Cambridge police department is furious that Obama has insulted them and they demand an apology.  Obama owes them no such apology.  He called them stupid and they most certainly are.  All you need to know about this arrest is that prosecutors refused to press charges and all charges were dropped.  That means it was a bad arrest.  That means the police behaved stupidly and made an arrest that was not supported by law.  They arrested someone for breaking no law.  I cannot think of a better word for it than ‘stupid.’

To arrest a prominent black scholar for expressing his outrage inside his own home to police officers is stupid and might possibly be an act of racism.  The police are now parading a black officer around who was at the scene of the stupidity and says he supports the arrest because ‘Mr. Gates was acting strange.’ Acting strange.  Obviously, being a black Cambridge cop has not prevented this guy from being stupid.  We are not supposed to be arresting people in the United States for ‘acting strange.’ If there’s a cop on a force who thinks that acting strange qualifies for an arrest, he or she should be let go pronto.

So we join president Obama in calling the Cambridge police who arrested professor Gates stupid. They also seem to be poorly trained, insensitive, unaware of legal protections for free speech, and perhaps somewhat racially biased.  The race part really isn’t the important part because we don’t know if anyone on the scene really is racist.  But we do know beyond any doubt whatsoever that the police on the scene arrested someone for exercising his right to free speech.

Officer Friendly sure isn’t working up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Author Toni Morrison Talks About Free Speech

tonimorrisonIn a time when we have a president who is actually attempting to hide photos purported to show United States military personnel allegedly raping prisoners during torture sessions in Iraq, author Toni Morrison is speaking out in support of free speech.  The two things are related because of the government’s use of fear to justify hiding the photos of brutal criminal conduct by U.S. personnel.

Over the years, Morrison, author of Beloved and Song of Solomon, has had several of her novels threatened with being banned for their content.

Here’s a sampling from an Associated Press article about the launch of the Free Speech Leadership Council which includes Toni Morrison:

Morrison said the problem was fear — fear of information, dating back to the book of Genesis and the fatal temptation of the Tree of Knowledge.

“Knowledge is bad” is the Bible’s message, Morrison said, while being interviewed by author-humorist Fran Lebowitz. “It is sinful. It will corrupt you and you will die.”

Freedom of speech and information is under far greater threat these days than most people seem to realize.  It is extremely important for well-known authors to discuss the issue openly.

The photo is from AP’s Seth Wenig.

Freedom of Speech and Thought: Endangered?

As I was browsing around my favorite blogs today, I stumbled across this Washington Times book review of Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction by Nigel Warburton.  Here’s a quote from the review:

Mr. Warburton, a philosophy lecturer at Open University, opens with that famous Voltaire quip, “I despise what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it,” explaining, “Freedom of speech is worth defending vigorously even when you hate what is being spoken.”

I agree completely with Voltaire.  This concept of the freedom to offend people with one’s speech is extremely important.  It is also something that Western culture is losing sight of.  There’s a lot of talk on blogs about ‘hate’ speech.  There are laws against certain kinds of hate speech.  I have always thought that the only legitimate limitation to free speech is that which prevents harm to others.  Emotional harm doesn’t count.  My attitude toward free speech is ‘if you can’t take the hate, get out of the fire.’ I have every right to offend you.  You have the right to offend me.  I have the right to shock and disgust you with my words.  Once you limit my right to do these things with words, you side with people who would eventually strip away all right to speech that disagrees with what they want.

The National Geographic pictured here shows the censorship of its cover by Iran to hide a photograph of a couple embracing.  It does seem that most censorship is performed by people with some sort of religious motivation.  It is most obvious in countries like Iran, but it is also happening here in the U.S. where the more religious people get the more they tend to want to limit freedom of speech or expression in their communities, schools and libraries.
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