On the morning after arrests of more than a dozen journalists, journalists and advocates for freedom of the press delivered a strong rebuke and call for action to city officials in St. Paul. Twin Cities Media Alliance organizer Nancy Doyle delivered a letter with more than 50,000 signatures to St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, St. Paul City Attorney John Choi, and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner’s offices. Doyle was accompanied by about a dozen local journalists (including Twin Cities Daily Planet editor Mary Turck) and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kaddous, whose arrests focused national attention on police actions in St. Paul during the RNC.
The petition, with 50,000-plus signatures, had been circulated on-line by Free Press, a national media reform organization.
I strongly condemn the arrests and harassment of journalists covering the Republican National Convention. We call upon St. Paul officials to free all detained journalists and drop all charges against them. These include arrests made during police raids in the days prior to the convention and, on Sept 1, of Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke, Democracy Now! anchor Amy Goodman and her two colleagues Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar.
Independent journalists have been targeted, pepper-sprayed and held at gunpoint during these raids. We call on the mayor and local authorities to rein in these aggressive and violent tactics.
Arresting and detaining journalists for doing their jobs is a gross violation of free speech and freedom of the press. Journalists must be free to do their jobs without intimidation.
Reporters asked questions about the arrested journalists, and policies regarding arresting journalists with credentials and who identify themselves as journalists prior to arrest. St. Paul City Attorney John Choi said it appeared there were no clear policies on the treatment of journalists in situations such as demonstrations, but that he would investigate it. The treatment of journalists is covered under the First Amendment, but rules have changed following passage of the Patriot Act.
Reporters focused on the most serious charges against journalists, the supposed felony charges for “probable cause for conspiracy to riot” against the two Democracy Now producers, the misdemeanor charge against Goodman, and the detention of various journalists prior to the start of the convention.
The city attorney offered no specifics on the misdemeanor charge against Goodman and said more information would soon be available. He said that other charges against journalists had been filed by the county and that more information would be available in a few days. When the group went to Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner’s office to deliver copies of the same petitions and ask about the felony charges, the attorney’s assistant said they had no information to share since the city filed the charges.
Those with pending felony charges left the offices without further details.