By Carolyn Ellison
“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The above is directly from the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.
On September 1st The Republican National Convention took place in St. Paul, Kentucky. Three credited photojournalists were aggressively incarcerated and arrested with felony riot charges. The three were not involved with the riot in any way. Ed Matthews, Britney McIntosh, and Jim Winn were all affiliated with the University of Kentucky, doing coverage on the convention. Winn was even the photo advisor for the Kentucky University newspaper, Kentucky Kernel. If convicted, the three are looking at one possible year in jail and at least $3,000 dollars in fines.
Even though all three had proper credentials associating them with the press, they individually experienced hostility and violence from US law enforcement. McIntosh was ordered to throw her hands in the air, Winn was brought to the ground by gunpoint, and Matthews suffered from pepper spray.
Unfortunately, this is not the only recent event of its kind. That same Monday, three other journalists were released from custody for similar reasons. The law enforcement claims that in the risky situation of a riot, they cannot distinguish who is who under those circumstances. However the following argument would be that they are trained to distinguish rioters from peaceful onlookers, it is part of their job.
Democracy Now! journalists: Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar also experienced violent and unjust arrests and injuries. While Goodman was only violently
yanked by the arm she was still charged with a misdemeanor interference charge because she was repeatedly attempting to explain to law enforcement that they were with the press and to let her co-workers go, while Abdel Kouddous was slammed into the ground after being slammed into a wall. He also suffered from scraped and bloodied arms, and injuries to his chest and back. Salazar was arrested by baton and then slammed to the ground, despite the fact that she was yelling “I’m press! Press!” Goodman, Abdel Kouddous and Salzar received a considerable amount of public support from media organizations. Goodman actually got the chance to ask St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington during a press conference about the arrests.
It is scary to think that college students among other photojournalists in the field are at risk for doing jail time and paying high fines for crimes they clearly were not involved with. Not to mention suffering from physical injuries. The press is absolutely essential for obtaining and delivering current information and news about what it going on in our country and America has the right to know. How are we, as citizens, supposed to react when our own law enforcement interferes with fellow Americans exercising their first amendment rights?
To watch Goodman speak of this matter on Free Speech Television, go to youtube.com and search for “Amy Goodman talks about arrest.”
Brief Interview of Chief John Harrington
By Amy Goodman
“What is your policy with the press? How is the press to operate in this kind of environment?” she asked.
“Reporters have rights,” Harrington said. He said “if there’s an unlawful assembly or we’re in the midst of a riot,” police announce loudly that people need to leave the area.
“If reporters fail to do that, if they are in the midst of the riot, we can’t protect them,” Harrington said. “It would be very difficult for us in a moment of that kind of chaos to be able to make those kind of fine distinctions.”
If journalists are arrested, Harrington said police try to review their cases quickly and get them released, pending further investigation.
“The fact that a person is a reporter or has a credential doesn’t give them additional rights to commit any crimes, though,” Harrington said. “I don’t know your case, I haven’t seen your video, so I really can’t respond to what you’re saying happened.”