St. Paul wants no press freedom
On the heels of Denver's lack of police control, St. Paul's cops more closely resemble a foreign country while they protect the Republican National Convention delegates from words chanted by protesters.
Those Constitutionally-protected words can hurt. The RNC delegates might be delicate. However, those words don't hurt working journalists nearly as bad as being gassed, pepper-sprayed or slammed face-first into a wall by a cop.
According to an Associated Press report, Matt Rourke, an AP photojournalist and close friend of mine, was arrested along with Democracy Now! anchor Amy Goodman (see the video of her arrest) and her colleagues Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar while covering an anti-war protest march on Monday, Sept 1, 2008.
All were later released and the county doesn't plan to file charges against Rourke or Goodman. Kouddous and Salazar were both injured and face felony charges of suspicion of rioting.
Exercising active prior restraint on working journalists and violating Constitutional rights is a tactic best left in other countries. This is the United States. Journalists have degrees and Secret Service clearances.
We cover the protests to show those without a voice as well as the peace maintained by the police. If the police officers are cool, it's documented. When the cops abuse power, it's also documented.
The only reason for this behavior is an attempt to create a chilling effect of protest coverage. The cops are saying to all media, "Cover the protests, and you're in jail."
I know for a fact that Matt is a squeaky-clean guy. He's a quiet, clean-cut dude. He works hard and has suffered through many hardships to bring the news to everyone. He freelanced at DMN when I was a staffer. He moved to The Austin-American Statesman and won national awards for his Hurricane Katrina coverage and finally was hired by AP in Philly.
He's a good guy with a great eye. I know he wouldn't have done anything that would get him arrested in any other city in America.
The day before these arrests, a Pioneer Press story reports the police conducted preemptive raids at homes on Sunday before the RNC started. Ironically, the raid photo is by Matt Rourke. The story states,
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said Saturday that free-speech rights are separate from criminal behavior.
"We have worked very, very hard to make sure we've protected people's right to exercise free speech," he said. "To pick up a protest sign, that's fine. If you're here to pick up a brick or some other instrument, there's a problem."
Apparently, "other instruments" include cameras, notepads or microphones.
Enough for now,