Journalists arrested while covering Occupy Wall Street protests in multiple cities
The intimidation and harassment of reporters by authorities has not been confined to widely-publicised hotspots such as New York and Oakland, Calif., but has moved into the heartland, with recent arrests of journalists caught on video in Wisconsin and Tennessee.
The latest incidents came Wednesday night, when police arrested Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Photographer Kristyna Wentz-Graff as she took pictures during a demonstration at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Oakland police arrested freelance journalist and cartoonist Susie Cagle.
They followed the arrest three days earlier of Nashville Scene reporter Jonathan Meador outside of Tennessee's Capital building. Meador's arrest was preceded nearly a month earlier by the arrests of three journalists covering protests in New York City.
International Press Institute (IPI) Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: "While many law enforcement officers have appropriately distinguished between demonstrators and journalists covering protests, a disturbing number have not. It is completely unacceptable to hinder reporting on a subject that is undoubtedly of public interest. Such reporting is vital to democracy, and authorities at every level of government - federal, state and local - must honour their constitutional obligation not to infringe upon the freedom of the press."
Bethel McKenzie also criticised what she said appeared to be "trumped-up charges" behind many of the arrests.
Soon after the protests began in mid-September in New York City, participants accused the New York Police Department of deliberately targeting for arrest those taking pictures of the police response, including both professional and citizen journalists.
WNET's MetroFocus reporter John Farley was arrested on 24 September while interviewing two women who had been pepper-sprayed. Although he was wearing WNET identification, he lacked an NYPD press credential police reportedly said was required for his release, and authorities later charged him with disorderly conduct. A judge dismissed the charge on Wednesday, but two other journalists arrested on 1 October - New York Times freelancer Natasha Lennard and Alternet's Kristen Gwynne - still face charges.
Meador was recording video while he spoke with protestors on Nashville's Legislative Plaza on 30 October when members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol moved in to disperse protestors, pushed him to the ground and arrested him. Although Meador twice identified himself as a journalist, police declined to check his credentials and cited him for criminal trespass and public intoxication. He was given no sobriety or Breathalyzer test, and the head of Tennessee's Department of Safety later defended the charge, even though he conceded that it was based on an arresting officer's observation.
Wentz-Graff fared better in Milwaukee, as Mayor Tom Barrett acknowledged that a video of her arrest last Wednesday - reportedly for being in the street as she took photos of protestors - showed that she was indeed wearing press credentials at the time. The journalist was later released without being charged with a crime.
Cagle, however, reportedly now faces a charge of unlawful assembly, even though she claimed she was wearing her press pass when she was arrested. She told KGO-TV in San Francisco: "I said I was press, I was originally told, 'We'll take care of that in a minute,' and a minute turned into 14 hours at two different jails."
Cagle, who reportedly will appear in court next month, told local media that she felt obligated to cover the story more than before and that she planned to return to the plaza where she was arrested.
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