In the aftermath of the Republican National Convention, one event that made only a ripple in the main stream media has been the arrest by local Minneapolis police of a dozen or more credentialed journalists covering the convention. Best known is Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now TV Channel, who along with two co-producers, was pushed around, handcuffed, shoved into a police van, held for several hours and charged with various violent offenses—which are still in force.
A video of Goodman’s arrest has been viewed on YouTube 750,000 times. It is obvious from the video that Amy was not inciting or being violent, but just trying to get information about why her colleagues, with obvious ID were being handcuffed along with demonstrators outside the convention center.
Unfortunately this reminds me of what happens with our journalist friends in Kabul. However these American journalists were on the streets of an American city. They were arrested apparently only because they were present at a demonstration.
Most were young, from small on-line news outlets or university media. Democracy Now’s news programs airs daily for several hours on more than 700 public television and radio stations. Its columns are printed in newspapers across the nation. It has a long history of partisan political views, but that is in no way anti-American or anti-democracy.
Minneapolis Mayor Chris Coleman and Police Chief John Harrington won’t discuss the situation very much, and petitions with tens of thousands of names, asking for the charges to be dropped, have not had much effect on them. This is painfully reminiscent of Afghan journalist student, Parwiz Khambaksh, who has spent six months in jail facing a death sentence for possessing an “un-Islamic” article.
His situation has been ignored by most high officials in Afghanistan. They, and members of the Taliban will likely be encouraged by the actions of the Minneapolis Mayor and Police Chief’s actions and later refusal to discuss the situation.
Now, each journalist has a permanent criminal record—whether found guilty or not. This can greatly hinder their professional and educational plans. They will have to hire attornies at their own expense, which could cost many thousands of dollars, and take hundreds of hours of their time. If someone is trying to discourage freedom of the press, this is an excellent path.
The silence in the mainstream press in this matter is also distressing. The large Minneapolis paper had no sympathy for the journalists, and barely covered the arrests. Many national and international journalist associations such as IFEX, IFJ, and the US journalists union have published scathing reactions, but Minneapolis officials seem immune to criticism.
A disturbing message here in the world’s greatest democracy, which claims to protect freedom of speech, is that police and their superiors can mistreat journalists with the same impunity as dictatorships. Death and violence against journalists has been increasing around the world, from Russia to Pakistan, Africa, and now, sadly, the United States. The events in Minneapolis are now part of this pattern, especially since many witnesses claim that the police were specifically targeting journalists.
Measures to protect freedom of the press must be pursued, because some people in power will happily stifle the media for their own objectives. Actions against journalists, like those in Minneapolis, will be encouraged, and the problem could eventually hopelessly shackle the media, like in China, Iran, Cuba, and Afghanistan. Instead of Democracy Now, it may be Democracy later… much, much later.
Selection of videos from the Minneapolis protests and police actions: