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by Alan S. Chartock                                                                             Saturday, February 12, 2000
Police can't silence the truth
It's time to fight back.
Late last year, Roselle and I took a trip to Austria.  When we returned, I wrote a column suggesting that there were still those in Austria who were anti-Semitic, big time.  I heard from several people who contended that my level of proof was not sufficient.  One local artist suggested that since I didn't speak German, I couldn't possibly know what I was talking about.  Well, the jury is in.

In case you haven't noticed: As a result of parliamentary elections, Austria's president has sworn in a coalition government that includes the extreme right-wing Freedom Party.  Its leader, Joerg Haider, has applauded aspects of the Nazi regime.

This is so offensive to the Western democracies that some have gone over the top and broken all kinds of relationships with the Austrians.  Some people think that Austria's neighbors have gone too far. No matter what you think, my spider sense seems to have been pretty accurate.

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On another subject, there is the police chief in Great Barrington who inexplicably chose to drag me into his fight with Channel 13 over the way they were covering a tragic story.  Channel 13 -- where I appear frequently as a commentator -- arrived in town to tell the story of a terrible tragedy, the drowning of a beautiful young child.

They did nothing wrong. In fact, all they wanted to do was to take a picture of the river which claimed the child. They were doing their job, doing it well and very, very respectfully.  In three separate instances, the police told them to get out of town. Two of these incidents were caught on videotape, complete with profanity. The same police allowed other news organizations access, although one Eagle photographer was given a hard time.

Since the police have been upfront in telling the Channel 13 news crews that they don't approve of me, I have to wonder why.  Could it be that on several occasions I have asked about why there was so little anti-drug policing in Great Barrington?  Could it be that I have called for random drug testing of our police officers?  If it's good enough for the Massachusetts State Police and the New York City Police Department, I've really got to wonder why it can't happen in our little town.

For whatever reason, the chief issued a statement decrying me for not doing anything to help when the town was coming together.  How, exactly, does the chief know what I have or have not done?  He's wrong, of course, and we'll just wait for the various legal issues to resolve themselves before we share the details of just what the Chartocks did do.  But because of the police misbehavior, WAMC-FM Public Radio played the audio portion of that tape on the radio.  Some folks wrote to The Eagle, suggesting that the TV station and The Eagle had done something wrong in covering the story.

Exactly what?  Exactly why?  It now looks as though the town will be sued by Channel 13 for federal civil rights violations.  History is replete with all sorts of examples of the terrible times which ensue when one group of people allows their (or others') civil liberties to erode.  Channel 13 has run into the same kinds of problems covering legitimate police news in other parts of the Northeast region.  They're making an example out of Great Barrington.

Tell you what: I'll keep calling it as I see it and I'm not flattered by all the attention the Great Barrington Police Department is giving me.  But one thing is for sure -- I'm not shutting up.  Maybe that's what the police chief had in mind when he tried to scapegoat me.

I called the chief and asked him to call me back. Instead, he called his boss, Town Manager Burke LaClair, and asked him to call me. LaClair seems like a fine man.  He immediately made it clear that he did not subscribe to the chief's statement about me. He said he thought it was a mistake and he had shared that impression with the chief.

I am sure that each and every one of you knows that it's not a good thing to have your town's police angry with you, especially when the chief puts out that word that what you are saying is unacceptable.  But, hey, some things in life are worth fighting for.

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Alan Chartock is chairman and executive director of WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network in Albany, N.Y., and a SUNY professor of political science and communications. He makes his home in Great Barrington.

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Reproduced here without permission.

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