Interview with harrassed indy journalist, Joe La Sac
This interview was first posted over at Washblog. For more information about the protests at the Port of Tacoma, check out our news roundup page.
Joe La Sac, as you may have learned by reading Noemie's piece on the subject, is a student at UPS and an independent journalist who was harrassed by police down at the Port of Tacoma.
He was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about the incident, and about the state of anti-war protests in general. Above you can see his latest video at YouTube, which clearly shows the Tacoma police opening fire with rubber bullets on peaceful protestors.
TA: Joe, hi. Thanks for talking to us today. Let's get right into it. You said in the report I read that you were accosted by the police down on the tideflats, filming what you could about the protests. Where exactly were you, and what was the reason the cops gave you for harrassing you?
LS: I was on the side of the street closest to the Strykers. The reason the cops gave for arresting me was because I was 1) filming them and 2) that I didn't follow their orders.
TA: Do you think they were justified in what they did?
LS: They were not justified in handling camera equipment without a court order. Also, since I was already moving across the street, they shouldn't have tried to make it seem like I wasn't complying with orders. The second order, however, was to move off the port, which was not only hypocritical since protesters were even allowed that privilege, but also didn't take into consideration that my car was parked in the opposite direction.
TA: You mentioned that you were filming for an independent media outlet. Can you say which one, or were you operating freelance?
LS: It is freelance mostly, but I would have tried for the Independent Media Center (indymedia.org) and also Peppersprayproductions.org.
TA: How did you get involved in independent journalism? Is this the first time you've had a run-in with the police?
LS: I'm an econ/philosophy double major--but I've been into journalism since high school. I write for the UPS newspaper on rare occasion. This is actually the 2nd time I've had a run-in with police regarding legal film issues. The first time I was actually ordered to erase footage I had of military police who were ordering citizens to in turn erase their pictures on digital cameras. Amazing isn't it? But since I didn't know my rights at the time, I sheepishly complied.
TA: Were you present during the most recent protests at the Port of Olympia last year? What other events like this have you covered, if any?
LS: No I was not at the Port of Olympia. I have covered a few local protests, and also the Watada protest last month.
TA: What got you interested in independent journalism and/or grassroots activism? Do you believe that ordinary citizens should be more involved in this sort of activity?
LS: At UPS I work for "instructional technology" which is a computer and media lab office. That's what really got me into videos, since my job is to help other people use technology to create videos, foreign language audio homework, or use any of the educational software we have.
I do think more people could be citizen journalists. I think we're witnessing a revolution in the way we read media, read news, experience news. I'm a big fan of blog scenes. I think those are very important, and also very fun to be a part of.
TA: What do you think the result of such a protest might be? How do you gauge the reaction of the public to this controversy?
LS: I don't think what some of the protesters are doing makes sense. For example, a minority of the protesters think that they will actually stop the shipment of Strykers. I don't believe that at all. I think the best thing they can do is explain their views by articulating them. Being there to protest is important. But I think they would be better received if they were more organized. That's probably why I've been filming things instead because I can present the issue in an organized fashion.
A TNT article said they should protest at the capitol building. Sure. But what's happening at the Capitol building this week? I'm not exactly sure. But every knows Strykers are shipping from Tacoma. So protesting in Tacoma makes perfect sense.
TA: New numbers from the Defense Department suggest that the so-called surge will entail significantly more than 21500 soldiers. Do you think the media has adequately covered this subject, and if not, why not?
LS: No they haven't covered that subject well enough. I think that independent blogs do a better job of covering important issues than do most professional, local media outlets. Local media cover way too much sports and murders, but that's my bias. That said, I'm a big fan of the Economist Magazine, which is professional. Some news, especially internationally, is hard to get from bloggers. There's room for variety.
TA: What would you suggest that ordinary citizens do in response to this latest transfer of military hardware to Iraq?
LS: Protesting is not for everyone. Citizens who feel the war is illegal and unjust should certainly speak out against it. Appealing to moderate audiences is important, and that means behaving calmly and speaking softly but having forceful arguments. If people like surfing the net, I would suggest engaging in and debating about the issues in forums and blogs. That's where a lot of learning and personal transformation takes place. It's been my experience.
TA: So far the police haven't injured anyone too seriously. Given what you've seen, do you anticipate this weekend turning violent?
LS: The police and protesters have an agreement where some people are saying ahead of time that they are going to civilly disobey and be willingly arrested. But if that goes awry, it might mean everybody gets gassed.
TA: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Joe. We hope that you get some kind of justice here, and that the Tacoma Police have learned their lesson. Keep up the great work.
To learn more about the Port of Tacoma protests or police harrassment of journalists, check out Tacoma SDS, Seattle Indymedia, and this very blog. We will continue to follow this story.