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Monday, June 1, 2020

Wow! Cool! Credentialed Reporters Won't Be Arrested in Cleveland's "Curfew Zones." Everyone Else Will!

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2020 at 12:06 AM

click to enlarge SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
Cleveland's harebrained, unconstitutional overreaction to the George Floyd demonstrations Saturday, now openly referred to as "riots" by the Chief of Police, includes vast "curfew zones" that encompass the entirety of Downtown and a portion of the posh Market District in Ohio City. Highway exits outside of these zones have been blocked all day by Ohio State troopers as well. 

The city's curfew and its attendant zones are reminiscent of mid-century authoritarian regimes. Militarized police, in armored vehicles and riot gear, are patrolling them to protect Cleveland's businesses ... er, keep its residents safe!!!, which safety tactics reportedly have included demands that pet owners make their dogs poop inside.

Mayor Frank Jackson and Chief Calvin Williams, in a staticky Facebook Live video conference Sunday night, asserted that they would do whatever they had to do to ensure that no more harm/damage would come to the city's residents and businesses after acts of vandalism Saturday night.

To that end, the curfew is now, unbelievably, in effect until Tuesday at 8 p.m. It's less a curfew in the conventional sense, i.e. one that begins at a certain discrete nighttime point, than it is a continuous lockdown reality. Jackson said he'd have no bones about extending it further and farther (geographically), if he deemed it necessary. 

The impression was that Jackson and Williams believed there to be roving bands of out-of-state ne'er-do-wells hellbent on destroying the local economy vis-a-vis its windows. It was a paranoid press conference, exacerbated by the audio quality, and featured both Jackson and Williams doubling down on the supposed narrative that the altercation with officers on the steps of the Justice Center Saturday was initiated by outside agitators who'd hidden within the throngs of peaceful local protesters, and that the police's response to demonstrators was nobly by-the-book, all things considered. 

In one head-spinning quotable, Jackson said that the Cleveland police had done nothing to antagonize the demonstrators on the steps of the Justice Center. 

"You have somebody throw urine at you. Spit at you. Hit you with a brick or a bottle, and you don't respond?" Jackson said, answering a question about the officers' conduct. "They conducted themselves professionally, and they conducted themselves in a way that we would like them to conduct themselves. They showed great [restraint.] Did they do anything to any of [the protesters] to cause them to behave that way? No."

One might consult the protester who had his eyeball dislodged by a rubber bullet, or the one who suffered a shrapnel wound from a detonated flash grenade, or the countless others who were dousing their faces in milk to keep the pepper spray burns at bay, to see whether they agreed with this assessment of the police officers' dignity and restraint. 

In any case, the big news item before the presser was that the city's new curfew zones would not exempt the media. A widely circulated Tweet earlier Sunday evening included an ominous warning from Cleveland Police which seemed to suggest that reporters wouldn't be permitted to do any reporting outdoors, a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.

How media members were supposed to get to and from their places of business went unanswered. But no matter. Jackson said this was nonsense at the press conference, saying that "credentialed reporters" would be permitted in the curfew zones to report on whatever they pleased. "We have not disallowed that in the past," Jackson said. "And we're not going to disallow that going forward."

Reporters would find, he said, that Cleveland Police had done an excellent job keeping Cleveland safe. An update from the city assured residents that "the downtown area has remained quiet and peaceful," thanks to the imposition of the curfew. You don't say! Who doesn't love to enjoy the quiet and peace of the city's central business district from the comfort of one's poop-stained apartment and *only* from the comfort of one's poop-stained apartment on pain of arrest?

In a follow-up question, Jackson said he was not concerned about a potential court challenge to the curfew zones.

"I'm concerned about the safety of the people of the city of Cleveland and not having our business properties destroyed or private properties destroyed," he said. "The things that we have done have pretty much put an end to that so far. What we have done we had to do to ensure the health and safety of this city. And that is what we will continue to do."

Jackson should be concerned about a court challenge. The ACLU has already indicated that the city has no authority to restrict the rights and access of the press. But the First Amendment, in addition to protecting the freedom of the press, also protects the freedom of assembly. And forbidding Clevelanders from gathering in huge swaths of the city, or existing outdoors at all, on vague grounds related to the preservation of private property, is unconstitutional by definition. 

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