History repeats itself, rather drearily. Four years ago, at the Republican National Convention in New York City, hundreds of protesters exercising their right to peaceful assembly, were rounded up and tossed into cages on one of the piers. Many of them were held there overnight in foul conditions, many of them were held for more than 24 hours without being charged. New York City is still digging itself out from under the reprehensible conduct of its police in this matter. And yet . . . did anybody learn anything from this? Apparently not.
Well, besides how to round up protesters exercising their right to free assembly and put them in cages. And how to keep those actions out of the public eye.
By arresting the media covering it.
Despite clear identification of themselves as authorized members of the Fourth Estate, Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke, and three members of the independent TV & radio show "Democracy Now!" were also busted for filming the protesters. Amy Goodman, host of the show had her credentials ripped from her neck and, on video, was roughed up merely for protesting their arrest. She was later charged with a misdemeanor of resisting arrest. Two of them, the show's producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were charged with "suspicion of rioting," a felony. (Think their last names might have had anything to do with that?) In the following video of Salazar's arrest, you can clearly hear her identifying herself as press while the cops beat her down. I find the video terrifying and shameful.
Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild, is quoted as saying of this statute, "its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow pre-emeptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested." Handy to have that thing on the books though for those pesky dissenters, like vegans, and people from Food Not Bombs, whose slogan is "cook for peace." Now that's threatening.
You might have noticed the dearth of coverage about this in the mainstream media. I've looked in vain for New York Times or Washington Post coverage. You'd think this would be a national issue, the muzzling and arrest of reporters. It impinges directly on freedom of the press. And yet, the only groups to cover it have been the independent press like Salon, HuffPo and Alternet.
Where the press has responded, as the hometown Star Tribune did, it was with nonsensical, xenophobic vitriol:
It’s worth scrolling through the list of Monday bookings from the Ramsey County jail now posted on the Star Tribune’s online InfoCenter (startribune.com/infocenter). Many of those arrested in St. Paul weren’t carrying IDs or wouldn’t give their names. Those who were identified came from Lexington, Ky.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Portland, Ore., and dozens of other U.S. cities. These weren’t the sons and daughters of Highland Park and south Minneapolis.
Those fucking New Yorkers. How dare they come out here and report our news! And you know, this wasn't a local convention. This was the National Republican Convention. Where did they think everyone else was coming from?
To be fair, the Dems had their share of pre-emptive arrests too, but nothing so egregious as these were. The local cops had been recruiting informants for months against groups that were known to be peaceful.
One of the most frightening responses to this episode was of St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington, when asked by Amy Goodman "how reporters are to operate in this atmosphere": “By embedding reporters in our mobile field force.”
Sound familiar? That's right. Just like reporters are embedded with military units in Iraq, where their reporting is carefully censored, supposedly to protect the lives of soldiers. The reason for that tactic was the lesson learned with the Vietnam War, which was openly reported by the press, live from the battlefields, on television, with nightly body counts. That made it an extremely unpopular war for Lyndon Johnson and when the US went to war again, the Pentagon cited issues of national security to restrict the press's access and ability to report.
Regardless of whether you think there's some reason for restricting press access (and I don't), last I looked, the Twin Cities were not a war zone, there were no issues of national security at stake, and the police are not the army.
Maybe that's changing. If so, be afraid.