Reporters Covering Occupy Wall Street Are Being Targeted for Arrest … Nationwide

Journalists Covering Occupy Wall Street Are Being Targeted for Arrest Nationwide

International Press Institute reports today that American police are arresting journalists covering the Occupy protests … often on trumped-up charges:

The intimidation and harassment of reporters by authorities has not been confined to widely-publicised hotspots such as New York and Oakland, Calif., but has moved into the heartland, with recent arrests of journalists caught on video in Wisconsin and Tennessee.

The latest incidents came Wednesday night, when police arrested Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Photographer Kristyna Wentz-Graff as she took pictures during a demonstration at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Oakland police arrested freelance journalist and cartoonist Susie Cagle.

They followed the arrest three days earlier of Nashville Scene reporter Jonathan Meador outside of Tennessee’s Capital building. Meador’s arrest was preceded nearly a month earlier by the arrests of three journalists covering protests in New York City.

International Press Institute (IPI) Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie … criticised what she said appeared to be “trumped-up charges” behind many of the arrests.

Soon after the protests began in mid-September in New York City, participants accused the New York Police Department of deliberately targeting for arrest those taking pictures of the police response, including both professional and citizen journalists.

WNET’s MetroFocus reporter John Farley was arrested 24 September while interviewing two women who had been pepper-sprayed. Although he was wearing WNET identification, he lacked an NYPD press credential police reportedly said was required for his release, and authorities later charged him with disorderly conduct. A judge dismissed the charge on Wednesday, but two other journalists arrested on 1 October – New York Times freelancer Natasha Lennard and Alternet’s Kristen Gwynne — still face charges.

Meador was recording video while he spoke with protestors on Nashville’s Legislative Plaza on 30 October when members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol moved in to disperse protestors, pushed him to the ground and arrested him. Although Meador twice identified himself as a journalist, police declined to check his credentials and cited him for criminal trespass and public intoxication. He was given no sobriety or Breathalyzer test, and the head of Tennessee’s Department of Safety later defended the charge, even though he conceded that it was based on an arresting officer’s observation.

Wentz-Graff fared better in Milwaukee, as Mayor Tom Barrett acknowledged that a video of her arrest last Wednesday – reportedly for being in the street as she took photos of protestors – showed that she was indeed wearing press credentials at the time. The journalist was later released without being charged with a crime.

Cagle, however, reportedly now faces a charge of unlawful assembly, even though she claimed she was wearing her press pass when she was arrested.

She told KGO-TV in San Francisco: “I said I was press, I was originally told, ‘We’ll take care of that in a minute,’ and a minute turned into 14 hours at two different jails.”

Cagle, who reportedly will appear in court next month, told local media that she felt obligated to cover the story more than before and that she planned to return to the plaza where she was arrested.

And see this.

Why Is This Happening?

It is difficult for many Americans to understand why this is happening.  A little background will help explain and put things in context.

Dictators like Egypt’s Mubarak arrest and beat journalists.

I’ve previously noted that America might be a more gilded cage than Egypt … but it is still a cage.

For example, journalists covering police brutality against anti-war protesters outside the 2008 Republican National Convention were specifically targeted and arrested. See this, this, this and this.

Indeed, in a nation sliding towards a police state, even cameras equal terrorism.

For example, a 2003 FBI memo describes protesters’ use of videotaping as an “intimidation” technique, even though – as the ACLU points out:

Most mainstream demonstrators often use videotape during protests to document law enforcement activity and, more importantly, deter police from acting outside the law.

The FBI appears to be objecting to the use of cameras to document unlawful behavior by law enforcement itself.  (Not all courts agree.)

In a country using anti-terrorism laws to crush dissent, even funnier things can happen:

According to Department of Defense training manuals, protest is considered “low-level terrorism”. And see this, this and this.

An FBI memo also labels peace protesters as “terrorists”.

Many liberals assume (and the mainstream media doesn’t cover the numerous contrary facts) that such abuses ended when Bush and Cheney left the White House. But as progressive constitutional expert Glenn Greenwald has noted, Obama has attacked our liberties even more than Bush.

No wonder New York police attacked with pepper spray in the absence of any provocation – a press photographer covering Occupy Wall Street.

No wonder police are targeting journalists nationwide.

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