Originally created 05/12/00

Media, not protesters, make noise outside hearings on Cuban boy



ATLANTA - Armed with a home video camera, Sean Means said he had expected to film protesters outside the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals angry about possible asylum for Elian Gonzalez.

Instead, the 17-year-old, on assignment for his Atlanta high school Spanish class, arrived Thursday morning to find reporters and police outnumbering the few gathered to protest.

"I thought there would be blocks of people yelling and shouting," he said, after taping the comments of a protester over the shoulders of several national reporters. "I took a little time off from school to do this because things like this don't happen every day. I am a little disappointed."

Media vehicles and spools of electrical cord stretched through three blocks of downtown Atlanta as reporters and photographers scrambled over one another to interview the 6-year-old boy's family, attorneys and the handful of protesters.

"I didn't really know what to expect," said Jimmy Stratton, a freelance photographer who flew in from New York to cover the hearing. "It's what you make of it, I guess. I think I expected more protesters, though."

Police monitoring blockades around the courthouse estimated 30 protesters camped out overnight to ensure one of the hundred seats inside the courthouse. By 8 a.m., seats still remained in the court gallery that officials thought would be filled before dawn.

While dozens of reporters and camera crews dashed up and down the streets searching for stories, downtown Atlanta workers seemed to enjoy the frenzy.

Tony Lowbridge and Dwayne Bazzell sat in the window of Walton's Sandwich Shop, directly across from the main courthouse entrance, laughing at the commotion outside. The two said they'd never seen such a fuss.

"The media themselves are by far the funniest," said Mr. Lowbridge. "It's a circus out there."

Malcolm and Elizabeth Webb, on vacation from England, walked a few blocks from their downtown hotel to view the chaos outside the courthouse.

"We never thought we'd see something like this," said Mrs. Webb, gazing up at a helicopter circling over the building. "We hear about this situation all the time at home. It's the big talk."

Even the protesters on hand as the 6-year-old Cuban boy's Miami relatives arrived at the courthouse said they were surprised by the low turnout.

"I expected to find lots of very loud protesters," said Dan Hernandez, a Cuban-American who supports the boy remaining in the country. "I'm really shocked that there aren't more Cuban-Americans here to show support."

Reach Shannon Womble at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.