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Editor's Notebook: "Journalist" Gets Off Vandalism Charge

Alex Darocy, who taped cardboard up over the windows of the Coast Commercial Bank when it was taken over by members of the Occupy movement, had one charge dropped.

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?

 

 

 

 

David Schlesinger March 28, 2012 at 02:06 PM
"Everyone", huh? That's a pretty cheap attempt to back away from a claim that you can't support, and not even a surprising one: I mentioned that Alex Darocy (and who are you, "turd burglar"...?) had been making exactly that same claim. I'm guessing you've got about as much evidence for what "everybody knows" as you do for Alex's being a "journalist". Prove me wrong, by all means.
David Schlesinger March 28, 2012 at 08:14 PM
I'm not expecting to see a ton of sense from the Nameless Horde... I sort of wonder how the other defendants feel about Alex's playing the "journalist" card in an attempt to dodge charges. I don't recall this being the way one "did" civil disobedience... Wasn't it more, "Yeah, I did that, send me to jail"...?
Steve Premo March 29, 2012 at 04:51 PM
It seems to me that anyone who blogs has a credible claim to be a journalist, whether it's for an advocacy web site, an AOL news site, or an independent news site. Objectivity is not required, and never has been. Fox News journalists advocate for a point of view, as do Huffington Post journalists, but they are still journalists. Who is Brad to say that he's a journalist but Darcy is not? Sure, this can cause problems in that the courtesies that the government extends to journalists are in danger if anyone can credibly claim to be a journalist. That's the breaks. We all have a First Amendment right to express our points of view and to report on what we observe, but not necessarily a "right" to be free of prosecution if we break the law to observe stuff so we can report on it. It seems to me when the government gives the press special privileges, we end up with the press reciprocating all too often by only reporting the government's information. Now that everybody has a video camera and can post on YouTube, the government has less control over information, and that's a good thing.
David Schlesinger March 29, 2012 at 05:24 PM
"It seems to me that anyone who blogs has a credible claim to be a journalist..." Alex crossed the line between "journalist" and "not journalist" on several scores. First and foremost, there's _no evidence_ of any journalistic activity related to the charges in question. Alex wrote no articles about the occupation of 75 River Street at the time of the event. Second, Alex was observed by many to be a participant in that event. If a shoplifter were to blog about his thefts, would he be protected from criminal charges because of his "journalistic endeavors"...? Third, I've personally observed Alex attempting to infringe the First Amendment rights of a photographer working for the Patch, and other members of the media — in the context of his participation in a "General Assembly" of the participants and supporters of the 75 River Street "occupation", attempting to lead this assembly to making a demand to bar members of the media from filming or photographing a public assembly in a public place. Journalists don't do that kind of stuff.
Robert Norse December 15, 2012 at 11:53 AM
How about some articles on Wells Fargo's loan fraud activity, specifically in Santa Cruz? Or the lack of homeless shelter and the destruction of homeless survival gear ? Or the many bank buildings left vacant while people are freezing in the winter? Or the massive overcharging of Santa Cruz 11 defendants--many of them alternative reporters whose main function was to report on what went down. Seems like the real issues are being ignored in petty personal vendettas that encourage ongoing government repression that is far more significant. Both locally and nationally, the scene is far darker than a year ago--extended "emergency-become-day-to-day" curfews at the library, courthouse, county building, and city hall. Show trials of activists like Ed Frey, Gary Johnson, Linda Lemaster, and dozens of others making it a crime to sit on the steps of the courthouse in a First Amendment protest at night (suddenly you're "lodging" and face 6 months in jail and $1000 fine). There are far more important issues at stake.

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