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)

  1. Submitted by Charles Jacks on 09/19/2008 - 11:53 am.

    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.

  2. Submitted by Stephen Demetriou on 09/19/2008 - 02:08 pm.

    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.

  3. Submitted by Tom Poe on 09/20/2008 - 11:22 am.

    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?

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