Student journalists arrested while covering anti-war protests in Washington, San Francisco

Two college newspaperphotographers, along with four other students, were arrested while covering theanti-war march held in downtown Washington, D.C., on March 15 after theyfollowed a group of protesters inside the World Bank headquarters andphotographed them as they raised havoc, said one student’s lawyer.

Duringtheir first court appearance March 17, the charges of unlawful entry broughtagainst the students were dismissed, according to Robert Becker, who representedone of the students at the request of the Washington, D.C., professional chapterof the Society of Professional Journalists. If the students had been foundguilty, the charges would have carried a maximum penalty of six months in jailand a $100 fine, he said.

Prior to their court appearance, the studentswere detained in district jails over the weekend. At least one camera wasconfiscated, but Becker said it was returned.

At around 3 p.m. on March15, about 50 protesters broke off from the permitted march route that circledthe White House and headed to the World Bank headquarters near 18th and Hstreets NW, police told The Washington Post.

Student photographersCaroline New, with The Daily Pennsylvanian at the University ofPennsylvania, and Aaron Bernstein, with the Indiana Daily Student atIndiana University, along with four other students, followed the protesters andentered through an unlocked door into the lobby of the building, Beckersaid.

Becker said the students photographed and videotaped 36 protestersas they “busted stuff up” in the lobby. As Metropolitan Police Departmentofficers approached, the protesters broke through a rear glass door and fled thescene, Becker said. The student photographers remained at the site where policeofficers handcuffed them and took them into custody.

Both New andBernstein had press credentials issued by the Philadelphia Police Department andpresented them to officers when they entered the World Bank headquarters, Beckersaid. He said police officers said they would not honor the credentials becausethey were issued for a jurisdiction more than 100 miles away. Previously, a D.C.police spokesperson said that official credentials from any law enforcementagency would be recognized.

In California, Sacramento City Collegestudent Nick Varanelli, a photographer for The Express student newspaper,was taking photos of an anti-war demonstration when police barricaded MissionStreet in downtown San Francisco and arrested 300 protesters, includingVaranelli. Varanelli said he repeatedly produced his Express press passfor the officers, who told him it would not be honored because it was notcertified by the San Francisco Police Department. He said police also threatenedto confiscate the pass if he continued to show it.

Varanelli was one ofmore than 1,300 people arrested citywide in San Francisco March 20. After beingdetained for eight hours, Varanelli was charged with rioting and blockingtraffic and released.

Dewayne Tully, a spokesperson for the San FranciscoPolice Department, said although the department does issue official presspasses, other credentials are honored by officers at events that draw reportersfrom other cities, such as the protests.

“We did have some cases wherereporters were caught up in a sweep because they failed to disperse,” Tullysaid. “They were brought to the arrest facility, but we were able to get thosereporters released.”

Tully said the standards applied to professionaljournalists do not always apply to students.

“Generally we honorcredentialed press people who work for an established news agency rather thanfor a school,” Tully said. “In ordinary circumstances, we would haveaccommodated the student, but in this case I think we were looking for fullycredentialed people from established news agencies.”

Tully added thatwhile he is not familiar with the specifics of Varanelli’s case, he could havebeen arrested for failing to heed the warnings of police officers or forinterfering with police operations in some way. He said police always issuethree warnings to disperse before making arrests.

However, according toVaranelli, there were “absolutely no warnings from police.” He said he willplead not guilty at his court hearing, scheduled for June 18. If he is foundguilty, he could face a maximum of one year in jail.

“I wasn’t part ofthe protest,” Varanelli said. “I was taking pictures.”

SPLC View: Therefusal of law enforcement agencies to recognize the right of student mediaorganizations to lawfully cover protests is a serious and frustrating problem.Following the arrest of a number of student reporters last year, the StudentPress Law Center, the Society of Professional Journalists and the ReportersCommittee for Freedom of the Press joined to file a letter of protest with theDistrict of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department. Despite some assurance thatpolice officers would alter their tactics, the arrests this month show that thepolice continue to show little regard for student press rights. At least inD.C., they may soon be forced to change. The D.C. Police are currently beingsued by a group that includes student journalists who allege they wereunlawfully arrested and mistreated while covering the World Bank/InternationalMonetary Fund protests last fall.