November 2, 2017
Well, this is going well: Virginia cops beat and arrest a journalist for asking questions and, um, cursing
by Ian Dreiblatt
Ok, fuck this.
We’ve reported several times recently on a trend of suppression and violence that has been increasingly directed at journalists since, oh, January 20th. This week, journalist Mike Stark has been beaten and arrested in Virginia while trying to get some answers from gubernatorial candidate and former Bush II administration official Ed Gillespie. Stark, a blogger with bylines at the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and elsewhere, is probably best known for a 2007 stunt in which he lingered outside the home of “Felafel Thing” guy Bill O’Reilly, sharing copies of O’Reilly’s sexual harassment lawsuit with neighbors and waving signs bearing messages like “Bill O’Reilly: PERVERT.”
The incident took place at a parade in Annandale, Virginia this weekend. According to an account posted publicly by Jess McIntosh, a colleague of Stark’s at Shareblue Media and former Hillary Clinton and Al Franken consultant, Stark was filming Gillespie’s van when the trouble started. Here’s McIntosh’s account:
A Fairfax County Mason District police officer demanded that Stark cease filming the vehicle and move back farther than the 20-yard distance already separating him from the vehicle. He was accompanied by a woman who had raised an objection to Stark’s presence at a Gillespie campaign event just the evening prior.
After a brief back and forth, during which the police officer made clear that Stark would not be able to ask the gubernatorial candidate any questions at the public campaign event, Stark responded “f— this.” At that point, the officer moved to handcuff Stark.
[Video of the event] shows a second officer sweeping Stark’s legs from underneath him, violently throwing him face first into the sidewalk. More officers ran over and five men piled onto Stark’s back as he begged to free his arm from underneath his own body and the weight of the police. Multiple witnesses report that Stark was punched repeatedly in the legs during the altercation.
Video footage appears to confirm McIntosh’s account, and shows Stark explaining, with surprising restraint, that he can’t put his arm behind his back because it’s being pinned between the ground and the rest of him by the weight of several Virginia police officers. Here, watch for yourself:
CNN’s Tom Kludt reports that local police chief Edwin Roessler has stood by the violence and the arrest, telling the attendees of a press conference, “I’m standing before you to defend the lawful actions of my police officers enforcing the law to protect our community at a parade.” He clarified that Stark will be charged with disorderly conduct, public profanity, and resisting arrest. Cool.
You already know this, but just to remind you: The freedom of journalists to annoy the shit out of political candidates, shoot their mouths off, and record public events is not only constitutionally protected — it is meant to be fundamental to the structure of this country.
In his 1971 Supreme Court decision in New York Times & co. v. United States, Hugo Black wrote:
When the Constitution was adopted, many people strongly opposed it because the document contained no Bill of Rights to safeguard certain basic freedoms. They especially feared that the new powers granted to a central government might be interpreted to permit the government to curtail freedom of religion, press, assembly, and speech. In response to an overwhelming public clamor, James Madison offered a series of amendments to satisfy citizens that these great liberties would remain safe and beyond the power of government to abridge…. Madison and the other Framers of the First Amendment, able men that they were, wrote in language they earnestly believed could never be misunderstood: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom… of the press….” Both the history and language of the First Amendment support the view that the press must be left free to publish news, whatever the source, without censorship, injunctions, or prior restraints.
In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.
But now it’s 2017, we live in hell, and there’s a trend of public officials (yes, police officers are public officials) beating the ever-loving shit out of journalists across the country. It’s hard to imagine a clearer abridgement of the media’s ability to censure the government. The lawyer who argued the New York Times’ case in 1971, Floyd Abrams, spoke out after the election about the many threats American journalism currently faces; increasingly regular beatdowns are an ominous addition to that list.
We need change in this country, urgently.
And until then, let us say again together: Fuuuuuck thiiiis.
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.