|Once again, MidPen kicks out Review from event|
Sheriff Greg Munks came out to tonight to talk to the residents of Moonridge. So did Supervisor Don Horsley, Mayor John Muller, City Manager Magda Gonzalez and enough deputies, county officials and Moonridge residents to fill up the neighborhood meeting hall.
It was perhaps the largest gathering of public officials on the Coastside since Farm Day. In fact, the only folks who were conspicuously absent were the media. I was the only reporter who showed up, and when I walked up to enter the meeting hall I was promptly told by a MidPen Housing employee that I wasn’t allowed inside.
Could I listen to the meeting outside? Sure, he said. Then he shut the door on me. The Sheriff’s public information officer approached and told me that I would have to wait in the “press area” – a bench on the side of the courtyard, intentionally out of listening range.
I sat down on the nearest bench, and the PIO told me I was sitting in the wrong spot. She pointed to a bench about 30 feet farther away. I ended up leaving with steam probably coming out of my ears. What I really wanted to do was give everyone around a piece of my mind, even though that would’ve been a really bad idea with the number of officers with firearms around that evening.
The big irony here is that the meeting tonight was supposed to be a fluffy good news kind of event, the type that public servants usually love to see in the newspaper. Top officials from the Sheriff’s Office arranged the gathering in an effort to rebuild bridges with the residents of Moonridge and to share their efforts to better deal with mental-crisis situations.
The elephant in the room, of course, was the Serrano shooting back in June, which understandably remains a sore spot for many Moonridge neighbors. I was told that Sheriff’s officials had preemptively told residents they would not answer questions about the shooting. That might be a wise decision, given that the Serrano family currently has a civil-rights lawsuit pending against the county.
But what escapes me is why the Sheriff’s efforts to extend an olive branch to the community isn’t something the local newspaper is allowed to cover. To my knowledge, I was the only person who was singled out and banned from entering the meeting tonight. Anyone else at the meeting could have been taking cellphone photos or live tweeting the event, but we were excluded for reasons that I don’t quite understand.
I sort of expected it though. This is the third time I've been kicked out of Moonridge in recent months, and it's happening every time I've come out to cover anything even faintly associated with the Serrano shooting.
As I’ve been told many times now by MidPen officials, Moonridge is private property and its managers can ban any non-residents they don’t want on the premises. Back in June after the Serrano shooting, a MidPen spokeswoman explained to me that this was to protect the residents so they could privately grieve or seek counseling. There were public officials invited, but these were not public meetings, she emphasized.
These rules continued over the summer as MidPen and other organizers put together two separate sets of meetings to address the outpouring of emotion following Serrano's death. Three meetings were held at Moonridge (private, media not allowed), and three more were held off-site and open to anyone to attend.
To a certain degree, I can understand why reporters were initially kept at arm's distance. Originally, there were some animosity from Moonridge residents towards the various reporters and video crews who flooded the community right after the shooting. One mother later told investigators that a newspaper reporter misquoted her daughter's account of how the shooting transpired, and as a result she said her daughter was bullied at school.
That was about five months ago. To my experience, any hard feelings from those early days has subsided, and the residents I've since spoken with have generally been friendly and happy to talk, despite the occasional language barrier. In fact, I only learned about tonight's meeting because some residents invited me to attend.
Nevertheless, the ban on reporters remains in place and has become more explicit. In August, the Serrano family and other residents sought permission to design a “healing circle” mural at the location of the shooting. MidPen officials wanted a memorandum of understanding for the art project, and at the end of the document they included a cryptic stipulation: “We request that the media is not a part of the project.”
One participant invited me to come out to watch the mural being built, but when I got there several organizers made clear to me they believed they would get in trouble if a story appeared in the Review. This was happening outside, out in the open, right next to a public street. Did MidPen really have any authority to prohibit coverage? Probably against my better judgment, I put away my camera and notepad, and the story never happened.
Now it comes to this – tonight at least 20 county and city officials convened a neighborhood meeting to selectively talk about their efforts for a selective segment of the public. The area set aside for the press might as well have been in Siberia. The Sheriff's PIO later even handed me a media release explaining the meeting excluding the media.
I’ve vented my frustrations on Talkabout before about being kicked out of Moonridge, but this is starting to verge on something out of an Orwell novel. If this meeting tonight was supposed to be about rebuilding bridges, it has taken a sledgehammer to my faith in that goal.