ACTION ALERT: OpEdNews Journalist and Six Protesters Charged With Criminal Conspiracy After Arrest
September 15, 2009
Linda Milazzo / OpEd News & Rob Krall / OpEd News
Six members of various anti-war groups and an OpedNews journalist were arrested at a protest organized to shut down the Army Experience Center, located in Philadelphia's Franklin Mills Mall. Reporter Cheryl Biren was rough-handled by an arresting officer and held in two different jails for a total of 14 hours before being released at 5 AM without even the opportunity to use her cell phone to call for a ride home.
OpedNews Journalist and Six Protesters Charged With Criminal Conspiracy After Arrest
Linda Milazzo / OpEd News
PHILADEPHIA, PA, (September 13, 2009) — Six members of various anti-war groups, including World Can't Wait and Military Families Speak Out, and an OpedNews journalist, were arrested on Saturday, September 12, 2009, at approximately 3pm (ET) at a protest organized to shut down the Army Experience Center, located in Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia, PA. They were released early Sunday morning and charged with Criminal Conspiracy and Failure To Disperse. Their arraignment is scheduled for September 23, 2009 at 11:30am (ET) at Philadelphia Municipal Court, 1301 Filbert Street.
Those arrested included Debra Sweet, National Director of World Can't Wait, and Elaine Brower, of Military Families Speak Out, whose son was deployed three times to Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Brower:
"The AEC is giving guns to 13 year olds, drawing them in with violent video games. As more and more Afghani civilians and US military are being killed in the US occupation of Afghanistan, we're saying NO to these wars. We've got to stop the flow of youth into the military where they're being used to commit war crimes in our name."
Also arrested with Sweet and Brower were protesters Sarah Wellington, Joan Plume, Beverly Rice, Rich Marini and OpedNews' Managing Editor, Cheryl Biren, who was standing separate from those being arrested and photographing the arresting officers. Biren identified herself to police as a journalist, however they swiftly approached her and arrested her with the others. The six women were detained at The Roundhouse, the central police facility in Philadelphia, until their release at 5am Sunday morning.
After her release, Biren reflected, "How can press be prevented from recording news in the making? It's shameful. It's anti-democracy."
Earlier on Saturday, as part of the Army Experience Center protest events, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, Christopher Hedges, author of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, addressed the crowd outside the Franklin Mills Mall.
Hedges, a former war correspondent for several publications including the New York Times, has spoken openly of his aversion to war after spending years covering major conflicts in El Salvador, the Middle East, Bosnia and Kosovo. In advance of today's event, Hedges released the following statement describing his opposition to the Army Experience Center:
"War is not a game. Weapons are not toys. The essence of war is death. The purpose of war is to extinguish all opposing living systems from the economic to the political, social, cultural and finally, familial. Those who entice children to play with mock weapons of war will never allow these children to see what these weapons do to human bodies. They hide from them the fundamental truth about violence and in this way socialize them to kill."
On the eve of the eighth anniversary of the United States' invasion of Afghanistan, with President Obama's current escalation of military action resulting in increased American and Afghan deaths, the war on Afghanistan is quickly losing favor amongst Americans.
The Army Experience Center is the military's most ambitious high tech effort to counter war disfavor and drum up army recruitment by instilling militarism and passion for weapons in impressionable youth.
This $13 million, 14,500-square-foot recruitment tool has drawn wide-ranging criticism for its extreme attempt to inspire enthusiasm for war through simulated games that show none of the horror and devastation of combat, but focus instead on the adrenalin rush of state of the art weapons of destruction.
Linda Milazzo is a Managing Editor at OpedNews. She's a Los Angeles based writer, educator and activist. Since 1974, she has divided her time between the entertainment industry, government organizations & community development projects and educational programs. Linda began her writing career over 30 years ago, starting out in advertising and promotions.
From 1976 to 1989, she operated an independent public relations service providing specialty writing for individual and corporate clients. Since 2003, Linda has focused on political writing. Her essays, letters and commentaries have appeared in domestic and international journals, newspapers and magazines. She's an educator and creator of a writers' program she's taught privately and in public schools. She currently facilitates an advocacy writing workshop and is developing an advocacy writing program to be implemented in public and private educational institutions and in community based organizations.
Linda is a frequent contributor to the HuffingtonPost, Alternet, MediaChannel, Commondreams, LAProgressive, AfterDowningStreet, SmirkingChimp, Buzzflash, PDAmerica, AtlanticFreePress and to other respected news and opinion websites. Follow Linda on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/LindaMilazzo
OpEdNews Reporter Arrested While Photographing Protest
Rob Kall / Op Ed News
(September 14, 2009) — On Saturday, OpEdNews.com reporter Cheryl Biren was arrested along with six protesters by Philadelphia police while taking photos of arrests of protesters against the Army Experience Center (AEC.) She was rough-handled by an arresting officer, held in two different jails for a total of 14 hours, being released onto the mean streets of Philly, locked out of the "roundhouse" police station, in the dark, at 5 AM without even the opportunity to first turn on her cell phone to call for a ride home.
Cheryl Biren observed, "after having been released into the streets of philly, doors locked behind us, in the pitch black without being allowed to turn on our phones while inside to secure our rides. such chivalry."
Biren was with five other women, including Debra Sweet, head of worldcantwait.com, and Elaine Brower of Military Families Speak Out when put outside the jail. (Bowers is also an editor of OpEdNews.com.)
All six were charged with "criminal conspiracy" and "failure to disperse."
Here's what I witnessed:
The police were arresting six demonstrators. The demonstrators were peaceful and cooperating with the police. OpEdNews.com managing editor was on the scene, covering the event as a photographer. She had not carried signs, had not shouted with the protesters. She was there strictly as a journalist — as the many police videos and photos will prove.
She was at the front of a group of other onlookers who were watching the police arrest the demonstrators who had separated themselves from the crowd. All of a sudden, one plain clothes police officer rushed forward and roughly grabbed Biren, as she was photographing the arrests, pulling her from the crowd and forced her to the area where the protesters being arrested were standing. She protested that she was a reporter, a member of the press. I
, as publisher of OpEdNews, reinforced her claim immediately, to no avail. She was put into temporary plastic handcuffs which were made so tight her wrist was injured. A number of observers and legal consultants agreed that her use of a professional camera, taking photos of the arrest was probably a factor in her arrest. Biren thought fast and before the cuffs were placed on her she removed the chip storing the images from her camera and hid it in her bag so she still had the photos. They can be seen here
Ironically, as a statement of solidarity with journalists such as Amy Goodman arrested at the GOP convention, Biren co-authored, with another Opednews.com editor, this article, on Sept. 3, 2008, OEN Condemns Police Action at the DNC and RNC, stating, " A free press where reporters can engage in their journalistic duties without threat of arrest must be respected. Take action."
OpEdNews managing editor, Cheryl Biren, on the scene in lower left, taking photos, of Elaine Bowers being arrested. Biren can clearly be seen as part of a crowd of onlookers, not in the space police were clearing where arrests were taking place. No other onlookers were arrested,
That started a 14-hour journey in a prisoner bus, to two jails. During that time police lied to her and me about how long she would be in custody. Apparently, this is a common practice by the police, telling prisoners that they will be held a much longer time than actually happens.
Ultimately, the six women of the seven arrested were separated from the one man and taken to the main holding prison for Philadelphia and they were released at about 5:00 AM the next day-- fourteen hours later. The male, seventh protester, who was not transferred to the center city Philly jail was released at 9:00 AM.
The good news is that the Army Experience Center closed for the day, on a Saturday at the Franklin Mills Mall. That made the protest a success. Local readers may want to consider boycotting the mall. The police used trespassing as their reason to arrest, when they announced that protesters must leave. Apparently, they changed the charges later.
The arraignment date for the Biren and the 5 protesters is Sept. 23 at 1301 Filbert St. at 11:30 AM. Map: http://bit.ly/Arraignment
The story has received wide play in progressive venues, but could be covered a lot more.
The press should not be treated this way. Please do what you can to get this story out.
• Call the mayor of Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter.
• Call the Philadelphia District Attorney's office.
It is a frightening situation when the press can't cover arrests of peaceful protesters when they are turned into political prisoners. The police should be disciplined for their actions.
Considering Freedom of the Press
Shortly before the arrests began, the police announced that they would be making arrests if people did not leave. A crew from PBS's Frontline left the area immediately. This made it impossible for them to document the police making the arrests. To my knowledge, Biren was the only member of the press who lingered, with a large crowd, who stayed to document the arrests. This is an essential role for the media-- one which the mainstream media on-site chose not to pursue.
The police could have arrested dozens of additional people who were standing next to or very near Biren. All of those people were acting in a very different way from the protesters in the area where arrests were taking place. They were simply observing the arrests. The way Biren was pulled from the crowd and moved to the area where the arrests were being made suggests that the police wanted to "place" her.
The fact that no other observers were arrested, that instead they were "managed" by the some 80 police at the mall, suggests that this was an intentional selective effort to muzzle the press. Shame on the city of Philadelphia. Shame on the District Attorney's office for allowing charges of "criminal conspiracy" to be lodged against a journalist doing her job, defending democracy and our constitutional rights.
If all the people in the vicinity Biren was in had been arrested, there might be a defense for the police — that all of them had refused to disperse when instructed. But The police had multiple opportunities to arrest others and failed to.
Biren reports that the officer who actually grabbed her acted angrily — in a scene where there was no need for anger. This was a peaceful demonstration where the organizers were in friendly communication with the police Civil affairs department that was handling the event.
Something went wrong here. There should be an investigation. The press is an endangered entity in the US. The big Philly newspapers are in bankruptcy. The police have a responsibility to the constitution NOT to abuse their powers when facing the fourth estate.
Rob Kall is executive editor, publisher and site architect of OpEdNews.com, Host of the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show (WNJC 1360 AM), President of Futurehealth, Inc, inventor . He is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com
With his experience as architect and founder of a technorati top 200 blog, he is also a new media / social media consultant and trainer for corporations, non-profits, entrepreneurs and authors.
Rob is a frequent Speaker on the bottom up revolution, politics, The art, science and power of story, heroes and the hero's journey, Positive Psychology, Stress, Biofeedback and a wide range of subjects. He is a campaign consultant specializing in tapping the power of stories for issue positioning, stump speeches and debates, and optimizing tapping the power of new media.
He recently retired as organizer of several conferences, including StoryCon, the Summit Meeting on the Art, Science and Application of Story and The Winter Brain Meeting on neurofeedback, biofeedback, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology. See more of his articles here and, older ones, here.
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