The Portland police have caught a lot of flak in the past few months. Some of it has been animated by real tragedy, such as the shooting of Kendra James. And some of it has been flat-out whining from police critics--such as Josh Raisler Cohn, our latest nominee for the Hall of Rogues.
Last week, Cohn, 26, called WW to complain about police harassment. He represented himself as an innocent bystander who had been arrested during the June 7 Rose Parade after unknown protesters dangled an anti-war banner ("Weapons of destruction are nothing to celebrate") from the Steel Bridge: Officers mistakenly fingered Cohn and his housemate and charged them with leaning over the railing of the bridge and hanging a sign on public property. Cohn spent eight hours in jail before he was released pending trial. The entire episode, Cohn huffed, was "another blatant example of the Portland police trampling on the First Amendment."
It sounded like a clear-cut case of freaked-out fuzz nabbing the wrong folks. But a different picture emerged after WW did a little digging. First, there were two witnesses: Naval enlisted men who spotted Cohn and his housemate unfurling the banner. Second, according to the police report, Cohn actually fessed up!
It turns out that Cohn spent six months in prison for hanging a banner in Fort Benning, Ga., and, according to the Oberlin College alumni magazine, he also helped with sign hangings during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.
In a follow-up phone interview, Cohn shrugged off the police report. "Police say things that corroborate with the charges that they find to charge you with." He denied leaning over the railing and pooh-poohed the Navy witnesses. "People who are Navy personnel...would probably agree with whatever the police wanted them to say," he says, adding, "If it had been an American flag, we would not have been arrested."
Pressed whether he hung the banner, however, Cohn grew evasive: "I don't think it matters," he said. "That is not the issue."
Sorry, dude, but it is the issue. Protest the war. Protest the Rose Parade. Protest laws against signs on public property. Engage in civil disobedience if you must. But don't grouse about police harassment just because you got busted.
Hours before WW's deadline, Cohn called again. This time, he admitted hanging the banner but insisted that the city's rules are unconstitutional. He may be right. All we know is that we're sick and tired of police critics crying harassment to draw attention away from their own guilt.
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