Sunday, September 07, 2008

Press arrests at Convention

My old college pal Robb was one of the protesters arrested in New York at the 2004 Republican Convention. For those of us who assume that we're living in a country of a fairly solid system, and where the cops are there as servants of the community (as well as lawyers, etc...) Robb's story is a reminder how quickly that can turn on a dime. But, it's also one of how little dissent is tolerated.

Robb was never injured, by the way, or anything like that. But he did get the good cop/ bad cop interrogation room treatment. And for those of you who know Robb, in some ways, I feel almost sorry for the cops in trying to get him to play along (or even get what they were up to.).

This morning on PBS's "Now", they had a story on Amy Goodman, a reporter for "Democracy Now". It didn't get too much play during the Republican Convention, but St. Paul saw some significant protests last week.

Now, I don't want for readers to assume I agree with the protesters, or think that smashing windows is, in any way, a good idea. I know those protesters have no idea how badly their message plays when they take things that direction, and don't really get "it".

But I don't care what your slant is as a reporter. The story surrounding Goodman's arrest and the arrest of her crew should be shocking to everyone.

Unfortunately, "Democracy Now!" is not a mainstream news organization. That doesn't indicate they are an illegitimate organization, or that the political leanings of their organization were even known or the press status of the crew was acknowledged by the police. They could have been working for "The Christian Science Monitor" for all the cops noticed.

Goodman was texted from her post on the floor of the Convention that her team had been arrested while covering a protest. The footage is her rushing out to the police line to see what's going on.

Here's the producer getting arrested. Note, she is wearing press credentials and shouting "Press" repeatedly.

Apparently after this the cops, dissatisfied with her prone position, put a knee in her back and dragged her across the asphalt, getting her face cut up.

Curiously, the St. Paul police are "investigating" the incident, not to see if the police in question acted out of turn, but whether or not they should drop the charges against the "Democracy Now!" team.

All of this was preceded, I should note, by the iWitness video team being arrested BEFORE the convention even started. iWitness video is a watchdog organization that records police action in potentially volatile situations (such as the RNC 2004). They were raided before the convention for, essentially, the potential trouble the St. Paul/ Minneapolis police felt they could create. The charge? The cops claim that there was a reported "hostage" situation they were investigating...

I know some Leaguers will believe that Goodman and the iWitness folks aren't any different from any other hippie protesters. And, of course, protesters get what they deserve. But, keep in mind, "Democracy Now!" was a credentialed, accredited, badge-wearing crew. Goodman also states that a Secret Service agent came by AFTER she was in cuffs and took her credentials off her neck without her permission.

I'm not pointing at the RNC for culpability, instead I would point toward recent trends in how protesters are being handled, and how the St. Paul police is being instructed to handle protesters by the FBI, Secret Service, etc... And how that's spread now, indiscriminately, to the press.

Leaguers, this is seriously, seriously messed up. I don't really know why NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox, etc... aren't covering the "Democracy Now!" story, but I would guess they're far more focused right now on the actual candidates and enjoying the comforts those candidates extend to the press corps.

But if reporters now have to worry about not just getting arrested (and getting roughed up despite no signs of resisting arrest), is that something we're comfortable with...?

Washington Post

Seattle Post Intelligencer

USA Today

iWitness video

For how not to stage a protest (you dingbats) read here


Michael Corley said...

I know our country is a bit effed up, but this is shocking. A few well tweaked edits in my life and I could have been one of those journalists.

tachyonshuggy said...

I have learned that the best course of action in all cases is to kiss cop ass and call it ice cream. You can call it me being successfully indoctrinated into the new world order of police state thuggery. . .I call it smart.

In this case, anybody that doesn't kiss cop ass and call it ice cream is either dumber than me (not too likely) or willfully testing the cops with full knowledge that you're OK with the relatively mild consequences of noncompliance. Guess which one I'm going with here?

The cops asked for compliance, she didn't give it, she got arrested. This isn't teh Bu$hitler's fascist Amerikkka, this is some goofy bint getting arrested for an arrestable offense. What am I supposed to see here that I'm not seeing?

The League said...

I guess I am more bothered by what it says about the balance of power when the press is arrested while performing their job in a capacity that in no way presents a physical threat to the police. That's simply not how the public should expect the relationship to work with civil servants in possession of firepower and the public trust.

Your suggested method of dealing with police puts cops in the position to be the final word, and that's just not something anyone should buy into at all.

A) both producer and reporter were in possession of VISIBLE press credentials, which should grant them 1st Amendment ability to cover the riot without fear of arrest or reprisal from a government agency. That's the point of the accredited press pass. Even had the crew been initially taken into custody initially, there was no need whatsoever for them to be processed.

B) Neither were doing anything illegal to begin with. There is not, I would argue, any arrestable offense shown on either tape. Other than being a press person covering a difficult scenario for the police.

I would buy, by the way, that the cops were in a tough situation and being expeditious. However, this doesn't appear to be the case, especially in the Amy Goodman situation where her request to see a superior officer was the only offense and was occurring AFTER the dust settled.

I would also point out that Goodman had all of, about one second between the cop pointing a direction for her to go, and she has not even completed her sentence when the cop begins making a move to arrest her. The cop was in no danger, and the reporter was not making an unreasonable request.

The producer, if you listen to the audio, is specifically asking for directions how she can assist (how she can get out of the way... she was apparently pinned between cars when the cop pinned her).

Cops have a really, really tough job. You will never hear me argue that point. But their job is not to kill 'em all and let God sort it out. And, honestly, I expect better than a lowest common denominator method for our police in complex situations.

Sure, its one way to stay out of jail and stay safe to roll over for anyone with a gun and a badge, and I do think 99.9% percent of the time, cops are doing the right thing.

I just don't happen to agree that the fact that police have a tough job justifies suspending 1st Amendment rights, excessive force, and creating an undue legal situation of "guilty until proven innocent" for Goodman's team.

Now, if none of the above bothers you, we just happen to have wildly differing opinions on the powers of law enforcement, the potential for abuse, and the importance of freedom of press.

J.S. said...

Yeah, there's something about the cops clamping down on the press in a situation like this for "security reasons" which just seems to ring pretty hollowly- especially when we see the press given much more unrestricted access on their movements in war zones like Iraq. I would bet that the GOP had a long, involved talk with the St. Paul city manager's office and the St. Paul police (to make sure that there would be an absolutely zero tolerance policy for the protesters) before they even finalized St. Paul as the location for the convention. The city wants the tourist revenue from hosting a convention, so whatever the GOP wants, the GOP gets.