Lawsuit Against City: Update
Alan Graf appeared in front of city hall today, along with Miranda May, Randy Lyon, and William Ellis. May and Ellis were both assaulted by Portland police officers while exercising their first amendment rights during an anti-war protest on March 25th, 2003. Lyon was assaulted by Portland police officers on March 20th, 2003, while working as an engineer for KATU.
During the press conference, Alan Graf announced that he and the victims of police aggression are filing federal civil rights lawsuits against the City of Portland, Mayor Vera Katz, police chief Mark Kroeker, officers Mark Kruger and Joe Hanousek, and "several yet-to-be-named police officers." This comes in the wake of several chilling incidents across the city in which police abused their authority and assaulted peaceful anti-war protesters and others after the US began bombing Iraq. In a press release, graf and the National Lawyers Guild ask, "How much is the Bill of Rights worth, Mayor Katz? What dollar amount would you assign to the First Amendment?"
Graf noted that all three people who were victimized by police were acting in a legal, peaceful manner. William Ellis had been standing on the sidewalk holding a sign when riot police approached on the street. Video tape from the incident clearly shows that Ellis was not doing anything illegal at the time. He was approached by a riot officer who demanded his name. Since he had done nothing illegal and had no reason to believe himself under arrest or being detained at the moment, Ellis refused to give his name. He was promptly attacked by the officer and several others. He was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, had his face repeatedly smashed into the sidewalk, was pepper sprayed while handcuffed, and was hit in the head with a pepper spray cannister. He was then taken to jail.
Miranda May was attacked in an incident that has been publicized on indymedia and elsewhere. She was standing on the sidewalk with several others, protesting as the police arrested people for jaywalking. The police turned on the crowd in their frenzy and began pepper spraying the people on the sidewalk. May became trapped between a newspaper box and a street sign, and was repeatedly assaulted with pepper spray.
Shortly after this incident, numerous people contacted the mayor's office to complain after seeing still photographs of the officers smiling and laughing as they sprayed May in the face while she was trapped and screaming. The mayor's office responded by claiming that the photographs were fake, that the incident did not happen. Despite these claims, numerous witnesses came forward and several people who had been videotaping the incident were able to provide videotaped proof that it did, in fact, occur. Viva la camera.
May reported that her faith in America has been severely shaken since this incident. She also noted that the stories reported in the corporate media did not appear to match her own experiences on the day of the protest.
Randy Lyon, an engineer for KATU, was wearing press ID and was working with video cable behind the KATU news van when a police officer assaulted him in the head with a baton. At this point, although Mr. Lyon identified himself as a media person, the officer dragged him behind the van and continued to beat him. Lyon reports that he has recurrent migraines and memory loss as a result of this incident.
Graf noted that the attack on Lyon appears to be related to numerous incidents in Portland in which police seem to be intentionally targeting members of the media. Graf describes this pattern as a "cover up," in which police officers are attempting "to cover up their misdeeds by intimidating members of the press who have attempted to cover the protests." In a press release, Graf noted the similarity between this incident and another incident in which a woman was pepper sprayed as she attempted to videotape misconduct by the Portland police. He may have been referring to the incident on February 15th, 2003, when an indymedia reporter was illegally pepper sprayed by Marty Rowly, badge #8969.
Police have attacked several other indymedia reporters in recent months, and have falsely arrested three of them. In two cases, police confiscated the reporters' cameras. Police still have one of them, and would not have released the other if not forced to do so through the courts. Similarly, police pepper sprayed many members of the media during the anti-bush protest last August, including Beth English from KPTV. More recently, another KPTV camera operator was assaulted and arrested as he attempted to cover police violence during an anti-war protest. In a live broadcast from the scene, a KPTV reporter who had also been present stated that the news photographer had been thrown to the ground along with his camera, and was then arrested. According to the reporter, the photographer had done nothing illegal. This story promptly disappeared from the airwaves. No mention was made of the incident during a later, taped broadcast.
The attack against Lyon put him in an interesting position, since KATU and other corporate media had been ignoring police violence. In fact, they had been reporting that police were "lenient" with protesters.
When Lyon was asked whether he felt that the attack may have tempered any of the pro-police bias in the corporate media, he replied that he couldn't comment.
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