I wanted to see what it was all about. To follow up, I went to the scene of the latest anti-war protest in St. Paul, between the state Capitol and the Cathedral, and ended the evening in a paddy wagon.
I was arrested along with about a dozen or so other journalists — including reporters from AP and Fox News’ Web operations — after the demonstrators marched along St. Anthony Street to University Avenue, blocking traffic as squad cars escorted behind them. But things got ugly when a flank of officers in riot gear blockaded University Avenue, and soon smoke bombs and other mild explosives were being hurled toward the protesters, and some officers shot rubber bullets into the crowd. One explosive, a flash grenade, landed just at my feet; a reporter for a Google news Website was drenched in a type of tear gas.
The demonstrators (along with the media) were eventually forced onto the Marion Street bridge that crosses I-94, where another flank of riot officers had them cornered. It was then that we were told that we were all being arrested. In all, there were about 200 who were detained. I was held for about 4 hours.
I’m a little embarrassed for not being able to recognize when it is time to leave, as I am sure journalists who are more experienced at these things can sense. I’m also a bit miffed, as I was covering the protest as a credentialed member of the media, and not a participant, a fact apparently lost by authorities. I still do not have my camera, which was seized at the scene.
It was chaotic, and I simply can’t judge whether the police were in the right or protesters were in the wrong. As is the case in these situations, there were conflicting reports. But I do want my camera back, and I now have a misdemeanor citation of unlawful assembly.
What I can say is I never heard any kind of call to disburse or face arrest, either on any of the streets or on the Marion Street Bridge. There was just an announcement that we were all arrested.
Earlier this week, Peter Bart wrote about convention security here.
Photo: New York Times.
Update: Since a weary and sleepless night, I’ve had a chance to reflect a bit on the insanity of journalists being arrested for just doing their job, which was to cover a genuine story at the Republican National Convention.
Our charge was “presence at an unlawful assembly,” which is described in part by Minnesota state statute as refusal to leave the scene when ordered to do so. As I stated in my earlier post, I never heard such an order given, nor did any of the journalists I was with. We were trying to get away from the line of fire of smoke bombs and flash grenades, and eventually fled to the Marion Street bridge, which looked like the only option out. It was there that we were informed that everyone was under arrest.
There’s still no answer to the question of why journalists, fully identified by their credentials, were detained, booked and processed, their means of reporting taken away. It was a story that the news media had a right to cover whether or not the protest permit ended at 5 p.m., or whether police gave an order sometime after that. We were covering the story, we were not the story. It gives me a new, hardened and more cynical perspective on the security state that we are in, and how it is being used to justify what are ultimately restrictions on press freedom.