Press Censors Some Citizen Input on New Police Chief

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (January 1998)

Only 20 people showed up for a public forum on input for what kind of police chief the City should hire. These 20, however, were not short on ideas. The Press, instead, chose to report on the less significant aspects that were presented by the public.

Only 2 of the twenty were mentioned by name or quoted in the article. In fact, City manager Kurt Kimball got more print than all the citizens present combined. The ideas reported were the need to hire from within the department, an honest chief, dealing with rogue cops, and some mention of sensitivity to “racial and economic diversity.”

What a disservice to the Grand Rapids public. People had some great ideas, ideas that came from a real community/neighborhood perspective. Dave Bulkowski who is with the Peoples Transportation Forum and the Center for Independent Living urged the new chief to be sensitive to people with disabilities. Frank Lynn, with Catherine’s Care Center and a long time neighborhood activist, came whole list of ideas, none of which were mentioned in the Press article of Nov. 12.

Frank suggested that the police chief work closely with neighborhood groups, that the police work should be rooted in the neighborhoods in a collaborative effort. The chief should also be about economic reinvestment into the core city neighborhoods as a preventative measure against crime. This could be done by supporting the re-directing of seized drug assets back to neighborhoods most effected by drug related crime. Frank also suggested that more alternatives to crime should be employed to take some offenders out of the cycle of crime.

Other comments suggested that the chief take a strong stand against police brutality, which was a much different statement than what the Press ran. The issue of sensitivity to the diversity in the community was actually stated as sensitivity to racial, cultural, gender, and class diversity in the community. I found it interesting that class was changed to economic.

In addition was the concern about the process of public input. Before the public was invited to participate the City Commission voted to give a $27,500 contract to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) to conduct a search for the next chief. If the city will consider hiring within the department why hire a DC base firm? It seems to me that the public input process is a bit of a token or a wish to put on the appearance of following a democratic process.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that someone raised the issue of the chief of police being more accountable to the public. As it now stands the chief is accountable to a non-elected official, the City Manager…Kurt Kimball. This was conveniently omitted from the Press article, maybe because it went more directly to the point of a real democratic process with the next police chief.

Our Right To Write

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (November 1997)

Underground newspapers are a perfectly legal way for students to express themselves, no matter what administrators might try to tell them. They serve the purpose of giving the students a voice where they can speak on any topic without the fear of being censored by a school official or giving out their identity. The First Amendment, or the right to freedom of speech, is the principal that protects student publications.

A supreme court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, stated that students do not lose the right to freedom of expression under the first amendment when they enter school. This decision has been applied to various cases regarding the distribution of literature at schools, upholding the rights of the students to distribute their literature. The only way schools can control the distribution is the time and place where it can be distributed, but they cannot ban it completely or censor content. The students must be allowed to distribute their literature at school.

Some principals will cite the clause in the Tinker decision, which states that literature can be barred from school if it’s distribution martially and substantially interferes with school activities. According to Sullivan v. Houston Independent School District, minor disruptions must be tolerated in order to accommodate the rights of students to express their views. The court stated that it is “their misconduct in the manner in which they distributed the paper, not the idea of a newspaper that should be stopped.” The American Civil Liberties Union also agrees that some disruptions in distributing the literature does not justify banning the literature. The school can make a rule that regulates the time, place, and manner of distribution. However, a rule that regulated the distribution so that the majority of students couldn’t get access to the newspaper would be unconstitutional.

Despite the fact that the school cannot censor a student newspaper, the newspaper is still required to follow the rules of any other newspaper. Rules regarding libel, copyright infringement, and invasion of privacy still apply. As with any publication, it is up to the student editors to decide what is appropriate and inappropriate.

Some people will ask why students don’t use the school newspaper to express their views, and there is a simple answer to that question. Newspapers paid for by the school or created using school supplies can be censored, to some extent. However, the school cannot censor publications made by the students with their own funds and supplies, since they are independently produced. It is much easier for a student to write a “controversial” article or an article criticizing the school if they don’t have to worry about their article being censored.

Underground newspapers are an important part of students’ First Amendment rights. It has been established in several different court cases over the past 28 years that students have the right to publish newspapers and distribute them at school. Students cannot be stopped because they present an unpopular viewpoint or criticism of the school; they are protected by the First Amendment.

The Press Commits Another Sin of Omission: When Rape is Passe

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

On April 13, in the Religion section, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article from Newhouse News Service writer Julia Lieblich about a US nun who is engaged in a protest/ fast across the street from the White House. Actually, the article spends more time talking about the “concern” that National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and his associates are having in this case.

The headline reads “Administration officials make late-night visits to see protesting nun.” The title alone is enough to lead you to believe that they are on some humanitarian mission. According to the article, Lake has paid three visits to Sister Diana Ortiz who has been camped out since April 2. In fact, the article gives more print space to the supposed empathy of government officials than that of the reasons for Ortiz’s actions.

The Press article simply states that Sister Ortiz “was raped and tortured in Guatemala.” No other specifics are mentioned. We are given no date or any testimony from Sister Diana herself about what happened. It is almost as if rape and torture were incidental in this case. The article mentions former US Ambassador to Guatemala Thomas Strook’s challenge of Ortiz’s story, but no one who supports her case is cited. For as much as the article reflects the agony of the government officials on this case you might expect the writer to give equal time to the agony of Sister Ortiz. Not so. The specifics of her abduction, rape, and torture are quite available, however. You can find full testimony in publications such as Report on Guatemala, the Bulletin of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA, as well as a taped interview on Alternative Radio. Any competent journalist could easily find these sources.

Some of the specifics of her case are as follows. She was abducted on November 2, 1989. Her abductors took her to a warehouse-like building, where Sister Diana recounts that she heard “the despairing screams of people being tortured and I watched helplessly as an innocent person was tortured.” She was then questioned and every time she responded men burned her with cigarettes. In all she has 111 burns on her back from the interrogation. She then says, “I was raped numerous times. After pouring wine over my body they used and abused my body in horrible ways that are too humiliating to describe in detail. Then they lowered me into an open pit packed with human bodies – bodies of children, women, and some men, some decapitated, some lying face up and caked with blood, some dead, some alive – and all swarming with rats.” Had any aspect of this testimony from Sister Ortiz been included in the Grand Rapids Press article would it have changed your impression of this case? I think it probably would have.

None of these serious omissions by the corporate media should surprise us though. If we look at the date of the crimes committed against Sister Diana, Nov. 2, 1989, we can make other conclusions about the self-censorship that the corporate media engages in regularly.

According to Noam Chomsky in Terrorizing the Neighborhood, when this story appeared on the AP wire service on Nov. 6, 1989, none of the major media picked the story up, nor were there Congressional calls for an investigation. Just over a month later and right before the illegal US invasion of Panama, George Bush waxed indignantly about what happened to a US woman in Panama. “If they threaten and brutalize the wife of an American citizen, sexually threatening the lieutenant’s wife while kicking him in the groin over and over again – then….please understand, this president is going to do something about it.” (see Stephen Shalom’s Imperial Alibis, pg. 178-79) So, if a US woman is terrorized in a country that the US military is about to invade it is an outrage, but if a woman is terrorized in a country that systematically murder’s its own people (with US government support) it is not worthy of mention? You decide.

Finally the Press article does make mention that Sister Diana is pushing the Clinton Administration to release all classified documents related to her case. They also cite a catholic priest who believes that Anthony Lake’s interest is more posturing than genuine concern. However, the article does not seriously look at the present efforts by the Guatemalan solidarity community in this country to push the Clinton Administration to release all declassified documents related to Guatemala since the CIA-led coup of 1954. In the most recent issue of Report on Guatemala, Jennifer Harbury states that after receiving some declassified documents it is clear that Anthony Lake and other US government officials were either withholding information from her or deliberately deceiving her in regards to the status of her husband Efrain Bamanca Velasquez, who is now believed to have been killed at the hands of CIA paid military officers in Guatemala. No wonder the corporate media is “missing” the real story, it would not only indict the role of numerous US administrations in grave human rights abuses in Guatemala, it would also be self-indicting since the bulk of the information on cases like Sister Ortiz has been available for decades and has not been reported on.

Cow Diseases and Mad Humans

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

Since late March the corporate media has been giving us “stories” about what the dead cow industry calls “Mad-cow” disease. From the very beginning only two issues have even been discussed; how does this effect the dead cow industry and will this disease harm humans. Certainly i am not unconcerned about human health and well being. but the media coverage to this point has laid the blame at the feet of cows. According to Jeremy Rifkin’s book Beyond Beef “Scientists suspect that Bovine spongeform encephalopathy (BSE also known as mad-cow disease), which is incurable, is caused by feeding cattle offal (butchered sheep parts) from sheep infected with scrapie.”(pg. 143) If we follow Rifkin’s position on this, the “mad-cow” disease has in effect been manufactured by the systematic breeding of cattle by humans for human consumption. This systematic breeding has produced all kinds of diseases and suffering for the animals that will eventually be killed for human consumption. But now that the disease could harm human, and more importantly, harm corporate profits the media has decided to make it an issue.

This “mad-cow” disease has struck Europe before. In 1986g it hit British herds and within 4 years had caused the death of 16,000 cattle. What BSE does is eat away at the cow’s brain, “causing it to become spongelike in appearance.” Nowhere have we seen in the corporate media any honest discussion of what pain and suffering this causes the cattle: This should be of no surprise since millions of animals are murdered daily for the sole purpose of human consumption and that is not really even viewed as a relevant topic for discussion.

On a local level these media sins of omission take on an added dimension of disgust. On Wednesday, March 20, a local group known as West Michigan for Animals organized a public gathering for National Meat-Qut day. This was in conjunction with actions taking place all across the country calling upon people to abstain from eating animal flesh. Some 30 people gathered outside of a McDonalds on Michigan Ave. to hold signs and pass out flyers.

The group was primarily made up of high school and college age folk who brought with them their energy and rage on behalf of non-human animals. The only corporate media coverage was that of Channel 8 and they provided no reporter only a camera person. They did run a short sound bite at l1:00pm, but did not take advantage of making any connection to the current “scare” surrounding the “~-cow” disease. The Gran4 Rapids Press is always whining about not .covering events unless there is some local connection. What better opportunity to McDonalds, that most sacred of places for fast food devotees. Certainly can not be, demonstrating in front of BIG business. Maybe it was because the participants were young and outwardly rebellious. Of course, if they had been youth engaged in denouncing abortion or making a pledge of abstinence from sex the media would surely have been there en masse. In the end it seems to me that the corporate media does not want to discuss or allow others to discuss cow or any other animal humans consume; because they refuse to discuss the horrific-suffering and carnage that is perpetrated by humans, mad and sane alike, against animals.

“With BSE there are two issues where agriculture is vulnerable to media scrutiny. These are the practice of feeding rendered ruminant products to ruminants and the risk to human health.

The mere perception that BSE might exist in the US could have devastating effects on our domestic markets for beef and dairy products… How the American public and foreign markets respond will depend on their confidence in the US Government and particularly in APHIS (the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service). The media will play a tremendous part in conveying this information to the public. Thus, our relations with the media will play a vital role in this issue.”

Eulogizing Legitimate Criminals: The Corporate Media and Ron Brown’s Death

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

When street criminals die they are either not noticed or the corporate media gives a hint of good riddance to those who made neighborhoods unsafe and unsightly. When a corporate (read: legitimate) criminal dies the media heaps up endless praises as if they are arguing for the deceased’s canonization to sainthood. This is exactly the kind of coverage we got from the corporate media with the death of Clinton Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

The Wall Street Journal called Brown the “darling of corporate America” and the Uncle Tom of syndicated columnists, Carl Rowan, said “he (Brown) rose above barriers.” Indeed he did. Brown rose above certain racial barriers in the early 80g’s while stumping for the law firm of Patton, Boggs, & Blow. One of his clients was Haiti’s “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Brown made sure that the brutal Duvalier regime had continued access to Washington, despite domestic and international pressures to the contrary. In a 1983g memo that Brown sent to Duvalier we can get a flavor for the relationship of these two Black men, “My current role as deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee has served us well in these efforts, while my contacts with my counterparts in the Republican Party assure continued access and excellent relations with the government of President Reagan.” (The Uses of Haiti, by Paul Farmer, pg. 223) Here we can see how Brown rose above barriers to help Duvalier to repress his Black population.

Jesse Jackson, who more often than not, displays his true colors says of Brown, “We must remember Ron Brown – freedom fighter, social servant, patriot, dream-maker.”Let us recount an instance that reflects such eulogizing of the darling of corporate America.

In 1980g, again his law firm of Patton, Boggs, & Blow became servant of a group of freedom fighters in Guatemala, known as Amigos del Pais. “The Amigos, once described as the ‘John Birch Society of Guatemala’, are a group of landowners which financed death squad activities.” (CounterPunch V.2, No.8) This was during the Lucas Garcia regime where 3,900 people were killed in the fl1’st 10 months of 1980g alone. Not to be swayed by human rights abuses Brown sought other business in Guatemala. In 1982g, while the regime of Rios Montt was beginning its counterinsurgency campaign directed against the majority Mayan population, Brown signed on the Guatemalan Sugar Growers. The head of the Growers was Julio Herrera, a member of the second wealthiest clan in the country. Also associated with the Growers was Mario Sandoval Alarcon, founder of the Mana Blanco (white hand) death squad. Referred to as the grandfather of the death squads, Sandoval got his start with the Movement of National Liberation party in 1953g, when he received CIA money to help oust the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. (Unfinished Conquest, by Victor Perera, pg. 45) This is what no doubt gained Ron Brown the title of freedom fighter.

Federico Pena, the Sec. of Transportation, gushed about Brown by saying “His warmth was genuine and you could feel it.” Pena would know, in the early 90g’s Brown used his political/corporate connections to get Pena money to finance the Denver Airport, that from the beginning has had numerous problems and has cost the taxpayers of Colorado millions of dollars. This is certainly what Brown is best at… .going to bat for corporate interests. It should not have been a surprise to us then that Clinton named him as Sec. of Commerce in 1993g..

The death of Brown and some 22 other corporate flacks on April 3 should have signaled to us the true allegiance of Ron. Brown and the Clinton administration. They were flying to the Balkans to broker deals for US investors after years of bloody warfare that Brown’s boss endorsed and even supported with ongoing weapons sales. As the April 1 issue of CounterPunch demonstrates, the corporate interests represented on the trip with Brown were all huge financial donors to the Clinton campaign. Some of the more notable are AT&T, Bechtel, Boeing, Enron and Northwest Airlines. This fatal trip reveals the fundamental motive of US foreign policy: support or create instability and then intervene, with corporate CEO’s and bankers wearing a humanitarian face, when a country is too weak and divided to say no. (see the most recent issue of Covert Action Quarterly, the example of the Balkans is looked at in detail.)

i point out these things not because i am cold hearted or like to diss on people after they have died. The point being that there needs to be an honest depiction of people, especially people who put themselves in the public eye. It is a healthy activity to engage in critical discernment and accountability of people who claim to represent us. The corporate media did none of this.

“If you are not careful the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

– Malcolm X

Lawbreaking Lawmaker Passes On Legacy of Killing

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

In the Jan/Feb FUN we reported how west Michigan State Rep. Leon Stille bragged about violating speed laws, and urged others to violate speed laws, despite knowing that increased injury and death was the inevitable result. Stille also advocated modifying those laws, knowing that doing so would sanction increased death and injury.

Now we learn that Leon Stille’s daughter, Kristina Lee Stille, rammed cos car into another car with the result that the driver of the other car was killed. Stille had apparently been drinking prior to the crash.

Moreover, Kristina Stille apparently bad been in two previous crashes (“accidents”, according to Grand Rapids Press terminology). One of those bad injured two people.

Leon Stille commented, ”We’re just absolutely devastated for their family and for ours.” But there was no indication that their “devastation” resulted in any rethinking of cos support for higher speeds for the lethal vehicles that this family uses regularly and apparently takes for granted. One more person dead- too bad; on with business as usual.

We bet that Kristina Lee Stille will not get a long prison sentence for this murder. In fact, we bet co will get no jail or prison time whatsoever. The family is White, prominent, and is making “appropriate” noises of remorse for this “tragedy”.