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by Larry Everest
Wednesday, Sep. 10, 2008 at 8:17 PM
Revolution Newspaper writer Larry Everest takes on the attack on alternative media at the RNC. This is what imperialist democracy looks like!
This week in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S. authorities unleashed a vicious, orchestrated, and fascistic assault on alternative media covering the protests outside the Republican National Convention.
These attacks included the manhandling and arrest of internationally known journalist Amy Goodman, the brutalizing and arrest of two producers on the Democracy Now! team, pre-emptive raids—at gunpoint—on the I-Witness Video collective, the confiscation of media equipment, and many other arrests and mistreatment of journalists, both alternative and mainstream.
Goodman said, “This week, police are systematically targeting journalists.... Here on the streets of St. Paul, the press is free to report on the official proceedings of the RNC, but not to report on the police violence and mass arrests directed at those who have come to petition their government, to protest.”
These attacks mark a serious escalation of police state measures against critics of the government, taking place in the context of the rightward march of official U.S. politics generally and the fascist tone of the RNC in particular. All this has big implications for everyone who wants a more just world.
PRE-EMPTIVE ATTACKS ON VIDEOGRAPHERS
The authorities’ attacks on independent journalists began even before the protests started. On Saturday, August 30, two days before the first march, some 30 heavily armed police surrounded a private home where members of the I-Witness Video collective were staying. I-Witness had come to St. Paul to document police actions during the RNC protests, as they had during the 2004 RNC in New York City. Seven members of the group were detained for over two hours while the police tried to get a search warrant. A lawyer who came outside the house to liaison with the police was arrested.
According to I-Witness video’s blog (http://iwitnessvideo.info/blog/108.html), once police obtained a warrant, they “stormed in, pointing an automatic handgun at the people inside. They handcuffed all the individuals inside, collected their personal information, and corralled them in the back garden.... After completing their search, the police finally uncuffed everyone and departed.” (All this even though the warrant didn’t have their address on it.)
The attack on I-Witness escalated on Wednesday, September 3, when the building’s landlord forced I-Witness to move out after police deployed a battering ram and again forced their way into the house, claiming they were investigating reports that anarchists were holding hostages.
This was a blatant attempt to prevent I-Witness from documenting the protests and police actions. (Following the 2004 RNC, 400 of the 1,800 arrests were eventually thrown out because video footage shot by I-Witness proved police were lying and trumping up charges against protesters.)
“Here we have a situation where if the cameras are all quieted, the police can get away with doing what they want,” Gena Berglund, of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, told Democracy Now! (September 2). “They can lie in their police reports, and no one can hold them accountable. And we believe that happens regularly.”
Eileen Clancy of I-Witness Video said, “I mean, this is an extraordinary amount of pressure to put on us. What happened yesterday really ratcheted up the stakes, because, you know they came in with a warrant, even though it had the wrong address, the other day. We had guns pointed at us. And then yesterday... they had loaded handguns.” (Democracy Now!, September 4)
THE ASSAULT ON AMY GOODMAN AND DEMOCRACY NOW!
Democracy Now! is broadcast on over 700 radio and TV stations, primarily in North America but also globally.
Here is Amy Goodman’s description of what happened to her and the Democracy Now! team when they tried to report on a break away march from the main protest on Labor Day. (“Why We Were Falsely Arrested,” http://www.truthdig.com/, September 4)
“The police—clad in full body armor, with helmets, face shields, batons and canisters of pepper spray—charged. They forced marchers, onlookers and working journalists into a nearby parking lot, then surrounded the people and began handcuffing them.
“Nicole [producer Nicole Salazar] was videotaping. Her tape of her own violent arrest is chilling. Police in riot gear charged her, yelling, ‘Get down on your face.’ You hear her voice, clearly and repeatedly announcing ‘Press! Press! Where are we supposed to go?’ She was trapped between parked cars. The camera drops to the pavement amidst Nicole’s screams of pain. Her face was smashed into the pavement, and she was bleeding from the nose, with the heavy officer with a boot or knee on her back. Another officer was pulling on her leg. Sharif [producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous] was thrown up against the wall and kicked in the chest, and he was bleeding from his arm.
“I was at the Xcel Center on the convention floor, interviewing delegates. I had just made it to the Minnesota delegation when I got a call on my cell phone with news that Sharif and Nicole were being bloody arrested, in every sense. Filmmaker Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films and I raced on foot to the scene. Out of breath, we arrived at the parking lot. I went up to the line of riot police and asked to speak to a commanding officer, saying that they had arrested accredited journalists.
“Within seconds, they grabbed me, pulled me behind the police line and forcibly twisted my arms behind my back and handcuffed me, the rigid plastic cuffs digging into my wrists. I saw Sharif, his arm bloody, his credentials hanging from his neck. I repeated we were accredited journalists, whereupon a Secret Service agent came over and ripped my convention credential from my neck. I was taken to the St. Paul police garage where cages were set up for protesters. I was charged with obstruction of a peace officer. Nicole and Sharif were taken to jail, facing riot charges.
(The YouTube video of Goodman’s arrest is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYjyvkR0bGQ. At last count, it had been viewed over 750,000 times.)
Other journalists, both mainstream and alternative, were targeted or arrested. The Glass Bead Collective, a video documentary group, was detained and its equipment confiscated. Two journalists with Pepperspray Productions were imprisoned for two days. AP photographer Matt Rourke, a New York Post freelance photographer, and three journalists from the University of Kentucky were also arrested, the latter charged with “felony riot.” On September 4, the last day of the protests, 18 media workers, along with some 400 protesters, were arrested.
These attacks on accredited journalists, alternative journalists in particular, are a serious leap in government efforts to censor news, smother broad popular discontent, and crush expressions of organized protest and resistance.
Journalists—whether mainstream or alternative—are supposed to be legally protected to report the news. Brutalizing and arresting them sends the chilling message that no one— not even nationally-known and accredited journalists—are safe, so what rights do ordinary people have?
“It was very clear who I was,” Goodman told media after her release. “I had all my credentials hanging from my neck. ‘Look -- these are my credentials,’ I said. A Secret Service agent walked up to me and said, ‘Oh really?’ and ripped my credentials off my neck”... Kouddous told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the same agent also confiscated his daily press pass.” (Jeffrey Allen, “RNC Media Intimidation Condemned,” OneWorld.net, September 5)
Assaulting journalists is also aimed at suppressing coverage that ventures outside the increasingly narrow confines of mainstream reporting, including coverage of resistance against the U.S.’s crimes and outrages.
This IS what bourgeois democracy looks like.
AN “ORCHESTRATED ROUND UP,” DIRECTED FROM ON HIGH
The assaults on journalists, which the media reform group Free Press called, “an orchestrated round up of independent [media] covering the Republican National Convention,” were directed from the highest levels of government.
According to Gina Berglund from the National Lawyers Guild (Democracy Now!, September 2), the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security were all involved in the attacks on journalists; that there was a unified command, because it was a national security event and “there are joint powers agreements between Minneapolis and St. Paul that allow the Minneapolis police to operate under this unified command.” Even the kidnapping “complaint” that prompted the September 3 raid on I-Witness Video apparently came from the “RNC part of the policing.”
St. Paul Chief of Police John Harrington more or less openly argued that anyone covering protests—and not “embedded” with the police—was not really a journalist any more, they were criminals:
“In terms of the policy, reporters have rights, and what we have tried to do is try and create a balance of that. If we announce, if there is an unlawful assembly or we are in the midst of a riot, that if reporters fail to do that, if they are in the midst of the riot, we can’t protect them... But what I would say is that if a reporter is committing a crime while they’re there under their credentials, I think they become regular citizens... But, in general, what we’re trying to do is give reporters access. We have tried to give them, in fact, I think extraordinary access by embedding reporters in our mobile field force.”
ALL CHARGES MUST BE DROPPED!
It is crucial to defeat these attacks on journalists, by both exposing the criminal nature of the assaults and their arrests, and by demanding all charges against them be dropped. Media organizations including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union have all issued statements condemning the attacks on journalists and calling for investigations.
The media reform group Free Press is circulating an online petition demanding an end to the attacks on journalists that gathered over 50,000 names in two days: https://secure.freepress.net/site/Advocacy?JServSessionIdr012=i06ym8gso2.app44b&cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=281
Democracy Now! (http://www.democracynow.org/) has also issued a call for people to phone and email St. Paul authorities to demand all charges be dropped.
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