Journalists won’t be charged in RNC protests

St. Paul has announced it won’t prosecute any of the journalists who were rounded up in the various protests during the week of the Republican National Convention.

The announcement comes just a few days between the Society of Professional Journalists is to hold a discussion with journalists and law enforcement officials about the arrests.

Still unclear is how the police are going to approach the situation next time. St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington has said one of the biggest problems his department faced was determining who was a credentialed journalist at the RNC, and who was ‘self credentialed.’

The decision will only affect people identified as journalists who face the misdemeanor charge. Recognizing the growing media profession in print, broadcast and the Internet, the city attorney’s office will use a broad definition and verification to identify journalists who were caught up in mass arrests during the convention. It is not known how many cases this decision will affect.

Does this include, for example, the person Chief Harrington said claimed to be a journalist but turned out to be a clerk at Walgreen’s?

Some of the journalists discuss their arrests here, here, here, and here.

Update 1:34 p.m. What’s the definition of journalist? MPR’s Laura Yuen talked with city attorney John Choi about that and got this:

“We’re going to apply a broad definition of it. That’s one of the things that the city attorney is going to take a look at: who is claiming to be a journalist, and what’s their basis for their claim? We will try to apply it as broadly as possible, knowing that journalism is changing very dramatically and very quickly. It is no longer the kind of traditional three media outlets in a town. You have a lot of different sources and a lot of different people who are acting as journalists.”

What about bloggers? Mayor Chris Coleman said the city would have to look at each case individually.

Laura will have a story on tonight’s All Things Considered.

Update 3:17 p.m. The “Free Press” organization sends a news release:

The news from St. Paul City Hall is certainly welcome regarding the decision to drop charges against journalists who were arrested and cited during the RNC,” said Mike Bucsko, executive officer of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild Typographical Union, who spoke at the press conference. “However, it is essential the elected officials in St. Paul and Ramsey County examine the circumstances that led to the needless detention and harassment of journalists to ensure this type of indiscriminate behavior on the part of law enforcement does not happen again.”

And provides a link to the group’s news conference.

  • bsimon

    I wonder if this opens up a defense argument for other people rounded up during the protests to claim selective enforcement of the law. Any legal-eagles out there care to comment?

  • Mark Jepsen

    What I still don’t understand is why credentialed journalists, who were doing there best to display their press badges even as the police forced them to the ground and shoved their boots/knees into the journalists backs and necks, were still physically assaulted, restrained with cuffs, and detained for an extended time (in many cases overnight.)

    Were those credentials issued without any vetting?

    How would Amy Goodman receive a convention floor pass without an extensive check into her journalistic credentials?

    And why did a secret service agent in the detention area simply confiscate those credentials from certain journalists? (Without offering any official identification or explanation, by the way.)

    I guess if I want to preclude legitimate coverage of an event by journalists who may speak objectively, rather than espouse the scripted party-line (whatever “party” that may be) all I need to do is hire a few hooligans to start a disturbance in the vicinity of a peaceful march or protest. Once the pretense of “raging anarchy” is established, all bets are off, right?

    So what if those who end up being “vindicated” as legitimate journalists are preempted from doing their constitutionally protected job for a day or two? Right?

    I don’t buy the argument that it’s simply too difficult to verify… when the police are poised to exercise extensive restraint of any and all individuals who are in a given perimeter–even though many peaceful individuals were prevented by those same police from leaving that perimeter–the kind of over-reaction we witnessed during the RNC is inevitable.

    The $10 million negotiated by the City to cover potential legal liability incurred as a result of convention activity smells strongly of a payoff to squelch legitimate journalism and the civil rights of peaceful protesters.

  • John Normanton

    Failure to prosecute the police for their actions at the RNC proves that the USA government is no better than the brutal government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. As far as I am concerned this is living proof of why the USA does not belong on the human rights board at the United Nations. Back in 2001 when the USA was denied a position on the human rights board was a correct decision and one that should never have been changed.

  • Bob Collins

    Being a protester in St. Paul earlier this month was, perhaps, no cup of tea. But Mugable is responsible for the deaths of 20,000 Ndebele civilians alone.

    I’m not sure I’m seeing a parallel, or at least one that doesn’t minimize the problem in Zimbabwe.

  • Steve M.

    If I am reading the Mayor’s statement correctly, it appears the two Democracy Now producers aren’t off the hook yet. If I remember correctly, they were charged with felonies.