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Points of (non) privilege

Posted at 11:11 AM on September 5, 2008 by Tim Nelson (10 Comments)

There's been some public discussion about the detention of more than a dozen journalists at the end of the protests in St. Paul last night. Pioneer Press photographer Ben Garvin, AP newswoman Amy Forliti and WCCO photographer Tom Aviles were among the people bottled up on the Marion Street Bridge.

But there's another side to the story that's harder to see. I had tape of the detainees singing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" while they sat on the bridge about 11 p.m. last night. The Pioneer Press also published two photos taken, in the dark among the detainees on the bridge, by Thomas Whisenand.

We were both demonstrably there. Why weren't we arrested?

Because last week, the St. Paul police offered the media -- or at least those who showed up to a meeting at the Western District police offices -- the opportunity to accompany the officers among St. Paul's "mobile field force" teams.

We had to sign a waiver holding the city harmless, provide our own transportation and offered no equipment or other protection. The only proviso the city demanded: don't disclose anything until today, so as not to compromise the security of the police operation. We were as free to talk to anyone on the scene as we would have been on any other day in the city.

Commander Joe Neuberger -- commander of the officers in the field -- said last week that the idea was against his better judgement, but that police administration had decided to open their operation as much as possible to trained scrutiny.

St. Paul police Sgt. Linda Wilson told me yesterday, as I climbed in my pickup to trail along, that they'd been accompanied by reporters every single day of the convention. Pioneer Press reporter Mara Gottfried and photographer Thomas Whisenand were among them last night. They followed a team separate from the "platoon" to which I was assigned.

I found it to be a dicey situation. Riot police are trained to keep civilians out of their ranks and there were some tense moments when I found myself standing amid officers from other agencies who were not conscious of St. Paul's arrangement, possibly because they hadn't been told, or because of the chaos at the scene.

I was variously ordered to get down and to leave immediately. I was inadvertantly struck by pepper spray and by "stinger balls" from an explosive thrown at my feet. But per our agreement, I was never forced to leave the scene.

I don't know the exact count of journalists detained. I heard numbers last night as high as 18. I did see some people with credentials issued by the Republican National Convention among the handcuffed detainees. But I also saw people with handmade "media" insignia and several students claiming to be with a college paper in Iowa.

But I would venture to say that journalists employed by local media outlets that were allowed into the midst of the police may have approached the number that were detained by authorities at any time during the convention.

One more thing: the Joint Information Center issued this statement below at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, no doubt a follow-up to similar directions given explicitly to the media by authorities at the scene of Tuesday night's unrest in front of Mickey's Diner.

I don't know how to define the journalistic equivalent of caveat emptor, but I know it when I see it.

MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA ASKED TO FOLLOW PROPER PROCEDURES DURING UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLIES TO ENSURE THEIR OWN SAFETY

(Saint Paul, Minnesota) - Law enforcement responsible for security and public safety in the Twin Cities area would like to remind members of the media of the proper procedures for staying safe during unlawful assemblies. When police officials request the breakup of an unlawful assembly by announcement to the gathered crowd, that order applies to all individuals, including the media. A quick and orderly dispersal is more likely to help people, including media personnel, stay safe and avoid arrest.

Because still cameras, video cameras and other recording equipment are commonplace at large events or gatherings, it can be difficult for law enforcement and others to differentiate between credentialed media, un-credentialed media or others who may carry similar equipment. While law enforcement in no way wishes to restrict First Amendment rights, members of the press must also follow police orders to protect their safety, the safety of police and others.

Footnote:

One MPR reporter was able to avoid being arrested, even after they expected they would be arrested. She approached the nearest officer with their credential held high, and ask politely, which direction they should go. It took a few requests before an officer stepped from holding them behind the line, but they then indicated they could pass.
 


Comments (10)


So now we have the stateside version of "embedded media" in order to control the narrative by the powers to be under the guise of protecting their safety. Orwell must be rolling over in his grave right now.

Posted by Mario | September 5, 2008 1:27 PM


If it was a real conspiracy, Tim wouldn't have come clean about how he avoided arrest.

What I haven't really heard explained is why they arrested everyone last night. Would waiting it out have been a worse alternative? A bunch of people were hanging out singing 'bohemian rhapsody' doesn't sound like the kind of thing that requires the arrest of 400 people. Yes, the protest permit had expired. Yes, they were apparently blocking a public right of way. But was there really harm being done? Did that harm justify the time, effort and cost of incarcerating so many people? I wasn't there, so I don't know what was really going on. But the tape Tim played for Ms Wurzer this AM sure made it sound pretty harmless.

Posted by bsimon | September 5, 2008 2:58 PM


I am so glad it's over. I have felt like I am living in a police state for the past week. I live two blocks off W. 7th, so I have been able to witness quite a bit from my home, and I have been mortified by the excessive use of force and fear tactics police used, especially with journalists. We had the fortune of having two independent journalists stay with us, and they had the misfortune of being arrested for simply trying to do their job (their arrest videos prove they did nothing wrong). I had higher hopes for St. Paul and for free speech- I have seen a lot of civil liberties trampled on and really lost faith in the people's ability to disagree (peacefully) with government. Even more disturbing is how the journalists report they were treated in the jail- constantly dehumanized by the guards. I feel like I have been living in a foreign country under occupation. I certainly did not feel personally safer as a result of the police presence; It was clear that they were NOT here to protect me and mine. I have never experienced anything like this. I am a peace advocate, but I am slowly beginning to understand why normally peaceful people in occupied countries grow to resent their occupants and a police state and may react with anger and violence. The response by law enforcement was really counter-productive. I wonder how the city of St. Paul plans to respond to those of us who feel this way, and to restore faith in the local law enforcement?

Posted by Nadia | September 5, 2008 5:31 PM


I am so glad it's over. I have felt like I am living in a police state for the past week. I live two blocks off W. 7th, so I have been able to witness quite a bit from my home, and I have been mortified by the excessive use of force and fear tactics police used, especially with journalists. We had the fortune of having two independent journalists stay with us, and they had the misfortune of being arrested for simply trying to do their job (their arrest videos prove they did nothing wrong). I had higher hopes for St. Paul and for free speech- I have seen a lot of civil liberties trampled on and really lost faith in the people's ability to disagree (peacefully) with government. Even more disturbing is how the journalists report they were treated in the jail- constantly dehumanized by the guards. I feel like I have been living in a foreign country under occupation. I certainly did not feel personally safer as a result of the police presence; It was clear that they were NOT here to protect me and mine. I have never experienced anything like this. I am a peace advocate, but I am slowly beginning to understand why normally peaceful people in occupied countries grow to resent their occupants and a police state and may react with anger and violence. The response by law enforcement was really counter-productive. I wonder how the city of St. Paul plans to respond to those of us who feel this way, and to restore faith in the local law enforcement?

Posted by Nadia | September 5, 2008 5:33 PM


I want to thank the SPPD and others for keeping order in St. Paul during the convention. I witnessed first-hand the tactics of SOME protesters who wanted nothing more than to stir the pot. Those there voicing their opinion in a peaceful manner had no problems doing so...so those trouble makers need to QUIT WHINING about their "rights being trampled." You do NOT have a right to break windows, stop traffic or otherwise infringe on my rights, or the rights of those attending the convention. Tim, thanks for telling the other side of this story!

Posted by ann | September 6, 2008 7:19 PM


I am happy the RNC is over, and thank goodness there were as many cops out there as there was. I would hate to have seen what would have happened if the 350 people arrested on the Marion St Bridge had made it to the Exvel Center. What Tim failed to mention is that the group of 350 people arrested were actually part of a larger group. This group had a permit to protest and that permit expired at 5pm. These laws are in place for a reason and that is to keep everyone safe. So if that means arresting 350 people to keep the downtown area of St. Paul safe from damage to property and other crimes then so be it. I live near the Marion St Bridge and I observed the whole incident unravel. St. Paul Police gave multiple orders to leave the area as the permit had expired. St. Paul Police gave the group many opportunities to leave, however it is obvious 350 people felt they were above the law and felt it did not apply to them.

Why don't we all look at the big picture here. Lets say a group has a permit to protest near the state capital and that permit also allows the group to march to a second location. Because the group has the permit, law enforcement knows the plan and can acomodate the group so they have a safe way to march (i.e. close roads and re-route traffic). Now if a group does not get a permit and feels they have the right to shut down city streets, block roads etc how would that pose a danger. The first thing that comes to my mind is if someone I love is having a heart attack or any other serious medical problem and they need help and they need help fast, how is that ambulance going to get to my loved one if the road is blocked by a group breaking the law?

One other thing that comes to my mind if we want to compare the RNC to the DNC, the Denver Police did not even allow people to come near the DNC. The whole area was essentially shut down. You want to talk excessive force, take a look at the DNC and look at the first day. The Denver Police used large amounts of gas, mace, and other devices on the protestors. The Denver Police made it perfectly clear on the first day that unlawful assemblies and damge to property would not be tollerated. It was obvious the St. Paul Police gave the protestors the benefit of the doubt the first day and welcomed them with open arms. One could argue that this backfired and therefore more arrests were needed the following days of the convention. Additionally at the DNC journalists were not even allowed to be with the police and without proper credentials even near the venue of the DNC.

If you want to say these days of the RNC has made St. Paul feel like it was a police state then so be it. Maybe if St. Paul Police had let the unlawful protestors run rampit throughout the city and the city "burned" and your house was damaged, or your car was flipped over, or you couldn't get to work because some group blocked the street then maybe you wouldn't feel that way. At least in the end, St. Paul had minimal damage and no one was injured. I would put a check in the win column!

Posted by Donna | September 8, 2008 1:00 PM


Can I get a copy of that from you? It was Colin Jarrett who started singing Queen. We also sung "Yesterday" "Yellow Submarine" and "All You Need Is Love" by the Beatles, "A Whole New World" From Disney's Aladdin, "The Time Warp" from Rocky Horror Picture Show, just to name a few. We also played Simon says, which was pretty much just "Simon says put your hand on your head, Simon says put your feet on your head, put your feet down, Oh no! Your arrested!" It was a good time. We got our point across, and we had a lot of fun. We're going to have a one week reunion this Thursday at 830 at Mickey's diner for everyone who was arrested.

Posted by Angie Reed | September 8, 2008 4:15 PM


I hope when you go to Mickey's diner you all get arrested again....thanks to your shenanigans, Mickey's Diner probably didn't make much business - I hope they spit in your food!

Posted by Sam | September 8, 2008 6:53 PM


I hope you all get arrested again when you go to Mickey's diner...Thanks to your shenanigans I bet Mickey's diner did not get much business...I hope they spit in your food.

Posted by Sam | September 8, 2008 6:55 PM


I hope you all get arrested again when you go to Mickey's diner....thanks to your shenanigans I bet Mickey's diner did not have much business...I hope they spit in your food. I ask you what point did you get across- that you are above the law, or maybe there shouldn't be any laws. Lets get rid of the justice system in general and everyone can fend for themselves. So the next time you get robbed, or someone smashes into your car and leaves or even worse someone you love goes missing - don't call the Police

Posted by Donna | September 8, 2008 7:00 PM



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