Some of you may remember that I got injured by the LRAD at the East Precinct the night of the 6th when it went off too close to me and at possibly too high a volume. Combine this with other accessibility concerns that I have had as a disabled member of the press and the ongoing violence visited on press alongside protesters by the local police (in violation of TROs), I realized that I needed to try to be smarter in how I handle things.
While the protests are ‘unscheduled’ (from a police policy standpoint), the police know they are happening every day, and generally have an idea of where and when. I’ve really not run into any difficulties with the protesters in regards to accessibility (those who have been around for awhile may remember the night the PKAZ was set up they touted the wheelchair access to the area in the barricades), but I have had enough issues with local law enforcement that it has had a chilling effect on my First Amendment rights to access the public space.
From simple things like telling me I have to be on the sidewalk in a place where there is no proper sidewalk or I have no ramp cuts at my location to get on the sidewalk to causing migraines by shining floodlights in a blatant attempt to interfere with my work, to more serious things like the extended disorientation and illness I had from the LRAD blast, things that I was doing in an attempt to lawfully exercise my rights to document but were interfered with at the intersection of police and disabilities is becoming a real issue.
I’ve seen multiple reports of protesters with crutches, canes and such, obviously unable to run away from police, only to have police tell them they shouldn’t be there if they’re that slow. And that, to me, is illegal, not to mention abelist and unprofessional from a public servant standpoint. No one should be denied their civil rights because of infirmity.
So, with that in mind, and after an invitation from Portland Police for protest leaders to contact the Police Liaison to coordinate ‘safely protesting’, I decided to reach out to them to coordinate ‘safely documenting’. I’ve previously tried to reach out to the police media contact on other matters and have never gotten a response, so I didn’t feel like they would be very helpful. At the same time I was also pointed towards contact information for city ADA coordinators.
I started off sending a DM to the police liaison Twitter account, but after I sent the first long message, I realized what I was actually suggesting was going to need a much longer statement, and advised them that I would be sending an email that superseded the DM. At the time of writing I have yet to receive an acknowledgement of my message, but that wasn’t too surprising.
Eventually I sent a much longer email to the liaison office, with some appropriate CC’s, and sat back to wait. The website stated five business days before the ‘event’ to request accommodations, so I knew that I would be off the street for a week to give them a legitimate amount of time to respond. Sadly, after the week, they still have not responded. Nor from any of the other offices I CCd (more on that in a moment), not even a ‘responses are delayed due to coronavirus and/or protests’. Just silence. And that should be worrisome for more reasons than just because it was the police.
See, on the current city information site, there is no ADA coordinator for the Portland Police. And even the equity manager for the police, Ms. Weatheroy, has left the department to work in another job. One that seems to be a step up for her, and there’s no information on a replacement. Her mailbox is just gone. So, essentially, the Portland Police have no ADA coordinator or Bureau Equity Manager, no point of contact that I can see for any disabled people to coordinate with the police.
It gets worse though. Knowing this, I specifically sent CC’s to Mr. Washington, the ADA Coordinator for Mayor Wheeler’s office (due to his capacity as the Police Commissioner), and Ms. Adamsick of Commissioner Fritz’ office (since she is in charge of the Office of Equity and Human Rights). Neither of their offices responded to me either. No away messages, no ‘reduced staffing’ messages, no acknowledgements. The silence from the police and City Hall both are deafening.
At this point, I am still weighing my options for what I plan to do going forward, but this is a situation that affects many people. I know a number of fellow press who are disabled in some way. One is blind, and has been specializing in 3D audio recordings of the protests so that others can hear what it’s like to be in the middle of it. PTSD symptoms already exist, and have been getting worse for a number of us. And the protesters as well have the right, even if it’s being denied them at this point, to participate in their Constitutional rights to gather and air their grievances with the government.
So, yes, this is where I’ve been at for the last few week or two. The email I sent will be transcribed below, so everyone can see where my starting point was with this.
I wish to contact you to determine how I can practice my first amendment rights of press without being met by police escalations. I am not a protester. I am an independent journalist. I am also disabled. Because of these facts, I have not been able to safely document the recent protests due to threats of arrest, physical violence upon my person, as well as actual injuries caused by police tactics in recent days.
As I am sure you are well aware, there is a TRO from the federal courts giving significant protections to members of the press as well as independent observers from both the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild. These protections include exemption from dispersal orders directed towards protesters, as our first amendment right to access is different from the protesters first amendment right to protest.
However, in recent nights, someone as-yet unidentified in the Portland Police chain of command has started using a city code 14C.30.010, without recognizing that section E of that code that ‘provision shall be made for reasonable access’ to press for news gathering.’ (emphasis added)
While I personally believe that the majority of the treat to my safety is from uniformed officers attempting to interfere with my work, I am trying to determine how to continue documenting the protests with a modicum of safety.
In that vein, since police are declaring ‘unlawful gatherings’ most nights, and for the last few nights have consistently used city code to close sections of the city, it is reasonable to assume that such actions would continue. In that case, determining the provisions for reasonable access beforehand seems both a prudent, and legally sound move. I am reaching out to determine how to avail myself of that access so that I may continue doing my work.
As part of that, these are the reasonable accommodations I am requesting: – Requesting that no police bullrush me or near me.
– Requesting no orders to disperse that do not explicitly exempt the media
– If it is absolutely necessary to disperse the media, I am speed limited and require sufficient time and space to safely comply. This includes difficulty in manuvering areas with poor/missing sidewalks.
– If I must be dispersed in a quick manner, I would request an EMT, PDX fire, or police-assigned medic to escort me. Because of the protest outrage targetted at uniformed officers as well as previous PTSD, it would not be safe for me to be escorted by a uniformed officer.
– If the LRAD is used in my vicinity, I request that it be pointed in a direction as to not be pointed at me. I am still dealing with exacerbated disabilities due to being hit with a no-warning LRAD announcement several nights ago.
– I am specifically requesting that police do not directly target me with flashlights, spotlights, or other bright or strobing lights. Shining bright lights directly at my eyes exacerbates several of my disabilities.
I always use my walker when I am working, and when I’m in situations where police are deployed, I wear a distinctive pink helmet with clear black PRESS markings on each side.
I would CC this request to the Portland Police’s ADA coordinator, but as the city website indicates that that position is currently ‘pending’, I will instead CC the Portland Police’s equity manager as well as the ADA coordinators for Mayor Wheeler (in his capacity as Police Commissioner) as well as Commissioner Fritz (in her capacity as Office of Equity and Human Rights)
Thank you again in advance for your attention to this matter, and I look forward to a speedy response to this email.
Heather Van Wilde