WASHINGTON, D.C. — This past weekend’s International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings held unintended consequences for student journalists who covered the protests.
Several college reporters and photographers were caught up in a wave of arrests Friday morning at the Freedom Plaza and Pershing Park areas of downtown. While some professional and college press were released by police, at least six area student journalists and 11 professional journalists were among the 654 people arrested, handcuffed and bussed to the Metropolitan Police Academy to be processed, where they were held for hours.
Two University of Maryland reporters, three photographers for George Washington University and a George Mason University journalist said they heard no warning before police officers in riot gear rounded them up, along with several hundred protestors and passersby, and placed them on Metrobuses. Five of the six student journalists said they gave press credentials when police began the mass arrest, but their requests to leave were refused.
“[Police officers] ridiculed us and told us that we had had our chance — which we were not aware of,” said Jason Flanagan and Debra Kahn in a first-person account published in yesterday’s edition of University of Maryland’s paper, The Diamondback,. “One nearby Washington Post reporter apparently had the correct credentials and was immediately released.”
In a Sept. 27 washingtonpost.com article, two other Post reporters who were arrested also commented that they did not hear any warning by police before arrests began. They said they saw other journalists allowed off the bus once they identified themselves as press.
Joe Gentile, a public information officer for the Metropolitan Police Department, said to his knowledge all professional or student journalists who were arrested had to go through the entire booking process.
He said any journalist with legitimate press credentials was allowed out of the crowd before the warning to disperse was given and arrests were made.
Although the police are trained to look for Metropolitan Police Department press credentials, Gentile said, officers accommodated credentials for any jurisdiction from any journalists, including students.
Flanagan and Kahn spent 13 hours detained on the bus, during which they contacted the newspaper’s attorney with their cell phone. The attorney later called the police, pleading to have their reporters released, being as specific as to say which bus the reporters were on. Police said that they could not help them until they were officially booked.
The Maryland reporters, as with the protestors and other arrested journalists, were charged with failure to obey a police officer. They opted to pay a $50 post and forfeit fee because officers said it would expedite their release in 20 minutes. The reporters were not released until 10:11 a.m. Saturday morning, a 10-hour, “20-minute wait.”
One George Washington journalist, who was not arrested, said he was injured when DC police blocked him from making his way down the street to photograph protesters. Andrew Snow showed his GW press pass, but a female police officer hit him in the sternum and the throat with the butt of a nightstick when he tried to cross a line of officers.
Three of his colleagues, Chris Zarconi, Leanne Lee and Young Choi, were arrested while photographing the protests.
“It didn’t matter that we were press, [the DC police] handled everyone with the same general incompetence,” said Zarconi, who spent 13 hours detained on a Metrobus.
According to Bob Ludwig, acting director for university relations, the university’s general counsel is looking into how to get charges expunged from their records.
“The school realizes that they were bystanders,” Ludwig said.
George Mason University student journalist Jason Hornick decided to plead not guilty after he was taken into custody for an excess of 20 hours while covering Friday demonstrations at Pershing Park.
He was then photographed and fingerprinted and transported to the police academy gymnasium where his hands were handcuffed to his legs.
“Sitting about 16 hours on a bus handcuffed is pretty uncomfortable,” said Hornick in an article in GMU’s paper, Broadside. He is planning to contest the citation in court.
Gentile urged that journalists, along with anyone else who felt they were wrongly arrested, should have pled not guilty and argue their cases in court.
“They should have taken advantage of our judicial process,” he said. “Sometimes police make mistakes. This allows the judge to make the decision.”