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Yesterday, Jim Epstein of Reason TV and I were arrested at a public meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission (DCTC). The meeting was held at the U.S. Park Police headquarters. Somehow, Park Police officers got roped into becoming the DCTC’s armed security and both Epstein and I have been charged by the Park Police with “Unlawful Entry/Remaining” and “Disorderly Conduct.” Our “crime”? Taking pictures or video.
Less than an hour into the public meeting, a hack (taxi) inspector – with “K. Bears #17″ written on his shirt – told me I couldn’t take pictures. He stood in my way to ensure that I didn’t photograph the DCTC commissioners on the dais. I settled on taking a photo of him instead. Not long after, things went haywire.
“I am troubled by actions taken by the [DCTC],” wrote Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells in a strongly worded letter to Attorney General Irvin Nathan. “While the details are unclear, following a request of DCTC members or staff, two armed Park Police officers entered the auditorium, put a reporter in handcuffs, and removed him from the room. This was reportedly for taking photographs or making a video recording of the proceedings at an open and public meeting.”
As I sat in the front row recording the testimony of Jim Dickson of the American Association of People with Disabilities, two Park Police officers approached me. “You can come with me or you can get locked up,” said one.
“You cannot stop a reporter from [recording]. That’s outrageous,” responded Dickson. Despite the protests of the approximately 200 people in attendance, I was hauled away. Washington Post columnist John Kelly, who was present, wrote, “suddenly, a clot of Park Police officers frogmarched Tucker out of the auditorium.” Epstein caught it all on video, which led to his being placed in the jail cell next to me.
“The folks at the D.C. Taxicab Commission and the U.S. Park Police have got some splainin’ to do [regarding the arrest of] two reporters… during a DCTC meeting for, you know, reporting,” wrote City Paper‘s Alan Suderman. “Is it a public meeting or not?” asked NBC4 reporter Tom Sherwood.
Speaking to Martin Austermuhle of dcist.com, Johnny Barnes, executive director of the ALCU of the Nation’s Capital, said, “We find the actions of the Taxicab Commission to be kind of strange.”
The DCTC has a history of doing strange things, particularly Interim Chair Dena Reed. At DCTC’s March meeting, then-General Counsel Reed attempted to ban Fox5 photojournalist Jason Smith from recording. “If the cameras don’t leave the room, we’re not going to have the meeting,” said Reed, who was overruled by then-Chair Leon Swain.
As interim chair, with no one above her, Reed has gone even further. A notice posted on the DCTC walls before the May meeting read, “NO TELEVISION CAMERAS. NO VIDEO TAPING. NO AUDIO TAPING. ” The subject of the hearing was Ms. Reed’s attempted rewrite of Title 31, the regulatory code that governs the taxicab industry.
Drivers, concerned that the proposed changes to Title 31 will put many of them out of business, attempted to submit a petition with more than 900 signatures. Instead of accepting it, the DCTC pushed drivers out, locked the doors, turned the lights off, called the police, and referred to the drivers as “a mob.”
The DCTC is badly in need of reform. And it’s not just the leadership. Taxi drivers describe widespread mistreatment by hack inspectors, who appear to face little to no consequences for their actions.
The answer, though, is not to abolish the DCTC, as some have called for. Instead, the DCTC should be strengthened and brought into compliance with the 1985 Taxicab Commission Establishment Act which calls for three industry representatives to be on the DCTC. Presently, there are none.
If drivers are included in the political process many issues can be solved before they erupt into a public spectacle. Take, for example, drivers’ response to Dickson’s testimony. The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers, an umbrella organization representing some 4,000 drivers, is setting up a meeting with Dickson to figure out how to deal with the serious problem of drivers not stopping for those with service animals.
Lastly, there’s no way to explain how so many hard-working, decent people can be excluded from the political process – at times targeted by it – without talking about racism and xenophobia. It took two reporters being arrested to draw attention to the DCTC’s misdeeds. But for years, countless drivers have been raising these concerns.
Maybe it’s time we listen.
On June 22, 2011, I attended a meeting of the D.C. Taxi Commission for a story I'm currently working on about a proposed medallion system in the district.
About 30 minutes into the meeting, I witnessed journalist Pete Tucker snap a still photo of the proceedings on his camera phone. A few minutes later, two police officers arrested Tucker. I filmed Tucker's arrest and the audience's subsequent outrage using my cell phone.
A few minutes later, as I was attempting to leave the building, I overheard the female officer who had arrested Tucker promise a woman, who I presumed to be an employee of the Taxi Commission, that she would confiscate my phone. Reason intern Kyle Blaine, overheard her say, "Do you want his phone? I can get his phone."
(The woman who was given assurances by the officer that she could have my phone can be seen at the end of the video telling me, "You do not have permission to record this!")
As I tried to leave, I was told by the same officer to "stay put." I told her I was leaving and attempted to exit the building. I was then surrounded by officers, and told to remain still or I would be arrested.
I didn't move, but I tried to get the attention of a group of cab drivers who were standing nearby. At this point I was arrested.
I spent the remainder of the day in a cell in the basement of the building. In the late afternoon, I was released.
We will be reporting more on this as it unfolds. Scroll down for downloadable versions of this video.
Originally posted by drew1749
Guys I have to ask, there are good cops right?
Originally posted by drew1749
reply to post by SubPop79
I posted a little fast. Check the main post now. Two reporters were arrested. Two different people and both have accounts that I've posted above. I didn't understand it the first time I read it. Now I think I do?
Anyways let's discuss this ATS.
The person (leo) in this video did not use excessive force...and he politely asked a number of times.
Originally posted by WeRpeons
reply to post by drew1749
Do you know what this meeting was about? If it was a public meeting, I think the reporter was in his rights to be able to video and record it. This is really sad that this is going on in America.
The lady was saying it wasn't the right way to act by walking out of the meeting? Nobody from that panel went up to the arresting officer and told him not to arrest the reporter. I wouldn't trust any public official who would let that happen.
Public meeting are just that, open to the public. We've had closed door school board meetings and city council meetings where I live. Closed door meetings should be illegal. These are all public servants paid with our tax dollars. The public has every right to know what kind of decisions are being made on their behalf.
ok..so where are the laws on it? and how can they arrest someone if it isn't against the law.
Epstein and I have been charged by the Park Police with “Unlawful Entry/Remaining” and “Disorderly Conduct.” Our “crime”? Taking pictures or video.
Originally posted by drew1749
reply to post by Exuberant1
I keep telling people that we aren't America anymore. More like "America 2"
Obviously the police were insane in this video although they weren't horrible to the guy (as he was released the same day) they were really stupid even trying to arrest him.