Minneapolis City Council Members Cam Gordon (Green-Ward 2) and Gary Schiff (DFL-Ward 9) have called for a public hearing and independent investigation into law enforcement actions taken against protesters and the journalists who covered them during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul.
There are reports of as many as 40 journalists being arrested during the convention. Police detained at least six photojournalists on Labor Day, including one from the Associated Press. The arrests prompted a formal complaint from National Press Photographers Association President Bob Carey, who said in his letter to St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington that, “There’s no excuse for physically assaulting or arresting a photographer who is not creating a disturbance.” Reporters from ABC News and Fox News were also caught up in the fray.
However, independent journalists, many of whom subscribe to the relatively new practice of journalism solely by video documentation, seemed to be the ones who were most targeted by police in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Three members of New York City’s Glass Bead Collective video team were stopped and searched near Washington Avenue North early in the morning of Aug. 26. They were questioned about their travel plans and associations, and their cameras, cell phones and notebooks were confiscated. The three were told they were being questioned because of car burglaries that were occurring in the area, but police reported later that they were under suspicion of trespassing on railroad property.
Attorney Bruce Nestor, president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said that the City was looking for information—phone numbers, names of activists, demonstration schedules—that Nestor said were part of protected journalistic sources, source information that was to be used to cover protests.
“All of this information [was] taken by Minneapolis Police as part of what we believe [was] an intelligence operation to gather information on activists, to gather information on the location of protected First Amendment activity—to use it to investigate and further crack down on protected activity,” Nestor said.
“This is absolutely outrageous behavior for a police department towards individuals who are engaged in First Amendment protected activity and who have a documented record for exposing police misconduct,” said Nestor.
Heavily armed police stormed a house in St. Paul where video journalists were meeting and arrested independent media, bloggers and videomakers. Occupants of the house testify on videos appearing on Salon.com that during their search, cops used nicknames to identify themselves like “The Executioner” and “The Terminator.”
Videos of the treatment and subsequent arrests of some journalists have proved to be the most ubiquitous and damning evidence against police. A YouTube video of the arrest of independent journalist and Democracy Now! host, Amy Goodman, was the highest viewed video on that site during the first week of September. Charges against Goodman for misdemeanor obstruction of a police officer have not been dropped, according to Democracy Now! staff. She was arrested while trying to question police as to why two of her producers had been detained. The two, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, had been arrested while filming protesters and may still be charged under the offense of felony riot, according to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.
The depiction of Salazar’s arrest is perhaps one of the most chilling of all recorded police actions at the convention, showing her being forced to the ground and stepped on by police in riot gear as she screams, “Press! Press! Press!”
“I’ve been on the phone for the past two weeks trying to pitch this story to the major media outlets and no one seems interested,” Democracy Now! Director of Outreach Jessica Cox told Southside Pride. “Amy said to me yesterday that you should be able to report the news without getting a record yourself!” Cox said.
James Lockwood, spokesman for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman told Southside Pride that, “Many orders were given to disperse. Failure to do so resulted in arrests.”
According to Lockwood, the City of St. Paul has engaged two former federal prosecutors, Tom Heffelfinger and Andy Luger, to conduct a review of police actions at the RNC, but that review will not investigate individual complaints against the police.
“For right now we have no information to contradict police,” said Lockwood, who added that any accusations of police misconduct would be handled through the City’s Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission at 651-266-5583.
Coldsnap Legal Collective is holding meetings and gathering information about the arrests of protesters and journalists. If you feel you were falsely arrested, contact them by calling Rick Kelley at 612-598-5058 or Kris Hermes at 510-681-6361. Their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
“Here we have every indication of an orchestrated assault by federal and local law enforcement agencies to stifle independent sources of information,” said Indy journalist Timothy Karr in the Huffington Post on Sept. 3.
“They definitely knew that it would be the Indy media that would tell the real story,” said local activist Cheri Honkala. And, as she has said in independent media venues, much of the violence during the convention that has been laid at the feet of protesters was in fact the actions of plants put inside protest ranks. “Many young folks came up to me and said, ‘We have no idea who these people are,’ ” Honkala said.
After reporting a deal that “required the Republican Party’s host committee to buy insurance covering up to $10 million in damages and unlimited legal costs for law enforcement officials accused of brutality, violating civil rights and other misconduct,” the hometown bastion of the free press, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, editorialized its support for police tactics.
“The show of force was a reasonable response to the behavior and the threat posed by a relatively small number of rogue protesters who traveled to the Twin Cities for no other reason than to damage property, abuse the police and disrupt the business of the Republican National Convention,” the editorial board for the Strib concluded.