Journos, protesters sound alarm over pre-RNC police behavior


Reports of media suppression by local law enforcement have activists concerned that their message might not get heard — and that a free press at the Republican National Convention (RNC) will be trumped as police throw homeland security in front of the cameras.

Story by Andy Birkey; video by Paul Schmelzer

“A Channel 5 reporter was pushed back into the elevator and was told by the police and homeland security that he was not allowed to be there,” said Sheri Honkala of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. The campaign protested a decision by Housing and Urban Development to cancel an appearance at that group’s protest at the RNC, so they took their message to HUD offices on Tuesday. That message was hampered by efforts of police to block reporters access. The only reporter on hand was from Sweden.

Andy Birkey wrote this story and Paul Schmelzer produced the video. For more coverage, see RNC 2008 on the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

“So we had to go by way of Sweden to get news on the television,” said Honkala.

She said she is concerned about the RNC. “Hopefully we’re going to have freedom of the press, and that reporters will not be manhandled just because they want to cover the story.”

Vlad Teichberg of the Glass Bead Collective had his cameras confiscated by Minneapolis Police on Tuesday, an event that prompted the press conference. “We are calling on all of you people, members of the press, and the public in general, to immediately address this issue,” he said. “If this is allowed to continue in this way, the basic rule of law is going to be in doubt.”

He said instead of protesters and Republicans being the story at the RNC, the police could become the focus. “The Minneapolis police run a big risk because they are going to be the central story,” he said. “I do not know if they want to be on national television accused and maybe even implicated in blatant attempts at suppression of public events by seizing people’s cameras.”

Daryl Robinson of Communities United Against Police Brutality said he had a more violent confrontation with police. “A few weeks back I was doing cop-watching down at the shelters downtown and I was viciously attacked by the Minneapolis police. My cameras, my video cameras, my cell phone camera, all that was smashed to the ground and broken,” he said. “I want to put on notice that there will be documentation and cop watching and photographing at the Republican National Convention. There will be accountability for all the law enforcement agencies working the RNC.”

Minneapolis City Council member Cam Gordon was disturbed by the reports. “The health of our democracy, the city, our society depends on people being able to watch and observe and share the stories of what’s going on,” he said. “To have these things come up now … that there’s even the appearance and the impression that the government and police are trying to suppress this kind information is of great concern for me.”

Katrina Plotz of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War told everyone not to be intimidated by the recent reports. “There seems to be a pattern of targeting journalists and people with cameras who are there to document demonstration or record police behavior. We are not going to be intimidated by their concerns about ’security threats,’” she said. “I would encourage everyone out in the public who is hesitant to come out now or who doesn’t think it’s safe, to have courage and realize that it is more important than ever to get out there and have your voice heard.”

Gordon said this behavior is nothing new and the community has to be vigilant in fighting back. “What is happening in Minneapolis is reflecting a larger trend in the country in general. We heard today homeland security mentioned and there seems to be a trend of what’s been happening lately,” he said. “Security and safety are being used to tip the scales away from freedom of information and right to assemble and freedom of press. We are not fighting perhaps as hard as we should be and working to preserve those rights that are so valuable and are also valuable to our safety and security.”