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St. Paul dropping all misdemeanor charges for journalists arrested during RNC

Charges will be dropped against journalists who were arrested and charged with misdemeanors for unlawful assembly during the Republican National Convention, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said today.

Many reporters, photographers and bloggers were among the 818 people arrested during the Sept. 1-4 convention. Many were trapped on a bridge with protesters on the Thursday night, just before Sen. John McCain made his acceptance speech. Police had warned the large group to dissipate, then closed in from both sides of the bridge and made mass arrests.

The mayor's ruling applies only to journalists getting misdemeanors, but he said that, with the proliferation of alternatative media covering the convention, the definition of journalist will be broadly applied as they try to ascertain identities and credentials. City officials said they're not sure how many people this will affect.

Here's the mayor's announcement:

Mayor Coleman Announces Policy Not to Pursue Certain Misdemeanor Charges Against Journalists

SAINT PAUL - Mayor Chris Coleman announced today that the city will decline to prosecute misdemeanor charges for presence at an unlawful assembly for journalists arrested during the Republican National Convention. He made the announcement after consultation with the city attorney’s office, which recommended the city not pursue misdemeanor prosecution of these individuals.

“This decision reflects the values we have in Saint Paul to protect and promote our First Amendment rights to freedom of the press,” Mayor Coleman said. “A journalist plays a special role in our democracy and that role is just too important to ignore. At the scene, the police did their duty in protecting public safety. In this decision, we are serving the public’s interest to maintain the integrity of our democracy, system of justice and freedom of the press.”

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.

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Comments (5)

I think they ought to get together and bring a class action suit against the city for violation of their constitutional rights. We need to be informed about what is going on in this nation and requiring journalists to be “embedded” and therefore controllable is a form of prior censorship. This should be punished to the full extent of the law to warn other political groups that this un-American activity will not be tolerated.

This isn’t communist china and shouldn’t be allowed to become like it. Our democracy is only as secure as our press is free and vigorous.

Wow! Suddenly Mayor Coleman and the Saint Paul police acknowledge the existence of the Constitution of the United States as a reference document worthy of consideration??!?!?

What suddenly changed their minds? Pending lawsuits sure to drain the city's coffers of millions of dollars? Certainly not personal integrity for that would have shown up in advance of all the negative publicity their actions and pathetic inaction have engendered.

This tiny admission of wrongdoing does nothing to rewind the abusive experience endured by Amy Goodman and her two producers. This does nothing to replace the valuable video footage that was lost do to confiscated cameras that would have documented the true behavior of the security forces - good or bad. This does nothing to change the fact that for a night or so, dozens of journalists were political prisoners of the City of Saint Paul at the behest of the Republican Party and the Bush Administration's Homeland Security Department along with fellow citizens whose crime was simply trying to express their opinions as if they lived in a free country.

This also does nothing to help the hundreds of innocent citizens attempting to express their 1st Amendment Rights who were rounded up like so much cattle - ushered onto the bridge in order to be detained, NOT, as this article claims, violating orders to disperse. They were herded and cornered like wild animals, and then once trapped with no place to go, were intimidated with pepper spray, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and threats like: "If you don't keep your hands on your head and remain seated you will be shot". This I heard with my own ears while on the phone with a friend who was being detained.

This is a tiny baby step away from the fascistic crackdown that was enforced, but not nearly enough. Mayor Coleman, County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and other local officials have a lot to answer for regarding their behavior and their jobs should hang in the balance if Twin Cities' residents have the spine to stand up to this Gestapo wannabe nonsense.

Question... With Bob Fletcher's #1 Lieutenant incarcerated for fraud, what kind of deal to keep him out of jail did Fletcher make with the FBI and Homeland Security to allow this over-the-top, abusive police state action boot to be placed on the neck of citizens attempting to speak the truth to power during the RNC? How much did he compromise the integrity of his officers to save his own ass?

Coleman? What can I say? He simply aided, abetted and enabled war criminals to hold sway over our State and the City of Saint Paul for a price.

Thirty pieces of silver no doubt.

Where would we be if being robbed or burglarized we didn't have the police to call? However, when "peace officers" foment violence at peaceful demonstrations, in black uniforms, without badges or identifying name plates, for what the police chief calls "control" functions, there is an enormous disconnect between protecting public safety and becoming the agent threatening public safety.

The pre-emptive arrests, illegal searches, threatening behaviors with oversized weapons against unarmed civilians and journalists is not an exercise in "protecting public safety," but trampling on the rights of citizens under a false guise of providing security. My five decades plus in this country has allowed me the experience to hear twenty somethings to shout during protests, "Is this what a police state looks like...?" and to understand their anger. That IS what a police state looks like, whether it appears daily or whether it lurks as a latent force ready to squelch any dissent that rears its head... all in the name of "security." Coleman and his officers should be ashamed of themselves.

Mayor Coleman's utter arrogance, announcing his city attorney recommends no prosecution. Mayor Coleman initiates pre-emptive strikes targeting journalists, continues through the convention with a focused effort to take journalists off the streets, and after the convention is over, announces his full knowledge of the city's adoring celebration of the importance of freedom of the press and free speech. Is the mayor truly as moronic as he sounds? What party does he belong to?

It's is an understatement to say that journalists don't deserve to be assaulted, arrested or cited by police. However, to stop there misses the point of what happened in the Twin cities before and during the Republican convention. Neither should protesters, legal observers, medics, and bystanders be assaulted, arrested or cited, but they were. By the hundreds.

In a recent open letter dated September 12, 2008, and not easily found online, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman manages to skirt obvious and unprovoked police violence at the same time as revising history by claiming that police reacted only to "rioters" during the RNC: http://coldsnaplegal.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/rnc-response-91708.pdf.

Coleman starts off by comparing the RNC security plan with that of the DNC, claiming that unlike in Denver his plan was to "deploy the minimum amount of force necessary to ensure public safety." Coleman fails to mention whether his interpretation of the "minimum amount of force" included copious pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades used indiscriminately against hundreds of people. He also fails to mention that protesters coming to the Twin Cities were greeted prior to the convention with numerous house raids, based on highly dubious evidence of probable cause.

Coleman continues, unable to "adequately describe the feeling" as he watched a dumpster get overturned and a window get smashed. According to Coleman, fearful that the city would be lost "to chaos," he summarily justified the violent police response for days on the streets and in the jail by sensationalizing nothing more than petty vandalism.

Coleman's whitewash investigation is more evidence of his desire to revise history according to the perspective of law enforcement. It also underscores his lack of interest in ensuring accountability for what happened in the Twin Cities. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, one of the former federal prosecutors, Tom Heffelfinger, co-leading a supposed investigation into RNC security, the review will not "explore allegations of police wrongdoing or violations of people's rights."

Returning the Coleman's open letter, he appears delusional about the harm his police caused by claiming that "no one was seriously injured." He obviously missed the dozens if not hundreds impacted by tear gas and pepper spray, not to mention rubber bullets and batons. He also missed the press conference outside his office held on September 5, 2008, highlighting some of the victims of police brutality: http://blip.tv/file/1251966/.

So, to boil the obvious police violations down to only the simple arrest of journalists only adds insult to injury. Further adding insult to injury, Coleman cloaked himself in the First Amendment, outrageously claiming that Republicans and protesters "shared the same stage." Not only was free speech banished from the Twin Cities for a week, if not longer, but to ignore the systematic way in which police intimidated and prevented people from expressing themselves is completely unconscionable and Mayor Coleman ought to be ashamed of himself.