In nearly every story,student journalists remain outside observers. But the Occupy movement signifiedthat slim percentage of coverage where reporters become actors in the story.
The images of policepepper-spraying students at the University of California at Davis becameindelible icons of the movement and underscored the power of news media. Theovernight raid of Zuccotti Park in New York City demonstrated equally thestruggles journalists on the ground were having with law enforcement foraccess.
And then came thearrests. Around the country, police corralled journalists along with theprotestors they were covering. At least 31 incidents nationwide arose ofreporters, some of them students, being detained or arrested during the courseof their coverage.
‘Iwasn’t scared, I was just angry’
Alisen Redmond andJudy Kim were covering the Occupy Atlanta protests Nov. 5 for their respectivepublications. For their trouble, both Redmond and Kim ended up spending a nightin jail, caught in a police roundup of 20 people at the event.
The pair of studentjournalists was arrested while gathering news at the protests near WoodruffPark, which was the scene of a similar police roundup Oct. 26 when 52 peoplewere brought in following a scheduled park closing, according to The Sentinel newspaper.
Kim, photographyeditor at Georgia State University’s The Signal, covered the Oct. 26 protests and thought sheknew how the arrests would play out. She told her editor she would photographthe protests once the situation between police and protestors had time to escalate.Kim arrived at the protest at 11:20 p.m., ready to document the arrests — lessthan 10 minutes later, she was the one in handcuffs.
“From what I remember,three officers just came at me,” Kim said. “They started grabbing my wrists,and I realized they were arresting me.”
Redmond, news editorat Kennesaw State University’s The Sentinel, was documenting the scene from a street thatwas closed to traffic but used by other members of the media.
“I was crouching inthe street taking video,” Redmond said, “and then this officer comes out ofnowhere, comes up from behind me, grabs my left arm and pulls me out of thestreet and says, ‘You’re going to jail.’”
Redmond identifiedherself as press to the officer, but he continued with the arrest, she said.
“I said, ‘Why aren’tyou arresting channel 5, channel 2, channel 11 and the AJC,’because they were in the exact same area I was,” she said. “And he ignored me.”
The two journalistswere arrested on the same charge — “Pedestrian Obstructing Traffic.”
At the time of herarrest, Kim was wearing a blue T-shirt adorned with the name of herpublication, The Signal, and her camera was visible. Her press passwas in her bag.
Unlike previous OccupyAtlanta incidents, the police were not using park or police car speakers,making them difficult to hear over yelling protestors, both Redmond and Kimsaid.
Redmond said shedidn’t hear audible warnings.
“This time they usedthe bullhorns, and that could not be heard in a crowd of a couple hundredpeople,” Redmond said. “I was standing about maybe 15 feet away from the personwith the bullhorn, and I could not understand what he was saying.”
In a letter to AtlantaPolice Chief George Turner, Society of Professional Journalists president JohnEnsslin urged him to drop the charges against Kim and Redmond.
“They were documentingfor the public the details of a newsworthy story,” Ensslin writes. “This wasnot an act of civil disobedience on their part; it was straight-up journalism,pure and simple.”
The two journalistswere kept in holding cells for 14 hours. But once released on bail, the ordealdid not end.
Redmond was told herproperty — a phone and voice recorder — would be at the Atlanta Public SafetyAnnex at 8 a.m. Monday. When she arrived, her belongings weren’t there. She wassent to two other precincts, neither of which could locate the items.
Eventually both itemswere returned to Redmond, but the journalists still face charges and have acourt date scheduled for March.
“People ask me if Iwas scared,” Redmond said. “I was just angry. Very angry.”
An occupied journalist
Jonathan Foster, too,thought he was just doing his job. The photographer for the Reporter magazine at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York was shootingphotos at an Occupy event in Washington Square Park on Oct. 28 when he foundhimself in unfamiliar territory — handcuffs.
A Tweeted photo showsFoster wearing a shirt emblazoned with the word “reporter” being led away fromthe scene.
In a Nov. 17 post onthe wall of a Facebook group called “Occupied Journalists,” Foster wrote abouthis ordeal.
“The assistantdistrict attorney offered me ‘the same thing as all the other protestors,’ anACD (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal) with 24 hours of communityservice or a hearing on the (December) 14th,” Foster wrote. “I was notprotesting that night, nor have I in the other times that I have photographedat Occupy Rochester or Occupy Wall St. I wanted to spread the word, and toemphasize knowledge of rights, professionalism, and a belief in the credibilityof what we do.”
With more than 900members, Occupied Journalists bills itself as “a discussion place for workingjournalists, be they staff, student or freelancer, to share experiences andadvice about covering Occupy protests nationwide.”
The group ismaintained by The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America.
Foster is beingrepresented by Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National PressPhotographers Association. He had an initial hearing in December and as ofpress time was scheduled to have another court date in January.
Professor v. Chicago Police Department
Though not coveringthe protests, Loyola University Professor Ralph Braseth had his own run-in Nov.12 with police while on the job.
Braseth wasphotographing for a feature on low-income teenagers who flood the Loop, aChicago community, on weekends when he happened upon a completely unrelatedscene inside a subway station.
As he watched twoplainclothes officers arrest a teen jumping the subway turnstile, Braseth hadhis video camera on and recording.
Braseth was standingon the other side of the turnstile about 40 feet away, he said.
“They got throughputting the handcuffs on the young kid,” he said. “One of them turned aroundand saw me and locked eyes on me and started coming toward me.”
His reaction wasquickly to put the camera in his pocket, a move that did not go unnoticed bythe officer.
The officer toldBraseth he was interfering with an investigation and cuffed him, he said.
“The young man and me,we walked up the stairs in handcuffs,” he said.
While sitting in theback of the police car, Braseth was told by officers that it was illegal tovideotape police in the course of their duty, apparently a vague reference tothe Illinois eavesdropping law, which makes it a felony to record aconversation without the permission of all parties involved. The penalties canbe even harsher when a police officer is recorded, though that part of the lawis being challenged in federal court.
But Braseth saidneither of the officers mentioned that specific law, and he was standing toofar away to record audio of their conversation anyway.
After the lecture,Braseth said the officer asked to see the video. He obliged.
The officer thenreached down and deleted the file, he said.
Though he knew hisrights had been violated, it wasn’t until the next day that Braseth decided hewanted to take action about what had happened.
He has filed acomplaint with the department, and has yet to hear back. He will wait for theresults before deciding on further legal action, he said.
As to how studentsshould deal with law enforcement, whether at an Occupy event or an unrelatedstory, Braseth said they should avoid becoming confrontational.
“I don’t believe inheroism when you’re in that kind of a situation,” he said. “If there’s 300journalists covering it, and you have the opportunity to walk away unscathed,do it. That’s what I’d say to students.”
But he was quick toadd that students should be covering Occupy, especially if they know of fellowstudents involved.
“Do they have theright to cover it? Of course they do,” Braseth said. “I admire the studentjournalists for being there.”
Newsroom discussionson protocol during these events remain important. Redmond said she was aware ofher rights as a journalist because she’d attended a forum the week prior.
Of course, things maystill not go as planned, and for students on the scene, it is likely anewsgathering experience they’ll be hard-pressed to forget.
“Those 10 minuteswhere I thought I was doing my job turned into 14 hours of sitting andwaiting,” Kim said. “An awful experience to say the least.”
By Nicole Hill and Peter Velz, SPLC staff writers