NEW YORK — Two reporters from the Ohio Daily Kent Stater were arrested and detained for more than 20 hours while covering a protest outside the Republican National Convention in August, despite holding press identification from their student newspaper.
Kent State University sophomore Beth Rankin and senior Nick Gehring were arrested with nearly 1,200 protesters on charges of disorderly conduct on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
Rankin and Gehring said they never imagined they would be arrested, believing their Stater-issued press passes, along with photo IDs, were sufficient press credentials.
“Press credentials [are] something that’s kind of foreign to me anyway just because [I’m a] young journalist,” Gehring said. Gehring said he had previously used his Stater press pass to cover high-security events—including presidential candidate speeches in Ohio—without a problem. But members of the New York City Police said the department never sanctioned student-media credentials. Rankin and Gehring “weren’t journalists, they were students, ” NYPD Lieutenant Gene Whyte said.
Rankin and Gehring were arrested on East 16th St., after riot police began arresting everyone present, Rankin said. Although the students told the officers they were members of the press, Gehring was held in jail for 22 hours and Rankin was held for 31 hours. Gehring attributes his release to luck. “[There was] no organization to the system at all.”
Rankin was held at Pier 57, an old bus terminal the protesters referred to as “Guantanamo Bay on the Hudson.”
“They would do a lot of moving us from cell to cell to cell, so that they could, you know, say that we were still moving throughout the system when really nothing was happening and it was just one big waiting game.”
Gehring appeared in court on Sept. 1; he anticipates the charge of disorderly conduct will be dropped and sealed. Rankin arranged a desk appearance and will avoid appearing in court.
Student journalists covering events such as the Republican National Convention should try to obtain a press credential from a law enforcement agency in their own jurisdiction, advises Greg Garneau, executive director of the National Press Photographers Association. Yet even reporters with this identification are not immune to arrests, Garneau said.
Whyte said that during the convention the NYPD accepted “government-issued, media ID.” However, identification from an employer may have been sufficient if the employer was a major media organization.
“If you were flying in from ABC News or … CBS or even some of these newspapers and you had an ID card from that, we accepted that also,” Whyte said.
As a further precaution, Garneau advises going to the venue early and attempting to get a pass from local law enforcement. But even these measures might not prevent some students from being detained if they are not holding the kind of credentials required by local police. Moreover, it is difficult for students to obtain press identification from some local jurisdictions, including the NYPD.
“We don’t give credentials to students,” NYPD Detective Mindy Diaz said.
Although Gehring does not plan to take immediate legal action, he said he feels that some kind of action is necessary.
“I’m a journalist and I’m a human being, and as both I think there are legal actions that probably should be taken,” he said.
Rankin does not plan to take further action.
“My main purpose is to get the word out about the terrible conditions and the way [the protesters] were treated. I was able to do that through my story so I really just don’t feel like a lawsuit is necessary.”