Before the Fort Lauderdale Police Department held a news conference to address the video showing one of its own slapping a homeless man for no good reason, one newspaper wasn't allowed to attend: the Homeless Voice, Fort Lauderdale's long-running publication dedicated to homeless issues.
Sean Cononie, executive director of the Homeless Voice and one of the city's most prominent homeless advocates, says that when Captain Frank Sousa saw him, the news conference was moved indoors. And when Cononie tried to enter the building, Sousa refused to let him enter because he didn't have proper credentials.
"As soon as I got to the door, [Sousa] steps in front of me and says I can't come in. He said I have to be credentialed press," says Cononie, a prominent homeless advocate who has been at the helm of the Homeless Voice for 17 years running its newspaper and homeless shelter in Hollywood.
And Cononie believes it is precisely because he is so visible when it comes to homeless issues that he was denied entry.
"They know a homeless newspaper will write the homeless' side of the story," Cononie says, adding, "It's like if they had a press conference about gay marriage and didn't allow the gay newspaper in."
New Times reached out to Sousa and the FLPD's media team for comment, but they've yet to respond.
Although Cononie is incensed by the matter, he says it isn't individual officers who are to blame, even in the case of Officer Victor Ramirez, the cop who slapped Bruce Laclair in a video that has sparked international outrage.
Rather, he explains, the problem is the negative "spirit" Fort Lauderdale officials have toward the homeless that is reflected in the controversial antihomeless laws and results in exchanges like the one between Ramirez and Laclair, as well as a dismissive attitude toward a homeless-oriented publication.
"I don't think any cop wakes up in the morning and says to himself he wants to slap a homeless person or shoot somebody," he says. "But this attitude comes from a spirit that is against homeless people you can see in the policy officials create. I can share food with my friends on the beach, but if a homeless person does that, they're trespassing?"
Cononie says he plans on seeking punitive damages against the city for refusing him entry to the news conference.
"They need to be told they can't do this," he says.
Meanwhile, the longtime advocate has started a fundraiser to help Laclair get on his feet and fight the city's homeless policies.
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E-mail him at Ray.Downs@browardpalmbeach.com.
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