Our applause goes out to former Op-Ed News Journalist Cheryl Biren-Wright and her passionate First Amendment-Defender attorney Paul Hetznecker, for recently filing a lawsuit taking a stand for freedom of the press. Back in September 2009, Cheryl was arrested and charged with conspiracy for reporting on a protest at the Army Experience Center in the Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia.
Her experience which entailed a night in jail, has become way too common. During the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, over 40 reporters and/or camerapersons were arrested (including Amy Goodman and Democracy Now’s producers) and similar incidents continue to occur all over the country. Although the charges often get dropped as ultimately happened in Cheryl’s case, such arrests have a chilling effect. Many news outfits will simply stop filming and leave the scene, even if there’s breaking news, when threatened by police.
At the Mall of America in Minnesota, you don’t have to be a journalist; even shoppers with cameras are falling under police scrutiny! With latest news of a former Israeli Defense Forces Officer-led security force treating shoppers at the Mall of America as terrorists, people are likely to now be afraid to even take out their camera (see Shoppers Entangled In War On Terrorism and DATABASE: Mall Of America Suspicious Activity Reports). Reporting a shopper as “not American male” or how a guy begins to “appear nervous as the interview goes on” (yea, really? you think?) or even the elderly man who left his cell phone in the food court and then mumbled would be funny if the ramifications for expression of First Amendment rights weren’t all so sickening and terrifying.
Here’s how Attorney Paul Hetznecker framed the challenge at a “War on Dissent” Town Hall last year after the PA Homeland Security scandal broke. Near the end, he tells people that any time violations like this happen, they will find him in court. Then he beautifully urged the attendees to not sit on the sidelines:
“Democracy is based on not a dead scroll that says you have the right to free speech. It’s a dead paper, it has no meaning. It only has meaning in the exercise of those rights, everyday, all the time…Don’t be afraid, don’t be chilled by the activities of this organization or the state police or the FBI, be emboldened by the fact that they threatened your privacy ,interests and your freedom. If you believe that freedom, in this country, is still alive, it’s alive and it’s in your hands, I’d ask that you exercise it.”
To that, I can only add the following two quotes of encouragement:
“Courage is contagious.” —Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks
“The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it’s conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.” —Jim Hightower