A Santa Cruz judge dismissed vandalism charges against two Occupy members after they claimed to be journalists Friday, but kept charges of trespass and felony conspiracy, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
A lot of people have asked why Santa Cruz Patch didn't come out in support of the journalists, and the simple answer is that one of them wasn't acting as a journalist, but was an active protester.
I know nothing about the other, Bradley Stuart Allen. I've seen the photos printed on the IndyBay website, which were used by police to make cases against the other protesters. I didn't see him the night of the takeover.
However, I watched the other "journalist," Alex Darocy, commit acts of protest, not journalism.
I was outside the bank building the night of the takeover and watched Darocy put up cardboard to block the windows. He saw me snapping a picture of him and ducked away.
Darocy claims to have been in the bank covering the illegal occupation, but there are two things wrong with that. First, a journalist covering an event would never be taping or nailing coverings over windows. The minute someone does something like that, they are a participant, not a journalist.
Second, at a meeting inside the bank, the occupiers asked journalists to leave, according to freelancer Alex Hubner, who was covering the occupation for Patch. Hubner deferred to the wishes of the occupiers.
At a meeting outside the county courthouse a few days after the bank occupiers left the building, Darocy, who was participating as an occupier, tried to stop Patch freelancer Daniel Wootan from taking videos.
Darocy stood threateningly in front of Wootan's camera, getting closer and closer and blocking him off. Then, Darocy raised his hand and asked the general assembly members if they wanted their meeting recorded by the freelance journalist. They asked him to stop recording. Someone else at the meeting chastized Darocy for harassing Wootan.
These are not the actions of a journalist, but a member of the movement whose priority is to fan its flames, not to record them for the rest of the world to see.
It's not the first time I've seen Darocy claim to be a journalist while doing things no journalist would do.
Former Vice-Mayor Don Lane was eating a sandwich while sitting on the ground before a September meeting to discuss a proposed desalination plant. Darocy stood in front of him and started snapping picture after picture, until Lane asked him to stop and let him finish his dinner.
Darocy refused and continued shooting and yelling at Lane, saying he had a right to shoot pictures of a public official. Fed up, Lane threw his sandwich at Darocy as I was walking by.
Darocy started screaming that he was assaulted and someone should call police. I wasn't sure what to do, but the small piece of sandwich didn't look like much of a weapon. It was a tough and strange encounter.
Yes, Lane is a public official and the press has the right to photograph him. But when is enough enough. Was this journalism or harassment to provoke Lane?
I think any reasonable person would see that it was the latter. Darocy was within his rights but not within the limits of human decency. It's a fine line between provocateur and paparazzi and I think Darocy crossed it.
He crossed it again during the protest.
To take illegal actions and then try to claim you were only covering the events casts a bad shadow over all of journalism and will make it harder for other legitimate members of the press who are actually there to record the events of the day.
It's hard enough these days to distinguish who actually is a journalist. Everyone with a camera and a blog can claim to be a citizen reporter, and many are. So where is the line? I think it is in covering something, but not participating.
It was no surprise to see Darocy inside the bank covering up the windows. It was a surprise to hear him claim he was there for journalism.
His claim hurts all journalists. Can a war correspondent fire a gun in combat and still be considered a reporter? Is a political reporter who campaigns for a candidate in a race he's covering still an objective journalist? I think not.
It also undermines the intent of the protesters who took part in an act of civil disobedience. If your intention is to commit a crime and get arrested to make a point about something unjust, why run away whining and claim to be a journalist when what you asked to happen happens?