Why Were Cops Called to League of Women Voters Forum in Red Wing?
Should the cops be called in to stop a member of the public from filming or recording a public event in a public place on a cell phone or camera? They may not have called 911, but the Red Wing chapter of the League of Women Voters relied on the police to enforce a ban on video and audio recording at a candidate forum at City Hall on Wednesday.
A YouTube video of the controversial incident shows LWV local officials confronting a photographer ready to film the House District 21A debate for the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a conservative issue advocacy group. The controversy raises questions about free speech rights in public facilities used by outside groups and the proper role of city and police authorities in guarding free speech.
“We can’t have you just tape it, because we don’t know what you’re doing with it,” LWV Red Wing chapter president Amy Nelson said on the video. “If you want to take a picture, fine. But you can’t videotape.”
The incident unfolded before a full house and waiting legislative candidates, delaying the event while 20 year old videographer Reilly Griffin stood his ground.
“All Minnesotans deserve the right to know where those who hope to represent them stand on issues that are important to them. In the future, I hope the League doesn’t try to limit public participation in any of their debates,” said Minnesota Jobs Coalition president Kevin Magnuson.
Shortly before police arrived, a woman who identified herself as a city official informed Griffin he couldn’t “legally record in here” and that “we will ask to have you removed.”
Then three Red Wing police officers entered the city council chambers, ordering the cameraman to stand down or face potential arrest on disorderly conduct charges.
“They told us they don’t want you videotaping in there,” an unidentified male police officer said to Griffin outside City Hall.
“That’s not up for you guys to decide,” Griffin said. “It’s against the law.”
“They said you can’t videotape in there,” the officer responded.
“I know, I can though. I should be able to. Legally you can,” Griffin said.
Media coverage of a series of similar incidents in the 2014 election cycle led the League of Women Voters’ state office to back off and acknowledge the public’s right to record and videotape candidate forums. LWV officials are supposed to provide a media disclaimer to participants in candidate forums.
“The forum in its entirety will be video recorded and posted online via Facebook, YouTube, LWV websites and aired by public access stations when available. Candidates should also expect that local media and audience members may also record the event. League reserves the right to restrict video cameras and tripods to the rear of the room,” according to a LWV statement from Susan Sheridan Tucker, executive director of the League of Women Voters Minnesota.
Red Wing officials apparently didn’t get the memo. Red Wing LWV member Ann Seymour had never heard about the League’s more welcoming policy, but stuck to the hard-line ban.
“The rule is no filming or using it in anything other than full length. No filming it and then chopping it up and using it for promotional purposes,” Seymour said.