Saturday, September 06, 2008

St. Paul in the Hot Seat over Journalist Arrests

Journalists and St. Paul citizens assembled outside St. Paul City Hall today to deliver more than 60,000 letters to Mayor Chris Coleman and prosecuting attorneys demanding that they immediately drop charges against all journalists arrested this week as they covered the Republican National Convention

By Friday morning, dozens of journalists, photographers, bloggers and videomakers had been booked by the Ramsey County Sheriff's office in what appears to have been an orchestrated round-up of media makers covering protests during the convention.

"From the pre-convention raids to the ongoing harassment and arrests of journalists, these have been dark days for press freedom in the United States," said Nancy Doyle Brown of the Twin Cities Media Alliance, who delivered the letters on behalf of the nonpartisan media reform group Free Press.

Stories That Will Never Be Told

She was joined by a crowd of local activists and journalists, including Amy Goodman and Nicole Salazar of Democracy Now!, KFAI-FM radio host Andy Driscoll and Mike Bucsko, executive director of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild.

"Tragically, there are stories that the world needed to hear this week that will never be told," Brown said. "They won't be told because reporters working on them were sitting in the back of squad cars, were stripped of their cameras, or were face down on the pavement with their hands cuffed behind their backs."

On Thursday, the final night of the convention, it appears that authorities ratcheted up their attacks on both protesters and credentialed journalists, lobbing tear gas and percussion grenades into crowds and arresting student journalists, local TV photographers, Associated Press reporters, and two MyFox journalists, among others.

Other journalists have also been pepper-sprayed, and reporters with I-Witness were held at gunpoint during a "pre-emptive" raid aimed at disrupting protesters last weekend.

Mayor Chris Coleman has refused to reply to my repeated calls and e-mails asking for his response to allegations that journalists were specifically targeted by authorities.


A crowd of journalists -- many of whom were arrested earlier in the week -- entered City Hall and delivered the letters into the hands of St. Paul Deputy Mayor Ann Mulholland and City Attorney John Choi, who briefly told them that the legal system will sort out their concerns.

The mayor and public officials "need to do a post-mortem to examine the circumstances" of these arrests, said Bucsko, who represents reporters at the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I hate to think that journalists were being targeted," adding that it appeared that "there was discrimination based upon their jobs."

The signatures were collected in less than 72 hours as people nationwide expressed their outrage over St. Paul's attempts to stifle the many journalists documenting events surrounding the tightly scripted spectacle in the city's Xcel Center.

Wellstone's Worst Nightmare

Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, The Newspaper Guild, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reporters Without Borders, the Society for Professional Journalists and the Writers Guild of America, East have also sounded the alarm over the unusually harsh treatment by city authorities.

"The city of St. Paul has a black eye right now, and I must say that Paul Wellstone would be rolling in his grave," said Denis Moynihan of Free Speech TV, who spoke outside City Hall today.

"Mayor Coleman must salvage the damaged reputation of the state and the city by dropping charges against all journalists immediately."

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