I sat in on a meeting between ACLU and County Executive Ike Leggett on April 16th on several topics; here are the first two topics and the rest are continued in a separate post. Also in attendance were County Police Chief Manger, Art Wallenstein (Director, Corrections and Rehabilitation), Wayne Jerman, Asst. Chief., Russell Hammill, Asst. Chief. From ACLU Maryland were Mike Mage (MoCo Chapter), Melissa Goemann, Ajmel Quereshi and special guest from ACLU-NCA (Nations Capital) was Johnny Barnes (recently retired). Sarahi Uribe also joined – she’s an ACLU-NCA board member, and the National Campaign Coordinator forNational Day Laborer Organizing Network(NDLON).
Topic 1 – Public photographing police work is legal and constitutional
Mike Mage shared copies of a proposal to expand current written policy for press/media to include “the public” – i.e. codify the ability of the “the public” to photograph police work by modifying existing policy for “the Press” and adding the words “and the public”. He stated he believes all parties are in agreement that it is legal and constitutional, and ACLU is just asking that the county put the policy in writing. Leggett asked if there were any instances where police acted otherwise in MoCo so Mage summarized the incident where WH Reporter was arrested, but indicated it is not clear this was reason for his arrest. Manger states he was arrested for disorderly conduct and sites new stories about the matter as incorrect – that the recordings were not erased by police. He agrees that photography is legal and says this is a training issue. Leggett said he would consider ACLU’s proposal.
After the meeting I searched the net and found a few more instances of arrests surrounding photography in Maryland – see here and here. Then last week I attended the ACLU MoCo Chapter meeting in Bethesda, and Mage reported that since the meeting with Leggett he had first heard from Anderson that they wouldn’t put anything in writing but then heard back again that they have agreed to modify the policy, in writing. So this is one victory/win for civil liberties in our county.
Topic 2 – “Crowd Control” aka “Police Excessive Use of Weapons”
Mage and ACLU want to be proactive in clarifying police regulations/training on use of so-called non-lethal weapons like sound cannons, tasers, pepper-spray before it’s too late and everyone wishes they had been. [Readers of this blog may recall that MCCRC asked our state legislators to get proactive with Maryland State Police as well. We’re still waiting for results of a meeting they said they would have with MSP Chief, and I pinged Sen. Raskin and Del. Hixson recently on this topic again.] Mike Mage told the group that ACLU was raising this topic in light of fact that there is now a new Occupy Montgomery County and proceeded to ID me as a member (thanks a lot Mike – ha!) He asked Leggett if he knew about OMC. Leggett said yes he’d heard all about our protest last week (re: his FY13 budget proposal that includes his hotel tax rebate as ”economic development grant” to Lockheed Martin).
First off, I took issue with ACLU for listing this topic’s title as ‘Crowd Control’ in the agenda and would have instead suggested “Improper Use of Force/Weapons by Police”. It is the police who have been violent at OWS inspired encampments and demonstrations. It is the police officers that need to be better “controlled” so they stop brutally injuring people that are peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights of expression and assembly. Mage showed the group this text: A law enforcement officer or other person must not use a dangerous weapon or injurious crowd control device, including but not limited to Pepper Mace, Electronic control devices, or Sonic weapons on non-violent or passively-resisting persons, or in health-related situations. Weapons definitions are found in existing MD or Federal law. Leggett said that ‘questions come up because police and protestors disagree about whether they were “non-violent” and “passively resisting”’. Mage chimed in that his proposal defines these terms (as many other counties, states, and the Federal Government have done in their laws and regulations) :
- · Nonviolent means behavior that does not have as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.
- · Passive resistance means nonviolent noncompliance with an order.
I struggled to contain myself in the meeting at this point having seen clip after clip on Youtube of police using excessive force and weapons on demonstrators that any reasonable person would say was unjustifiable. And from what I have personally observed in countless demonstrations there is never any shred of evidence to dispute that is the police who overreact and escalate with excessive force when citizens stand up for their 1st amendment rights and refuse to comply with police orders that limit or restrict these rights. At any rate, Chief Manger then said they are “very close” on update to Use of Force policies on this matter, working thru negotiations with FOP and they should be out/available in about a week. Leggett added that he wants to wait until these are out before discussing this further with ACLU. At the ACLU MoCo chapter meeting last week, Mage said Manger has been saying this for months but they’ll let MCCRC know as soon as he releases them, if ever. Meanwhile we’re in limbo waiting for our elected officials to act as the deaths from Tasers continue to rise.