There's a reason "Andy" only let "Barney" have one bullet for his gun. Denver Police have some 'splainin to do, Lucy!' Protecting candidates and delegates at the DNC (and the upcoming RNC, for that matter) is one thing. We all understand that is a necessary component of the world we live in. Manhandling reporters who are just doing their job is something else entirely. The word before the conventions was that the anarchist crowd was planning to physically target news media. Now, we're supposed to worry about the boys in blue, too? I've covered a lot of demonstrations in my career. Nothing seems to bring out the beast in some people like carrying or confronting a Billy club. Fortunately, this incident never escalated to that craziness. From accounts on the scene (and the video of incident), ABC News producer Asa Eslocker was standing on the sidewalk in front of a Denver hotel, working on a report about fat cat cash flow in politics, when he was ordered to move across the street. Now, on the surface of that, you might say, well, the police were just doing their job, guarding big wigs at the DNC. HOLD ON THERE! Isn't the sidewalk public property? Does the hotel ban cameras and reporters from the sidewalk when they don't have big wigs meeting with Senators? Just exactly what gives them the right to do that, aided and abetted by Denver's finest? The incident has riled reporters from coast to coast and it ought to have citizens up in arms, as well. That young man (Eslocker looks like a choirboy) was part of a unit trying to get video of the Senators and the Big Wig's leaving the hotel. There is no word of any attempt to "invade" the hotel. A burly (and I mean BURLY) Boulder County Sheriff (that's the uniform he was wearing) actually pushes the slight Eslocker, who was on a cell phone, into the street where traffic was passing! Eslocker did not retaliate (he shouldn't), other than continuously asking the deputy 'why are you doing this?' There was no answer.
Eslocker continued to do his job, while the Brown Palace Hotel supposedly filed a complaint with police about the news crew's presence. 2 hours later, yes, TWO HOURS LATER, a cigar-smoking (imagine the image) police sergeant arrested Eslocker on the street and did it somewhat roughly. The officer defended democracy and fought terrorism by choking the young man with a hand to his neck, back against a wall, until he was sufficiently red-faced and short of oxygen while they cuffed him behind his back and led him off like a petty thief. Remember, this is no screaming anarchist or bearded, belligerent dove or hawk. He is a professional journalist from a respected news organization with identification hanging from his neck, doing his job, being YOUR eyes!
That's why you should be outraged. He was there for YOU! What was it that the hotel and, by extension, the police, didn't want YOU to see? You can't be in Denver now or Saint Paul next week to keep your personal eye on the people who claim to have our best interests at heart. You depend on the eyes, ears, notebooks and cameras of the news media to do it for you. That holds true whether you prefer NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, or MSNBC. Now I know it's popular to bash media right now. But here's a revelation: There is a difference between Entertainment Tonight, the Paparazzi and the real broadcast and print journalists. The latter aren't trying to be sensational. We're just trying to report what IS! If it happens to be sensational, so be it. Mostly, it's not. Mostly, it's a bit dry. It's still important, mind you, but a bit dry. Back to that young producer. What was he charged with? The catch-all "disobeying a lawful order". Really? He was standing on a sidewalk in front of a hotel. No crime there, so they have to drum up something. When I was in the military, the "Catch-all" charge was "Disobeying a superior officer." Even if he was dead-wrong, and proven so, you could still end up in the brig for not following the man's foolish order. Well, Asa Eslocker is not in the military. He was released later on $500 bail. The whole thing smacks of a power trip by a few Barney Fife wannabe's bent on defending a public street curb by picking on a defenseless young newsguy. How dare he think the First Amendment applied to public sidewalks? If they were trying to intimidate reporters and photojournalists, I have news for them: It never works. It doesn't work in war zones, much less the streets of Denver and (heaven forbid) Saint Paul. I think Minnesota Lawmen and women are smarter than that. I talk with and cover them constantly. With very few exceptions, they are good people and excellent public servants. I know there are a few rude and pushy reporters, just as there are some hyper cops and deputies. I know both of us have jobs to do. I also know that tempers can be tested by street protests and major public events. I also think we (news types) understand the police role better than they (the police) often understand ours. The Constitution is not suspended on the whim of individual deputies. The "police power" is granted to keep order, not to assist in a cover-up. So, here's my bottom line: be very careful of over-reacting. Save the "Burly" action for Professional Wrestling. We obey legitimate police lines. We know the difference between trespassing and standing on a city sidewalk. It is not law enforcement's job to protect the reputations of public officials. It is their job to protect the rights of citizens (journalists included) to have reasonable public access to public places. Period. They owe Asa Eslocker an apology, both for their actions and their tone. And while they're at it, they owe the citizens of Denver an apology for acting like thugs in the uniforms of their city and county. Along the way, I hope someone in the Mile High City hierarchy rips that stogie out of that officer's mouth. Cigars belong in smoke-filled backrooms populated by 19th century politicians, not in clenched jaws of on-duty police. By Allen Costantini - 8/28/08