Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul issued this statement on the decision not to prosecute journalists arrested during the Republican National Convention:
He said, “This decision reflects the values we have in Saint Paul to protect and promote our First Amendment rights to freedom of the press. A journalist plays a special role in our democracy and that role is just too important to ignore. At the scene, the police did their duty in protecting public safety. In this decision, we are serving the public’s interest to maintain the integrity of our democracy, system of justice and freedom of the press.”
“The decision will only affect people identified as journalists who face the misdemeanor charge. Recognizing the growing media profession in print, broadcast and the Internet, the city attorney’s office will use a broad definition and verification to identify journalists who were caught up in mass arrests during the convention. It is not known how many cases this decision will affect.”
While it is a relief to have the charges dropped, it still doesn’t explain the arrests in the first place. On the night of Sept. 4, when the 300 or so people on the Marion Street Bridge were all told they would be arrested, the members of the media were segregated into their own groups. One officer told us that we would be filtered out. It would have been easy enough for a public information officer to survey the scene and do just that and, in fact, some journalists were released that evening.
But to many in the media, including myself, that never happened. At one point, I reminded one officer that I was with the media; he just told me that the arrest would make for a better story.
Ultimately, what did happen is members of the media were unable to meet deadlines, post stories and video and retrieve cameras, tape recorders and laptops in a timely manner, as they were all seized at the scene. Those are the realities of the news cycle. The dropping of the charges is an acknowledgment of the media’s right to be there and cover the protests, but it does not change the fact that members of the media were prevented from doing their jobs, after being clearly identified at the scene.