You are viewing articles tagged civil-liberties.

Tuesday January 22, 2008

A Citizens’ Bill of Rights has been added to the January 29th elections ballot. Here is the question, and here is the ‘Bill’ itself (I think). So it looks like this crappy Herald article is wrong — it’s not “Miami voters,” it’s “Miami-Dade voters” (thanks again, Miami-Dade officials, for making this extra confusing), not an insignificant distinction. What the article does not bother to do is to explain just what consequences this measure might actually have. Update: I’m wrong wrong wrong: the “Bill of Rights” is a City of Miami thing, the County thing is something else.


Tuesday November 20, 2007

Orlando school sues critical parent

The New School Preparatory in Orlando is suing a parent for publishing a blog critical of the school. This is just exactly the heartwarming story of censorship and corporations pushing around anyone who dares to say anything critical about them that warms my heart.

Basically, Sonjia McSween’s daughter attended this school (doesn’t anymore). She had some unpleasant experiences, and her mom started a blog about the school’s alleged practices. Yadda yadda, the school SLAPPs her with a lawsuit. Which is to say something like “We don’t like what you’re saying. We may not be right, but we can make your life so difficult that you will be forced to stop.” Of course this works like a charm, and the Sonjia McSween’s blog, here and here is long gone, unretrievable by Wayback Machine or Google Cache.

But the internet, the court system, the media . . . these things sometimes have a peculiar poetic justice sometimes. See, the court documents the school filed, by necessity, need to substantiate their claims, and so must reproduce the blog’s content. Read the entire pdf of the complaint blog lawsuit complaint.pdf, or just click the images below to see the blog’s content, as captured and reproduced by the school. And if what McSween says isn’t enough to convince you about New School, ask yourself whether you really want your child to attend a school that uses the courts to silence its critics. Judge for yourself whether her statements rise to the level of “slander” against the school. You may also note that it appears from the lawyer’s letters intermingled with the below that McSween complied with every obnoxious takedown request the school’s henchmen threw at her.

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

Update: from the Orlando Sentinel story:

David Simmons, an Orlando attorney representing New School, said the lawsuit, filed in late October, was prompted by McSween’s postings suggesting a possible kickback scheme between a psychologist and the school. Simmons described that allegation as “ludicrous” and “damaging.”

“We’ve only asked that she tell the truth if she’s going to make any kind of statements,” Simmons said. “No one should be able to hide under the cloak of freedom of speech by making false statements.”

This is pretty transparent bullshit. The wording on McSween’s website makes it extremely clear that the “kickback scheme” is a suspicion, not an allegation. What’s more, she provides some pretty convincing evidence for her suspicion, based on her conversations with other parents and the school’s administration (see second page of the above documents).

To boot, contrast “we’ve only asked that she tell the truth,” the line David Simmons gave the press, with “in order to avoid incurring and additional damages in the future, we hereby demand that you and/or your representatives cease and desist,” from his letter to McSween. “You or your representatives”? What a mocking asshole.


Tuesday November 13, 2007

All charges against Jeff Weinsier have been unceremoniously dropped. It is now this guy’s responsibility as a journalist to sue the police for false arrest. Update: Bob’s got the full text of the SA Maggie Gerson’s memo. I love her for her common sense (Rick should read this twice): “As to the . . . Failing to Obey a lawful command charge, the arrest may have been lawful had there been a lawful command. However, the command does not appear to be lawful in this case since being on the sidewalk in and of itself is not illegal.”


Wednesday November 7, 2007

“Cambio:” 70 young people were arrested last week in Havana for wearing wristbands with this word, which means “change.” Depending on your perspective, this is either a sign that things are changing or a sign of a new wave of repression. BTW, get your “CAMBIO” bracelet (or any phrase) here.


Monday October 29, 2007

The Jeff Weinsier incident

Jeff Weinsier gets arrested Last week, Channel 10 reporter Jeff Weinsier was arrested in front of Miami Central Senior High. By now everyone knows what happened, but let’s recap: 1) Weinsier and his cameraman, while shooting from the sidewalk, are ordered, and more or less forced, by police to go across the street; 2) Weinsier calls his station, who calls the police department, and they’re “given permission” to go back; 3) upon returning to the sidewalk on the school’s side, another confrontation with the police ensues, and Weinsier is arrested; 4) upon being searched, he is found to be carrying a concealed weapon, which is illegal on school grounds.

Well, WPLG 10 has now released the raw video of the incident, and C.L. Jahn breaks it down. C.L. Points out the obvious — that the video doesn’t show Weinsier ever setting foot on the school’s property. This misses the rather obvious point that we don’t know what happened before the camera started rolling. Video footage and photography are like that: our brain is tricked into thinking we’re seeing all there is to see. It’s completely possible that Weinsier was standing on the grass before the video we see was shot. And if he wasn’t, the police can certainly claim so, which may give some legal standing to their “lawful order” for him to stay across the street.

The law here is murky: schools are surrounded by a 500 foot “school safety zone,” and in some regards this zone is considered an extension of school grounds. Carlos Miller addresses the various laws that come into play here and here. It seems clear that Weinsier violated the law by carrying the gun near a school. But if that’s the only thing he ends up guilty of, it may very well overshadow the much larger issue: whether the police were right in ordering him off the sidewalk, and in arresting him. Carlos says:

According to Florida Statute 810.0975, which defines trespassing in “school safety zones”, a person is committing an unlawful act if he loiters in the school safety zone, but “does not have legitimate business in the school safety zone”.

The emphasis is his, and with good reason: a possible hinge-point is whether television reporting constitutes “legitimate business.” The common-sense answer would be ‘yes,’ but of course common sense is irrelevant. What’s relevant is how all the various facts of the case, and the relevant laws, are going to be interperted here. If the officer had a legitimate reason for ordering the reporters to leave (despite the fact that he doesn’t give one on camera, he of course had a reason — TV reporters file reports from schools all the time with no trouble), does disobeying the order actually constitute trespassing? Will they continue to insist that Weinsier stepped on the grass? Is it legally relevant that the Police Department’s own Public Information Officer told the station that it was OK for Weinsier to be on the sidewalk?

Perhaps most important: will the WPLG stick up for their reporter, and fight this case hard? On Friday, the station suspended Weinsier for two weeks for carrying the concealed weapon, a violation of their company policy. Fine; they may just be erring on the side of caution in preparation for the fight to come. But barring more information, this is a clear first-amendment issue, and the station — we all — need to pursue it to make sure it’s resolved properly. If the police were not right, there needs to be a major counter-suit. And remember: if the only charge that sticks is the concealed weapons violation, the police were wrong. In this case, that constitutes a technicality, because it wasn’t discovered until after the arrest. We’ve all seen how well police reports can spin police behavior even when it is obviously and clearly wrong. Let’s not stand for that this time around.


Wednesday October 24, 2007

Jeff Weinsier, a reporter for Channel 10 news, was arrested for “trespassing” while standing on the sidewalk in front of Miami Central High. After the arrest, police found a gun on him, so charged him with possession of a firearm on school property. Police say he had previously stepped on the grass, but the video clearly shows them arresting him on the sidewalk (“which is usually considered public property,” as the report incredulously puts it) after he refuses to cross the street. (Via Carlos Miller, who unpacks some of the law around this.)


Friday October 5, 2007

The City of Miami will pay $160,000 and the county $300,000, in a settlement with 20 victims of police brutality/abuse during the 2003 FTAA protests. Our pal Tamara even throws in a few choice Chief Timoney quotes from back then, like calling protesters “pussies.”


Monday September 24, 2007

Now the debate over gay rights threatens to drive a wedge between members of South Florida’s black community.” Bullshit. The debate over gay rights drives drives a wedge between the same two groups that it always drives a wedge between — rational people and dogmatic self-righteous assholes who have nothing better to do then tell other people how to live their lives.


Tuesday September 18, 2007

Student tasered for asking John Kerry questions at UF

More, um, very nice police officers acting very nice in this story and video from a John Kerry speech at U/F yesterday. Student Andrew Meyer gets on the microphone and accosts Kerry for not contesting the 2004 elections, asks if he’s a member of Skull and Bones, and generally tries to get all loud and protesty. At this point campus police try to arrest him, and he sort of waves them off and continues his questioning. More police arrive and try to arrest him, and Meyer questions them, yelling “what did I do, what did I do?”

Eventually they get him down, and the, um, six of them have trouble getting his hands behind his back, and I guess they’re pissed that he still hasn’t shut the fuck up, because another cop calmly walks over with a taser. “Don’t tase me, bro!” we hear Meyer yelling, as he’s held down by a bunch of the cops, but bro goes ahead and gives him a good jolt anyway, and we hear Meyer howling in pain.

OK, so a few things.

  1. What’s most remarkable about this is that somehow Meyer is on the microphone during the whole thing — we hear him clearly, and so does the whole room. Without that this whole incident would have looked very different.
  2. Is it a crime to “disturb” public events (where “disturb” = not shutting the fuck up when told to do so)? I guess, but this is at best a marginal case.
  3. We’re pretty numb to seeing absurd police cruelty and violence directed at anyone getting uppity, but campus police? You’d think they’d see this stuff all the time, and shrug it off. Nope.
  4. What’s up with the rest of the students? They sit there like a bunch of obedient little sheep. Why aren’t they all standing and yelling at the cops?
  5. And what’s up with dude Kerry? Clearly he sees what’s going on, and he tries to act like nothing’s happing, telling the crowd to calm down, that it’s a good question and . . . WTF, he’s got people’s attention, how about “LET THAT GUY GO, HE’S ASKING IMPORTANT QUESTIONS QUESTIONS!” How about getting off the stage and intervening in the situation (maybe he’s afraid they’ll taser him, too)? What a coward; thank god we didn’t elect this guy president. Geez.

(thanks, Gabriel)

Update: A different video of the same incident.

Much more at EKBTV: 1, 2, including the following:

Please call to express your concerns about this horrific incident:

University of Florida Police Department: (352) 329-1111

University of Florida main switchboard: (352) 392-3261

Update: Andrew Meyer’s website (via Bob, who is exactly right)

Update: I’ve no idea why the moron editors at the Gainesville Sun took down the story at the original link, but their reporters have been all over this, issuing several stories a day on various angles of the story. They’re pretty easy to find on the website (search “Andrew Meyer taser”), but here’s an overall follow-up.


Wednesday August 29, 2007

Michael Lewis is disturbed by the surveillance cameras that are going up all over downtown. I’m with you, Michael, but as far as the cameras go, I think that battle is lost.


Wednesday July 11, 2007

Florida marrige ammendment

“Inasmuch as a marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Those words will appear on the November 2008 ballot, a proposed amendment to the Florida state constitution. It’s intended to ban domestic partnership benefits that some cities and counties grant to gay couples (Broward County, Miami Beach, Key West, and West Palm Beach). These bans have passed in 28 states, and have failed nowhere except Arizona.

Now, I disagree with the so-called social conservatives on almost everything, but I grant them that some of their issues have complicated moral and other issues surrounding them. But their opposition to homosexuality has no such complexity — it’s plain and simple wrong. It’s a small-minded fear of the different, lazily tied to a gross misreading of Genesis 19 (which features a condemnation of homosexual rape, and which just as a kicker has the guy offer his daughters up for rape to protect two angels visiting him; but I digress). It’s an attempt to stop people from doing what they very much want to do, when said actions do absolutely no harm to anyone. The fact that a majority of Americans support these bans is abhorrent and, frankly, a little incomprehensible.

Well. Florida Red & Blue is an organization put together to fight the amendment. Because some argue that it could be interperted to stop all domestic partnerships, the group has chosen straight couples to represent them. They have a pretty good shot of success, in part because constitutional amendments require a 60% majority to pass.

But really, can’t we get past this already? Wouldn’t it help the anti-gay crowd to realize that they’re on the wrong side of history, that in the very near future these laws will look the way Jim Crow laws from the 1950s South look today? Wouldn’t it be nice to relax a little bit and, you know, live and let live? What do you say, guys?


Monday April 16, 2007

Florida toll roads are gradually being converted to Open Road Tolling. Basically, the system makes it even less convenient to pay cash, while keeping SunPass and “video toll” drivers from having to slow down for tolls. (Video toll means you drive through the lane and the system records your license plate, and you pay the toll later at a kiosk.) The system will eventually charge for exactly the distance traveled, (civil libertarian alert:) which will essentially require MDX to track each driver’s day-to-day movement.


Tuesday February 27, 2007

City of Miami police beat up photographers

Miami Police

OK, first of all photographers have the right to take photos anytime they are on public property. Andrew Kantor lays out the law pretty well, and links to some great resources, including the photographer’s pocket guide. Unless you’re photographing a military installation, or using a zoom lens to get at someone where they have an expectation of privacy, you can do whatever you want. This applies in particular to photographing the police, who are granted extraordinary power by the public — they are supposed to serve us, but we know that they have a tendency to abuse their rights. Photographing the police isn’t just a right — it’s an important check on their power, and lets them know they can’t get away with doing whatever they want (at least not in public).

The City of Miami police ought to know this, but they repeatedly ignore it, regularly harassing photographers on the street (I’ve been the subject of such harassment), and sometimes meeting having these rights pointed out to them with brutal beat-downs.

OK, so a photographer who was in town photographing the Anna Nicole Smith mess decided to come down to Miami to photograph the transition along Biscayne Blvd. He came upon five City of Miami cops who were apparently questioning someone. He began photographing them, and, well, here’s his account:

One of the cops told me to keep walking because this was a “private matter”.

I said that I will not keep walking because this is a “public street”.

Within seconds, the five officer left the first man alone and came after me. One cop escorted me across the road. As I stood on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road, the cops began surrounding me, which was when I shot several more shots.

That was when they slammed me against the pavement even though I offered no resistance, causing a deep abrasion on my right knee. One officer grabbed me by the back of the head and repeatedly bashed my forehead against the sidewalk, causing abrasions and swelling to the right side of my forehead.

Another officer grabbed my right hand and bent it backwards in a 90 degree angle, causing me to scream out in pain and continuing to do so even after the handcuffs were placed on me. As I verbally protested, one officer threatened me with a taser gun if I did not stop talking.

The officers charged me with five counts of disobeying a police, one count of obstructing justice, one count of obstructing traffic, one count of disorderly conduct and one count of resisting arrest without violence.

On the arrest affidavit, the officers lied several times in order to justify their arrest. They accused me of photographing them without identifying myself, which is not true (and not even against the law as far as I know). As soon as one of the officers questioned me about taking photos, I immediately identified myself by name and profession.

There is an interesting debate going on on the photo’s flickr page, but one thing is for sure: this is not an isolated incident.

Recently a lawsuit was reported against the Miami Police for actions during the 2003 World Trade Organization protest. Seems they had trouble with what this young lady was doing. Rather then beat her up (how macho would that be?) they destroyed her belongings, including her car (!), detained her for extensive questioning, and then left her stranded in downtown Miami.

Are we surprised? Um, no. Our police officers doing whatever they want is par for the course. What is surprising is how well tolerated this stuff is. The debate linked above is full of “he should have done what the police told him to do” type of comments. This is another indication of how we’re willing to let the government do whatever it deems fit post — 9-11, and not question our “betters,” and it’s disturbing, not just from a civil libertarian perspective, but also from a “we’re giving the terrorists what they want when we sacrifice our freedoms for a false sense of security” perspective.

What we should be doing is holding demonstrations in front of police headquarters over incidents like this, and asking our elected officials to send a message to the police that this stuff will not stand.

Update: The photographer is Carlos Miller, and he was on assignment for Category 305. Read Rebecca Wakefield’s article about the incident, which includes a more detailed description of the incident and comments from Miller.


Saturday May 6, 2006

The report draft Omar wrote up — about the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel’s report on the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit — has been covered in the Herald. Better yet, here’s a pdf of the report itself.


Friday May 5, 2006

At SunPost, Omar has a draft copy of Miami Civilian Investigative Panel’s report on police behavior during the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit. “The overwhelming presence of police dressed in riot gear intimidated demonstrators and deterred them from exercising their First Amendment rights . . . On occasion, indiscriminate use of force was utilized against demonstrators resulting in less lethal weapons being deployed against retreating subjects and bystanders.” (via Pure RHETORIC, who has some good personal recollections of the events)


Thursday June 30, 2005

Miami Police vs. US Department of Justice

Impressive gear for dealing with unarmed protesters This article in the New Times is a must-read. It concerns a struggle between the City of Miami and the Civilian Investigative Panel. Now, the CIP was created in 2001, when the Miami police were running amok, shooting people and planting guns on them, and whatnot. Well, we all remember the crap that went down during the FTAA meetings in 2003. So naturally the CIP is investigating. In order, we suppose, to determine where the blame for the horrible handling of the protests belongs, the CIP requested the police plan for dealing with the protests, which the City promptly refused to let them see. The CIP sued for it, and won. That’s where the New Times story picks up:

After losing to the CIP in state court, Miami officials contacted various federal agencies and “stated the order might implicate federal documents,” without mentioning which ones, according to the federal motion. Federal officials had to investigate for themselves which documents the police were referring to. And that’s when they learned a seven-page U.S. Coast Guard memo was included in the operational plan. The Coast Guard was responsible for securing the Port of Miami during the FTAA. The memo detailed where personnel would be deployed and what specific tasks they would perform.

Turns out, the CIP isn’t interested in that memo. Oh, ok…

But Miami city attorney Jorge Fernandez decided to play hardball.

“Despite the clear statement from the Panel that it is not seeking access to the Coast Guard memorandum, and although federal law prohibits disclosure of that document, the city nonetheless informed us through its counsel that it will release the memorandum (along with the rest of the Operational Plan), unless a State appellate court reverses the trial court’s disclosure order,” the motion states. “Because of the city’s position, the United States can protect this federal sensitive security information only by intervening in this appeal.”

Hey, that’s great! The City Attorney is bullying the Department of Justice, and toying with our national security, to protect it’s brutal police department.

Fernandez’s tactic of strong-arming the feds into helping him by threatening to reveal sensitive information is hardly improving his popularity. In fact the feds have in essence declared him a potential lawbreaker. After all, when the feds claim in their motion that the U.S. Government has to insert itself into this matter “to prevent the unlawful disclosure of a federal document,” it is Fernandez they are talking about.

I guess you have to admire his chutzpah. CM can’t wait to see how this one turns out.


Saturday May 21, 2005

Right to Assemble in Ft. Lauderdale

The Ft. Lauderdale Convention Center, to which protesters will be nowhere near The Organization of American States will be meeting in Ft. Lauderdale on the weekend of June 5th. Lots of people have a problem with the OAS, and are planning a protest.

So far so good, right? This is America, and that’s how we do things.

Well, not so much. Ft. Lauderdale has declared a “no protest zone,” which basically means that protesters can’t come within one mile of the meeting site.

There is something here to be said about the First Amendment. The question is, does a right to assemble peacefully mean that we can assemble wherever we damn well please, or does it mean that we can assemble where the government tells it’s ok to? Apparently, this issue is not yet settled, and so a number of parties are suing the City of Fort Lauderdale for the right to assemble where their protest might actually make a point. The ACLU is involved.

This is actually not shocking. Stuff like this has been going on for a few years, notably at George W. Bush’s first inauguration. The trend in US history is that in times of trouble people’s civil liberties get put on hold, even those that are right there in the first amendment.