|Aug 18, 2000
Reporters arrested, assaulted by police at Democratic convention
- Los Angeles police have been accused of targeting journalists when they clear crowds of protesters from the streets, and at least a few reporters have ended up in jail or in hospitals as a result.
Journalists have been arrested and assaulted in a number of episodes during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles this week, in what seems to be a growing trend during protests at large political events. The Los Angeles incidents come on the heels of two reporters’ arrests during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia two weeks ago.
Journalists covering protests in Los Angeles on Monday night, the first night of the Democratic convention, suddenly found themselves being hit by rubber bullets and charged by officers on horseback. The Associated Press reported that when police started moving in on protesters leaving a free concert, the journalists started “separating themselves from the main body of fleeing concertgoers and waving credentials.”
A Houston Chronicle reporter was knocked over a barricade by a mounted police officer. According to a Chronicle editor who was on the phone with her at the time, she was waving credentials and begging police to let her inside the security fence when an officer on horseback collided with a group of people she was with. She sought help for a cut knee, but was instead ordered to run. Six different officers refused her pleas for help finding First Aid, according to the editor.
A reporter for Hearst Newspapers wearing a press ID and DNC credentials was reportedly clubbed by a police officer during the same incident. The Chronicle and Hearst have also sent written protests to the city over the police behavior.
A number of reporters and photographers were hit with rubber bullets fired by police, which left large welts on their skin.
Reporters for the Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press were arrested Tuesday night while covering a bicycle-based protest designed to “promote bicycling as a way to relieve traffic congestion and pollution.”
Tribune reporter Flynn McRoberts was arrested with protesters in the bicycling event were traveling through downtown streets with police escorts. He was held for eight hours before being released. Editors in Chicago, who had lost communication with McRoberts while he was phoning in a story during the protest, called a special media hotline set up for the convention when McRoberts did not call back. Hotline attorneys worked with police to secure his release.
McRoberts was cited for “reckless driving” of a bicycle, although the charge was modified to “obstructing a public way” after prosecutors found that the recklessness charge cannot apply to bicycles. His rented bicycle is still being held by police as evidence.
Associated Press broadcast reporter Brian Bland also was arrested, and his reporting equipment and bicycle were confiscated. The AP is protesting the arrest.
Police spokesman Commander David Kalish said that the two reporters were arrested because they were doing the same things that the protesters were doing.
The media hotline was set up by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and manned by Gary Bostwick and other attorneys from Davis Wright Tremaine in Los Angeles.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday said it intended to file a federal lawsuit against the police department for deliberately attacking members of the media during the Monday confrontations, according to Los Angeles Daily News and AP reports.
“The LAPD deliberately targeted members of the media, clubbing and shooting them,” ACLU chief counsel Michael Small said at a press conference.
“It was a really shocking and, I think, troubling display of excessive force by police,” ACLU spokesman Christopher Calhoun said.
“It would be ludicrous to imagine the LAPD would target members of the media,” LAPD spokesman David Kalish responded. “However, during the incident following the rock concert, it may be possible that media who were in the group were inconvenienced.”
On Wednesday, at a protest against police brutality, a Cable News Network sound technician was hospitalized after being struck in the chest by a police baton during a scuffle between police officers and protesters.
According to a broadcast report and a story on CNN.com, a CNN photographer had dropped his cellular telephone during the standoff. After a police officer retrieved the phone, the unnamed CNN sound technician leaned forward to take the phone from the officer. When leaning forward, she reportedly was “jabbed” in the stomach with a baton by another police officer.
After being struck by the officer, she was taken to Glendale Memorial Hospital, where she was diagnosed with bruised and contused ribs and then released, according to CNN.com.
The web site reported that CNN News Group CEO Tom Johnson wrote a letter of complaint to L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks complaining that “unnecessary force” was used against the injured technician.
“We expect a prompt review by LAPD of this incident and a reprimand of the officer involved,” Johnson said in the letter.
Interviewed later on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” police spokesman Kalish said, “We apologize for [the incident] but, unfortunately, that’s what happens in these types of situations when journalists are integrated in a violent situation.”
According to a CNN account, Kalish said Police Chief Bernard Parks asked the police department’s Internal Affairs division to investigate the incident. “They’ll conduct a thorough investigation,” Kalish added.
Police arrested 38 of the demonstrators at the police brutality protest, bringing the number of convention-related arrests to 192 since Saturday. Protesters reportedly threw bottles and other objects at police, who used batons and fired rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
Although there were no known reports of journalists being assaulted two weeks earlier in Philadelphia, at least two reporters were arrested while covering protests or interviewing protesters.
A reporter for an online news service was arrested during protests. He called the Reporters Committee hotline, and attorney Samuel Klein of the law firm Dechert worked to secure his release.
A Reuters reporter was also detained after police stopped a van carrying 19 demonstrators whom the reporter was chronicling, according to a Washington Post account. He was reportedly released later without being charged.
The Reporters Committee has been operating emergency hotlines for reporters at national conventions since 1972, and has started providing such services during other major political events, such as World Bank and World Trade Organization meetings, as arrests of journalists become more common.
© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press