As crews picked up after the RNC in downtown St. Paul Friday morning, a handful of local and national journalists went to City Hall and delivered 50,000 signatures pressuring St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and the city and county attorneys to immediately release journalists who were recently arrested in connection to convention protests and to drop all charges against them.
Nancy Doyle Brown (pictured at the microphone above), a media reform organizer from the Twin Cities Media Alliance, said she and others want to send a message that “journalism is not a crime.” Journalists have “been detained and arrested, subjected to raids, pepper-sprayed and more simply for showing up to work. These have been dark days for press freedom in the U.S.,” she said.
According to a statement from the national media group Free Press, which is part of the counter-effort, volunteer legal counsel and news editors/directors tried to negotiate with police commanders for the release of reporters on the scene at the demonstration Thursday evening, “but [Ramsey County Sheriff Bob] Fletcher and [St. Paul Police Chief John] Harrington apparently intervened, they said, and ordered that the journalists be issued criminal citations. Once ticketed, the journalists were released.” Others have been tear-gassed or held at gunpoint.
Media professionals had pursued protesters as they marched from the Capitol lawn into the downtown area. “Law enforcement officers flanked the marchers and corralled them on bridges passing over Interstate 94,” and they were detained on the bridges while police processed them,” it continues.
“We’re demanding that all charges against journalists covering the RNC be immediately and unconditionally dropped. We respect the important role officers play in maintaining a safe place for people to exercise their freedom… tragically there are stories that the world needed to hear this week that will never be told. They won’t be told because the reporters working on them were sitting in the back of squad cars, stripped of their cameras, or were face down on the pavement with their hands tied behind their back,” said Brown.
Additionally, in a preemptive attack on journalists, homes where they were staying were raided over the past couple weeks. Twin Cities Daily Planet editor Mary Turck, vouched for that, while adding that one of her writers was arrested Thursday night. “Police are now holding personal belongings…and saying they can’t get them back till Monday. That is one example of the use of police power as sheer harassment for journalists,” said Turck.
One person who said he’s been subjected to it firsthand is Sharif Abdel Koubdous, a producer for the national radio/TV show Democracy Now, who was arrested twice this week and is now facing pending felony charges and for being a part of an “unlawful assembly.” “These charges are unacceptable. We are clearly marked as press… We were simply doing our job and nothing more. We shouldn’t be penalized for it,” he said.
Mike Buscko, with the Minnesota Newspaper Guild, which represents more than 450 local journalists, including some at the Pioneer Press, echoed their sentiments, saying, “We’re appalled by the treatment of journalists. It’s had a chilling effect on the coverage of the convention outside and in the street… The police were heavy-handed, and we’re concerned on a local and national basis.”
Inside City Hall, Deputy Mayor Ann Mulholland responded, “I know you take these seriously and as do we. We value your First Amendment rights and we value the rights of the media.” Overall, “We feel we conducted a great convention.” The Mayor “appreciates your rights, interests and abilities to cover stories.”
And in his office, City Attorney John Choi told reporters, “I’m a believer in justice.” Among the numerous arrests, most received citations and weren’t charged with a crime, he said, adding, “We’ll look at all the facts. We only proceed on cases where there’s probable cause to prosecute… This isn’t about politics or making decisions on political whims… I assure you we’ll do the right thing… Justice requires that we review these cases carefully and seriously.”
(Pictured here are the thousands of letters signed by people across the country, with the first 35 pages filled by Minnesotans.)