By: Randy Dotinga

Free-lancers Say They Were Attacked By LAPD

by Randy Dotinga

The American Civil Liberties Union, long a staunch advocate of rights
for protesters, is now defending members of the media who cover rallies
and marches.

On Monday, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Los Angeles
police officers beat up five journalists who were covering the Democratic
National Convention. The plaintiffs are asking for unspecified monetary
damages, and that the LAPD be forced to develop policies to protect the
rights of journalists during demonstrations.

The suit contends that the journalists – including well-known consumer
reporter David Horowitz – were shot with rubber bullets or beaten with
batons while covering an Aug. 14 protest rally.

The ACLU rarely focuses on free-press matters, preferring instead to
work on other constitutional matters like free speech. But in this
case, the journalists were working as freelancers and had no media
company to defend them, said Christopher Calhoun, spokesperson for
the ACLU’s Southern California chapter.

The LAPD declined to comment on the lawsuit, although officials
reportedly have said they did not target journalists.

The lawsuit alleges that five journalists were attacked while on the
periphery of the protests. ‘In short, the plaintiffs were not simply
in the wrong place at the wrong time and injured when the police
attacked the crowd,’ the lawsuit says.

o Horowitz, a leading California consumer advocate, says a police
officer hit him three times with a baton while he tried to film the
protests from 100 feet away. He said another officer broke the camera
he was carrying. His briefcase was taken and later returned with a
camera inside missing its film.

o Al Crespo, a freelance photojournalist from Florida working on a
personal project about protests, said he was hit three times with
rubber bullets while trying to take pictures of approaching officers
in riot gear. He had to go by ambulance to a local hospital for
treatment of a head wound. Crespo said he was carrying cameras and
several laminated press passes, making it clear he was a journalist.

o Greg Rothschild, a California audio engineer, and Kevin Graf, a
Washington television cameraman, both claim they were hit by rubber
bullets while covering the protest. They said there were no protesters
between them and the officers who fired at them.

They were both working for ABC.

o Jeffrey Kleinman, a Massachusetts cameraman working for NBC, said he
was clubbed by a police officer and fired upon with rubber bullets.

Not all journalists back suit

Calhoun said the ACLU isn’t sure why the officers attacked the
journalists. ‘We can definitely assume there was no policy or training
procedure in place to instruct police officers that journalists have a
right to practice their trade,’ he said.

Not all journalists are backing the lawsuit. Al Martinez, a metro
columnist with the Los Angeles Times, scoffed at the lawsuit in a
column published Wednesday.

‘The suit charges that the Blue Meanies, as they used to be known,
caused us to suffer scraped knees and other boo-boos, as my grandson
calls them, that need to be kissed and made well,’ Martinez wrote.

Journalists have an ‘absolute right’ to cover a protest and not be
attacked by police who don’t want to be observed, Martinez wrote. ‘On
the other hand … We take our chances when we’re in a crowd doing our
job and stuff hits the fan.’


Randy Dotinga is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to E&P

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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