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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: Santa Cruz Indymedia | Government & Elections | Health, Housing, and Public Services | Police State and Prisons
Norse Incident Sounds Alarm
Civil Liberties Threatened by Council Action
From a purely civil libertarian point of view, the arrest and citation of Robert Norse during Tuesday evening's council meeting was both alarming and disconcerting. In an age when government at all levels seems interested in exerting more power over the affairs of ordinary citizens while simultaneously restricting access to the decision making process, the right to simply be heard is more important than ever. Regardless of the animus some feel toward Mr. Norse, let us not further chill the medium in our haste to quiet the messenger.
"Robert Norse was cited tonight at City Council for placing his tape recorder at the podium and walking to the back of the room. Just like he has done nearly every council meeting for no less than 15 years running. Tonight new mayor Robinson decided to have the police arrest him for disrupting the meeting. They issued him with a misdemeanor ticket and ordered him to leave the room or be arrested. I videotaped the whole thing. She definitely is changing things up in quite a creepy way. He is a journalist with a twice weekly radio show. I think this is a problem."
"I was excluded from the chamber for returning the tape recorder to its usual position near the speaker's podium. The acoustics in the room are such that there aren't other good alternatives. Robinson and I had this discussion several months ago by e-mail when I advised her of this situation after she threatened a similar action in December. She subsequently left the recorder unmolested until Tuesday evening when she unexpectedly without prior notice had Sgt. Bush remove it and hand it back to me. I simply replaced it. Twice.
She then stopped her own meeting to make an issue of the matter and demanded I leave or be arrested. I asked to be allowed to explain but was wary of saying anything since I didn't want to enter into a dispute with her that could later be viewed as a disruption. Since she was the individual choosing to stop the entire meeting, I felt any "disruption" was something she created. The whole incident was simply a rather naked and arbitrary exercise of power which I felt obliged to respond to by doing quietly what I've always done and what I have to do in order to have audio for my Thursday night radio show".
For those who want to view the incident, I would assume part of it is visible on the City's web site where Council meetings are stored. It's not there yet, and what you are likely to see and hear when it's posted is mostly the Mayor ordering me to not replace my tape recorder in its customary spot, to say nothing, and then to leave or be arrested. Assuming that the cameras were still running (I'm told Community TV has been advised not to film "disturbances").
Brent Adams generously agreed on the spot to film the incident and hopefully he'll be posting some video.
I'll be playing what audio I have tomorrow (April 3rd) at 6:15 p.m. on Free Radio (101.1 FM and http://www.freakradio.org). It will be archived at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb140403.mp3 (about 15 minutes into the audio file).
The Sentinel's coverage of the event is at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/santacruz/ci_25481030/santa-cruz-community-activist-arrested-alleged-disruption .
After the exclusion and arrest yesterday when I got home, I found Mayor Robinson's acknowledgment that I make a 5 minute presentation regarding the repressive Public Assembly law changes.
She okayed HUFF, Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom, giving 5 minutes of public testimony, as is customary with organizations requesting in advance to have such time. She seemed to suggest that it was a matter of largess on her part and that if she hadn't read my e-mail the hour before the meeting, she would have not allowed the presentation.
However, of course, when the time came for me to speak, I had been barred from the chambers. Because of that, I wrote her the following:
BROWN ACT COMPLAINT
Thanks, Lynn, for the offered time. It's ironic that you then shut me out of by having me arrested and excluded from the Council meeting for putting my tape recorder in the same spot it's been for the last two decades.
If you have a deadline for when you accept notification from organizations seeking the standard five minute presentation time, please advise the community, myself included. I would have preferred to notify you earlier, but only decided to come to the meeting and notified you shortly afterwards. I generally give more notice, but as a matter of principle, it seems to me that your responsibility is to make the time available, whenever it's requested. Otherwise some in the community might jump to the conclusion that you have a preference for less rather than more public comment.
I guess we'll meet in court if the D.A. actually thinks he can claim before a jury of twelve with a straight face that a tape recorder placed in its traditional place where it can actually capture the sound is an "actual" disruption.
In my view you disrupted your own meeting in an deliberate and unnecessary abuse of authority. In so doing, I believe you violated basic First Amendment rights, the Brown Act, and the "straight face" rule in a strange use of force to constrict the space at City Council the way you've supported constricting sidewalk space downtown.
Your action--unchallenged--jeopardizes the rights of community members and particularly members of the alternative media.
I request that you revisit the entire agenda item to provide the public that you excluded (me specifically, but also those who might have had something to say once I had spoken) with the chance to speak on the item as is required by law.
The Brown Act specifies that legislative bodies must allow audio recording devices. Your attempt to move me away from a position where speakers could be picked up on my machine and insistence that I "attend" the machine were essentially a veto on my ability as a reporter to (a) get a good recording, and (b) freely move about the meeting while that happened.
This is a formal Brown Act Complaint. Please respond to it in a timely manner.
To: Mayor Lynn Robinson
City of Santa Cruz, Ca.
re: arrest of Robert Norse for recording the meeting
April 2 2014,
Dear Mayor Robinson,
On April 1, 2014, HUFF member & radio journalist, Robert Norse attended the Santa Cruz City Council. He had e-mailed you in advance informing you that he would be speaking on behalf of our organization, Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom (HUFF), & was seeking the customary 5-minutes traditionally afforded organizations on relevant agenda items.
As your follow-up e-mail confirmed, you were aware he intended to speak on the item re: new permits required for large events.
He placed his tape recorder upon the wooden banister to record portions of the meeting for his radio show as he has done hundreds of times since 1995, when the Sgt. of Arms interfered with his ability to record and informed him that it was upon your orders.
Robert Norse' use of a portable tape recorder in no way disrupts council meetings and is protected by the 1st amendments prohibitions on preventing the press from performing their work.
While I am aware you appear to have specifically tailored a policy to ban Mr. Norse and only Mr. Norse from recording upcoming meetings, it appears you also intended to shut down HUFF's timely concerns, intimidate our members, and pass a chill on the freedom of members of the press to cover council meetings under your rule.
In addition, since you had Mr. Norse arrested, charged with misdemeanor charge of disrupting a meeting, and excluded from the rest of the meeting, you prevented our organization's ability to weigh in on the item on which Mr. Norse was there to present. As such, this constitutes a Brown Act violation so that we seek the entire item be redone with appropriate public comment allowed and an unfettered press to cover the item as well.
You are the first Mayor in 18 years to go to the draconian extreme of arresting a member of the press for using a recording device at a City Council meeting.
At the very least, this is petty, personal, disturbing, and beneath you.
We urge that no charges be filed against Mr. Norse since no actual disruption of the meeting occurred, that the policy forbidding tape recorders placed on the banister be rescinded, and that an apology from yourself be forth-coming.
Please settle this small matter before it becomes a large matter.
Becky Johnson, on behalf of HUFF
Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom
309 Cedar St. PMB 14B -- Santa Cruz, Ca. 95060
or email me back directly.
Speech to City Council from HUFF It was prepared but never delivered
Last week a man was arrested in this room. His crime? Quietly exercising his right to attend a public meeting and to audio record it as he always had with a small machine placed on the railing here. Robert Norse disrupted nothing. You all did. Not just the Mayor but every Council member who silently let this recording be shut down without objection.
On February 11th, you passed a repressive set of decorum rules. One of these targeted any alternative media—indeed any individual—making their recordings from there—the best place to do so. It's strange. Norse is a long-time Free Radio Santa Cruz broadcaster. He has been placing his machine there regularly for his Thursday night radio show for two decades. He is a fierce critic of this Council's escalating attack on poor and homeless people. This so-called “decorum” rule was cooked up to target him.
You had him arrested when he quietly continued to record here. When he quietly sat in his seat waiting to speak on the Public Assembly law in this supposedly public meeting, you ordered him to leave.
You disrupted your own meeting. You unlawfully excluded him from the chambers. You unlawfully charged him with “disrupting a public meeting”. He faces a possible fine of $1000 and/or 1 year in jail (arraignment 8:15 a.m. May 6)
Last year,you tarred homeless people as criminals for simple survival behavior. Sleeping after 11 at night. Covering up with blankets after 11. Camping outside with protective gear in the rain. You made “not paying a $157 sleeping ticket” a jailing crime. The shelters have long been full for 90% of those outside. Council itself has repeatedly declared a shelter emergency exists here.
Police under Council direction has escalated its attacks on homeless sleepers at night and those present downtown. Your lynch-mob laws and policies have spread fear among the poor. Your laws shrinking the public sidewalk space has driven street performers, like the colorful accordion player, The Great Morgani, away.
We understand the Mayor has airily ignored a Brown Act demand that you correct the censorship you created last week. The law requires you to repeat the Special Session hearing and vote on the Public Assembly recommendations again. And to allow Norse (or anyone else) to speak and record (so it can be heard) . And allow those who wanted to hear him to hear what he had to say. The right to hear his audio and commentary. False decorum rules can't disguise your latest attacks on public space and the poor. Shutting down transparency in government violates the rights of all of us.
The Community needs to recognize Council's actions for what they are: an abusive and expanding exercise of power against those who criticize them.