If only I were Superwoman
I have super powers!
Or at least, the police union thinks so.
Now, I’ve met people who believe reporters can read minds (or, at least, just mysteriously “know” everything that happens everywhere). But this goes way beyond a mere misunderstanding about how we interview people to get story tips. The police union seems to think I actually get my tips by eavesdropping through foot-thick walls.
Lest you think I’m joking, let me explain. The police union took the city to court recently to insist that the police disciplinary hearings be private -- closed to the public. The city argued vociferously but lost utterly.
So I hied myself to Friday’s hearing, planning to sit outside all day and try to interview people as they came out.
Instead, I very nearly got to stay!
When I walked into the courtroom to introduce myself before the proceedings got under way, I assured the attorneys that I knew they’d kick me out once things got started. The judge reacted in surprise.
“Wait — you can’t stay?” he asked. “I’ve tried much bigger cases than this with the press present.”
I smiled. “I’m perfectly happy to stay,” I said.
He looked at the city’s attorneys. They offered no objection. (It was their side, after all, that argued the press should be allowed to watch the hearings.)
Then the police officer’s attorney said, “We’ve got nothing to hide.”
So I sat down in some disbelief. The city’s attorneys shrugged, opened their files and handed over the first of four written disciplinary notices. The first one was for a “domestic disturbance.”
But before anyone could say anything else, the police union president leaped up and raced over to the officer’s attorneys.
“Hey, she can’t stay!” he said. “Get her out of here!”
So I was sent out. I settled into one of the chairs outside the room, which I am all too familiar with, since I sit there during every City Council executive session.
But while the City Council has no problem with allowing the public to stand just outside its chambers, while its deliberations remained shielded behind a foot-thick wall, that wasn’t good enough for the police union.
They sent the judge out to ask me to leave. I told him I was seated in a public building. He agreed.
Then police Capt. Stephen LaVare came out and stood with his nose touching the chambers’ wooden doors. He stood there for a long moment, eyes squinted with concentration. I stared. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what he was doing.
Finally it hit me. He was trying to hear through the wall!
I laughed. “You can’t hear a thing,” I said, with the experience of many, many hours spent sitting out there during City Council sessions.
He shushed me and went back to listening. I heard nothing.
Then he explained that the union thought I could hear through the walls. They were “wasting time” in there arguing about what to do with me, he said.
I was incredulous.
“This is a public building!” I said. “I can stay out here all day.”
He insisted that although he didn’t care whether I stayed or left, I was delaying the hearing by my very presence.
I told him I wasn’t going to leave. So he offered a compromise: Would I move 10 yards down the hall?
It was ridiculous, but it didn’t really matter to me where my chair was located, so I sat down in the middle of the hallway. He went back inside and the hearing finally began.
But for those of us outside — the many city workers and I — the request became a daylong joke. I maintained at first that it was an insult — that they were implying I would try to eavesdrop, maybe slip a mic under the door or some other criminal act.
But the city workers thought it was hilarious.
“They’re so scared of you, they think you’re Superwoman!” one of them said. “All they can guess is that you get your stories through your super powers.”
Even I eventually began to see the humor in it. If nothing else, they were saying they believe my journalistic skills are so impressive that I can get a story even if they get a court order blocking me from the courtroom and then pick a room with foot-thick walls. Apparently, nothing can stop me!
So it wasn’t an insult. In fact, it sure sounds like a compliment.