Police rounded up, detained and arrested journalists throughout the week at the Republican National Convention. But tens of thousands of people across the nation have responded with demands to protect free speech.
Early this week, local advocates and independent journalists delivered more that 60,000 letters to St. Paul City Hall calling on Mayor Chris Coleman and local law enforcement officials to drop all charges against journalists arrested while covering protests outside the Republican National Convention.
The signatures were garnered in less than two days as people expressed their outrage over St. Paul’s attempts to stifle independent journalists documenting what happened outside the highly orchestrated activities and speeches in the Xcel Center.
The letters delivered demand that Mayor Coleman and local authorities immediately “free all detained journalists and drop all charges against them.” This call has been echoed by groups 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.
Visit FreePress.net to add your name to the petition.
Truth, Justice and the 4th Estate
GERALDINE CAHILL, TRNN: Eight hundred and eighteen people were arrested in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in the days leading up to and during the Republican National Convention last week. Several dozen were members of the media covering the various protests. While presidential hopeful John McCain was preparing his final speech to the Republican National Convention last Thursday, hundreds gathered on the steps of the Capitol Building, preparing to march for peace, an end to the war in Iraq, and a call for impeachment of President Bush. Many were also there to protest the arrest of demonstrators earlier in the week. The plan was to walk to the security perimeter surrounding the Xcel Center, where the RNC was taking place. I was there with my camera person, Ania Smolenskaia, to record what happened.
CAHILL: I’m Geraldine Cahill for The Real News, and we’re at the antiwar, anti-RNC rally that was gathered, marching from the state capitol here in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to the Xcel Center, where John McCain is preparing his final speech at the Republican convention.
SPEAKER: We have the right to be here. We are going to march on the Xcel Center. Line up behind the banner if you want to march with us. It’s unpermitted; we’re going anyways. No peace for the war-makers! Have courage! Have courage!
CALL AND ANSWER: What do we want? Troops out! When do we want it? Now!
CAHILL: I’m not sure if you can see behind me, but there is a long line of police on horses, and standing in front of them is a line of police officers in full riot gear with tear gas. So we’ll see what is coming up next, whether they’ll let us move towards the Xcel Center or whether they will in fact force us back towards the state capitol.
CAHILL: The protest has been going on for probably over half an hour now. We’re still being blocked from getting any closer to the Xcel Center, and it certainly seems like there’s no way the police are going to let the protesters any further. You can see Saint Paul Cathedral there in the distance. Basically what we’ve got is a group of protesters directly in front of the police behind us, and the other half of the protest is convening in the intersection, two sides of which are blocked off by police. So they’re really only allowing protesters, once they start moving, to move out to the left of myself. We’ve been given one warning at leastï¿½maybe now twoï¿½by the police that soon they will start moving people back. Now it appears to be at a classic standoff.
PROTESTER: All these people can’t be wrong. How many are there of you? Look how many there are of us. Last time I checked, majority was democracy, and that’s what our country is about.
CAHILL: Earlier this afternoon we were on this bridge with the protests that had come along, trying to make its way to the Xcel Center. And a big pack of the protesters had separated from the rest of the group. And so we followed the new pack. And that’s when things got very confused.
PASSERBY: You guys be careful.
OFF CAMERA: You too, man.
CAHILL: After ten minutes or so of various explosions and people running in all directions, we were led onto this bridge, where we were told that we were under arrest.
POLICEMAN: If you are sitting on this bridge, you are under arrest, and you are not free to leave. Remain seated with your hands on top of your head.
CAHILL: I would say there’s probably about 100 people, 200 people here, allegedly all under arrest. We’re being told to sit down with our hands on our heads.
POLICEMAN: Please remain seated and follow their verbal directions exactly. Thank you.
CAHILL: We told the police that we were media, and they told us that they didn’t care who we were. We were just shuffled along with everybody else. The police have been given rolls of these plastic handcuffs for everybody, so they’re being distributed now amongst the others. And peopleï¿½yup, people are just being picked off one by one. Just keep rolling as long as we can. Looks like it’s going to be a long night. This is going to take awhile to arrest all of these people.
CAHILL: Ania and myself were released after 3.5 hours on the bridge. While most of the 818 people arrested last week were released with misdemeanor fines for illegal assembly, approximately 36 have felony charges against them. The felony charges include damages, conspiracy to riot, and the most seriousï¿½incitement and furtherance of a terrorist conspiracy. An additional 152 people were arrested in Denver leading up to and during the Democratic National Convention the week before. Along with The Real News, several other media were arrested and fined for covering the protests throughout the RNC. Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and two other producers have felony charges against them. Caught on the bridge with us on Thursday evening were reporters and camera operators from a local FOX News channel; KARE Golden Valley; WCCO, CBS’s local station; and KDFW. This is the fine that we received while covering the protest last Thursday, along with 300 people arrested on the Marion Bridge. The charge reads “unlawful assembly.” One officer told me while I was sitting on the bridge that the media can embed themselves with police and not get into trouble. Does this sound familiar? So much for the Fourth Estate.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.