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Tuesday, September 2, 2008 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) Condemns Police Intimidation...
2008-09-02

Amy Goodman & Two Democracy Now! Producers Arrested at RNC Protest

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Guests

Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! producer, arrested and charged on Monday while covering the anti-RNC protests in the streets of St. Paul.

Nicole Salazar, Democracy Now! producer, arrested and charged on Monday while covering the anti-RNC protests in the streets of St. Paul.

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More than 280 people were arrested here in St. Paul Monday, the opening day of the Republican National Convention. Among them were several journalists covering the protests in the streets, including three of us at Democracy Now! Amy was detained trying to question police officers about the arrests of Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: More than 280 people were arrested here in St. Paul on Monday, the opening day of the Republican National Convention. Among them were several journalists covering the protests in the streets, including three of us at Democracy Now! I was detained trying to question police officers about the arrests of Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. Nicole and Sharif were covering a police crackdown on a street protest against the Republican National Convention.

Nicole’s camera captured her arrest and assault by the officers.

    NICOLE SALAZAR: Watch out! Watch out! Press!

    POLICE OFFICER: Get out of here! Move!

    NICOLE SALAZAR: Where are we supposed to go? Where are we supposed to go?

    POLICE OFFICER: Get out of here!

    NICOLE SALAZAR: Dude, I can’t see! Ow! Press! Press! Press!

    POLICE OFFICER: Get down! Get down on your face! On your face!

    NICOLE SALAZAR: I’m on my face!

    POLICE OFFICER: Get down on your face!

    NICOLE SALAZAR: Ow! Press! Press!

AMY GOODMAN: Shortly after, I arrived and was arrested while questioning the officers about Sharif and Nicole’s arrest.

    DENIS MOYNIHAN: Release the accredited journalists!

    AMY GOODMAN: Where’s the reporters? Sir?

    POLICE OFFICER: Ma’am, get back to the sidewalk.

    DENIS MOYNIHAN: Release the accredited journalists now!

    AMY GOODMAN: Sir, just one second. I was just running from the convention floor.

    DENIS MOYNIHAN: You are violating my constitutional rights. You are violating their constitutional rights.

    POLICE OFFICER: Sidewalk now!

    AMY GOODMAN: Sir, I want to talk to your superior —-

    POLICE OFFICER: Arrest her?

    AMY GOODMAN: Do not arrest me!

    POLICE OFFICER: You’re under arrest.

    POLICE OFFICER: Hold it right there. You’re under arrest. Stay right there. Back up. Back up.

    POLICE OFFICER: Everybody, you cross this line, you’ll be under arrest, so don’t do it.

    CROWD: Let her go!

    DENIS MOYNIHAN: Amy, we are going to get you out of here very soon.

    AMY GOODMAN: This is outrageous.

    DENIS MOYNIHAN: Yes, we have people working on it.

    AMY GOODMAN: Nicole has a bloody nose. And I think that Sergeant McKinty said he -— they won’t put me on [inaudible] if Nicole’s not there.

AMY GOODMAN: Before I arrived, Democracy Now! producer Mike Burke spoke to Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher about Nicole and Sharif’s arrest. Fletcher was also questioned by a journalist seeking the release of his colleague, Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke.

    AP JOURNALIST: ...get his gear or get him out?

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: Yeah, well, we can talk – I mean, after everything — look, I couldn’t tell you which one he is, and obviously there’s three different mobile field [inaudible].

    MIKE BURKE: We have two journalists in there, as well. I’m from the national radio and TV show Democracy Now!

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: I don’t doubt you are, and I want to help you in any way we can. But —-

    MIKE BURKE: One of them, you can see. She -— Nicole Salazar is sitting right there.

    Are there any protections for journalists who are covering [inaudible]?

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: Yeah, I think it will all sort out, if, in fact, there was a journalist in the middle of there.

    MIKE BURKE: She’s been covering — we just came from Denver. We covered the Democratic convention.

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: I’m sure that we’ll be able to work it all out.

    MIKE BURKE: I know, but she’s being detained right now.

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: She is, that’s right. And the Minneapolis police officers have detained her, and so I can’t undetain her.

    MIKE BURKE: I mean, you are the sheriff?

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: I am, and once you get to the jail, it’ll be under my control. Right now it’s under the Minneapolis Police Department.

    MIKE BURKE: What jail is she being taken to?

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center. It’s right over here. 425 Grove.

    MIKE BURKE: OK. And how long do you think she’ll be detained for?

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: It all depends on the nature of the charge, etc. It could be anywhere from a couple hours to a day and a half.

    MIKE BURKE: Now, if the charge is riot, what is that?

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: Generally, we...

AMY GOODMAN: Most of the arrests took place within hours of a 10,000-strong peace march organized by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War. After the rally ended, several splinter groups broke off for spontaneous actions in the streets of St. Paul.

While most protesters demonstrated peacefully, some engaged in property damage, slashing car tires, throwing bottles, tipping trash bins and breaking windows of cars and buildings. One of the broken windows came in the building that houses Saint Paul Neighborhood Network —- that’s SPNN -— where Democracy Now! is broadcasting from this week.

But police used harsh tactics, including chemical irritants, to disperse everyone, even those protesters who remained peaceful. Officers in riot gear fired teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets in a series of standoffs around the downtown St. Paul area.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar were covering one of those standoffs before their arrest. They were released last night but now face pending charges on suspicion of committing a felony riot. It’s called “PC riot,” probable cause riot. I’ve been charged with obstruction of legal process and interference with a, quote, “peace” officer. Overall, police say some 120 people face pending charges.

Sharif and Nicole join me now here in St. Paul. Welcome to Democracy Now! I don’t think we expected to be in jail last night, but Nicole, let’s start with you. That was very dramatic footage. Explain what happened. This was actually just outside SPNN, Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, public access TV offices here on Jackson and 7th in downtown St. Paul.

NICOLE SALAZAR: Well, basically, Sharif and I had been out that morning filming the antiwar protest, which was mostly peaceful. We were out for three hours, four hours filming that. Eventually, we left the main protest. We went back to the office. We were going to digitize our tapes.

And then, from the offices, which, like you said, are here in SPNN, we saw that there was some activity down on the street, so we grabbed our camera. Basically, what we saw then was just police in riot gear moving down the street. We didn’t see any crowds. So I grabbed my camera, and I ran out the door and just basically followed the police.

I saw that they were preparing to put on teargas masks, and I was just filming them. Shortly after, Sharif came down, and, you know, he brought my press pass down and put that around my neck. So we followed the crowd for a few blocks, and very quickly we saw that there were police coming from all directions. There were police on horseback. There were police on bicycles. And there were police officers in riot gear.

So, that moment that you saw, that was after we had moved into an intersection where police were coming from three different directions. They were telling us to move back, and that’s what we were trying to do. That’s what I was trying to do in the video. I was trying to move back, but I was in a parking lot, and I wasn’t able to get back. And one —-

AMY GOODMAN: A car was behind you, a parked car?

NICOLE SALAZAR: Cars were behind me. We were in a parking lot. And, you know, I was telling them that "I’m press. I’m press. Please, you know, don’t -— you know, let me pass." But I couldn’t turn around. And I tried to move in between the —- between two cars, and instead of, you know, letting me pass and following the crowd, they instead came right after me and slammed me into the car, at which point I think my camera came back and hit me in the face. And two cops were also behind me, and they pushed me through that row of cars into the next area of the parking lot and slammed me to the ground and said, “Get your face on the ground! Get your face on the ground!” And I was, you know, at that point -—

AMY GOODMAN: So you were on your stomach, on your face, on the ground.

NICOLE SALAZAR: I was on my stomach on the ground. And one of the officers, I think he was trying to grab me. He was trying to drag me. He was grabbing my leg. And another officer put his boot on my back and was pressing me to the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: And he was pulling you with your leg, the other officer.

NICOLE SALAZAR: He was trying to pull me. They weren’t very well coordinated, I guess, because one of them was, you know, pushing me to the ground with his foot, and I was stomped on, so I had to stay where I was, but the other one was pulling on my leg.

AMY GOODMAN: So if he was dragging you, and they told you, “Put your face” — we heard him say, “Put your face on the ground,” then they would drag your face along the ground.

NICOLE SALAZAR: I guess so. I was trying — I was trying to keep my face up, because I kept trying to tell them I’m press and show them my pass. And I had my camera in my hand, and I was trying to protect that.

AMY GOODMAN: We heard you shouting, "Press! Press!"

NICOLE SALAZAR: Right. So I guess they were, you know, trying to drag me and get me into this area, and I was surrounded by maybe five or six cops at that point. And eventually, I just had to, you know, acquiesce, and I just laid there and put my head on the ground. And I could see that my nose was bleeding onto the pavement.

AMY GOODMAN: Were there medics around?

NICOLE SALAZAR: Shortly thereafter, a medic did come over, and, you know, he asked me if my teeth were hurting, what had happened. And I was like, “You saw what happened. You know these police officers knocked me down.” And he, you know, wiped my face with a towel. But I kept just saying, “I’m with the press. I’m with Democracy Now!” You know, “I want to be released.”

AMY GOODMAN: Had they handcuffed you by now?

NICOLE SALAZAR: Yes, they had put me in those plastic cuffs, and my hands were behind my back. And my camera was, you know, two feet away from my face, lying on the ground. And I think shortly thereafter one officer came over and picked up the camera and took out the battery. And at that point I was worried that they were going to take my tape, but I don’t think — I mean, they didn’t, because now we have the tape, but he did take the battery out, I guess so the camera wouldn’t be recording.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, where were you when all of this was happening?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, I was with Nicole the entire time while we were following the protesters and the cops in the streets. And Nicole gave a very good description of what happened. But basically, it seemed like the police were — they formed a perpendicular line and were pushing back most of the protesters, and on a perpendicular street were doing the same, and basically corralled everyone on that parking lot, which is on Jackson between 7th and 9th. And once they had most people in the parking lot, they just rushed it.

AMY GOODMAN: So it was like a pincer move, where they came in from all directions.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: You couldn’t escape.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And they kept —-

AMY GOODMAN: You asked one of the police officers, by the way, Nicole, how can you get out?

NICOLE SALAZAR: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did he say?

NICOLE SALAZAR: He didn’t -— he didn’t respond to me. I just said, “How can I get out?” because I was moving backwards into those cars, and I said, you know, “Where am I supposed to go?” And at that point, they just, you know, totally rushed me and knocked me down.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And, I mean, this isn’t like a, you know, a conversation you’re having with just a person. This is a cop in full riot gear. These are pretty big guys, generally, and they’re screaming at you to move.

And so, what happened was, they rushed the parking lot. Everyone in the parking lot was subject to arrest. They just rushed in. And Nicole very bravely was there filming the protesters. And you see that she gets tackled down very violently.

I was just on the outskirts of that, and I saw what had happened. So I ran in. I was holding a microphone. So I held it, you know, above my head with my left hand high to pose no threat. I held — I had a Democracy Now! press pass, as well as an RNC press pass, which gave me access to inside the convention, which is a hard one to get. You know, you have to get vetted through your Social Security number to get that one, so it’s a higher-degree press pass, as well. Anyway, I was holding my Democracy Now! one and screaming, “She’s press! She’s my co-worker! Let her go!”

And then, when I was doing that, three — two or three police officers tackled me. They threw me very violently against a wall. Then they threw me to the ground. I was kicked in the chest several times. A police officer ground his knee into my back. And I was handcuffed with plastic handcuffs. And I was also, the entire time, telling them, “I’m media. I’m press. I’m credentialed. I’m an accredited journalist.” But there was no — that didn’t seem to matter at all.

I looked over, saw Nicole on the floor on her stomach with her hands cuffed behind her back. I yelled over to her, and I saw her face was completely bloodied. This entire time, I kept telling them to let us go.

There was a photographer right next to me who was also taken down pretty violently. He was screaming he was press, as well. He had credentials. He kept saying he was a photographer for the New York Post. And quite funnily, he said, “For Christ’s sake, it’s a Republican paper!” But that didn’t seem to matter.

And then, that was it. You know, we were — we slowly got processed. We all got pushed over to the other wall opposite. They lined us up. I kept asking for them to bring Nicole to me, but they refused. And then I looked up, and I saw you walking towards me in handcuffs.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I had gotten the call — I was — I had just been interviewing someone in the Alaska delegation on the floor of the convention at the Xcel Energy Center and making my way over to Minnesota, where we are now, the Minnesota delegation. And as I was talking to someone, I got the call from Mike Burke, from Mike, who was also on the scene, said, “I believe that Sharif and Nicole have just been arrested.” So I was with Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films. We were filming delegate interviews. I had just talked to a veteran from Virginia.

We raced out and just ran down the street. I even stopped a police officer. I said, “Get me to that site. Our reporters have been arrested.” But he didn’t comply. But we were running as fast as we could, and the police had blocked off different areas of St. Paul, so we had to even run more of a detour. We kept running down the street. Finally, we made our way. I had, of course, my credentials flying, because you have the top security credential to be on the convention floor, then our Democracy Now! credential.

Finally, I made it to the police line, where the police in riot gear were lined up. I asked to speak to a commanding officer. They immediately grabbed me. I said, “Sir, I just want to speak to a commanding officer. My reporters are inside.” They’ve got their ID. I mean, we’ve done this in New York, as well, when there is confusion about a reporter. They immediately grabbed me, handcuffed me — and as you haven’t quite talked about, those plastic handcuffs cut right into your wrist, and they make those tight — pushed me to the ground.

I kept demanding — I saw you across the way, Sharif. I was looking for you, Nicole. They said you were bloodied. I demanded to be able to see you. I couldn’t find you. I demanded to be brought over to Sharif. I did go over to be with Sharif. They took my picture. They put the big white plaque under me with all my information, and an officer stands there with the picture. I kept demanding to see the reporters asking why we were being arrested. They finally — when they put me into the police wagon, they said that Nicole, you would be there. You were one of the first arrested. And that’s where I saw you with your Democracy Now! credentials hanging around your neck.

And then we were brought off to the jail. That’s where we were separated. They have these — those who are charged with misdemeanor are put in the — they have these pens inside the police garage. So I was brought there.

As I came in and I was speaking to the corrections officers, who did identify themselves — I kept asking every officer to identify themselves — a St. Paul cop behind them kept screaming, “Shut up! You, shut up!” And I asked — I said, “I want to know what your name is or your badge.” “Shut up! Shut up!” he said, I think to the chagrin of the corrections officers. One of the head guys in the jail came over and said, “He’s not ours. We can’t force him to identify himself. Our policy is that they identify themselves.” And stayed there for several hours.

Ultimately, they released me, interference with, I think they said, the judicial process or with a peace officer. They had — I thought you were going to come in with me, but they said you were brought to jail. So where were you, Nicole?

NICOLE SALAZAR: Well, first of all, one thing that you just left out from the paddy wagon that I just want to recall is when you and I were both banging on the glass, and we said, you know, “We’re press! We’re press!” Their response to that was, you know, to tell each other the two people in there were not being cooperative. So I just wanted to —-

AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. He said, “We’ve got to get out of here, because two people are getting increasingly uncooperative.”

I also said to an officer, “I demand to see Nicole Salazar, because her face is bloodied.” And he said, “Listen, I’ve been knifed in my life.” I said, “Yes, but we’re not responsible for that, though I’m sorry that that happened to you. But this happened because of you, sir.”

NICOLE SALAZAR: Right. So then, in the prison, after I came out of the wagon -— I came after, right after you — there was one officer who was videotaping all of us coming down off the stairs. And I asked him for his badge number, and he said he didn’t have a badge. And I asked him for his name, and he wouldn’t give it to me.

But I saw you go through the double doors, and, you know, I was thinking I would be right behind you. But when I got inside the main area of the prison, I didn’t see you. You know, instead, they sort of search you, just, you know, a regular search. And then they make you go through a metal detector. And at that point I was put into a cell, which I later measured to be about nine by eleven paces. And I was in there with seventeen other — seventeen protesters who had been also arrested that day. Some of them were still soaked with, you know, pepper spray, and their skin was burning, and they were asking for a nurse. But in the time that I was in there with them, they didn’t get to see anybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, where were you put?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I was taken to prison, as well. But I think one thing that was left out also in the story, and I think this happened to you, as well, Amy, was that while we were standing waiting to be processed and put on the bus, I was standing there with three credentials around my neck: my Democracy Now! press pass, which has my picture; the RNC press one, which gets you inside the convention; and a separate one, which I was supposed to put on Nicole, but I never actually did, was a limited RNC press one. A man walked up to me, who was not in uniform of St. Paul or Minneapolis police — I was later told he was Secret Service — came up and looked at my RNC press badge, said, “What is this?” I said, “It’s my pass to get inside the Xcel Center.” He said, “Well, you won’t be needing that to go — you’re not going to be going inside the convention center today,” and took it and walked off. I immediately protested. I said, “I want this around my neck to prove I’m an accredited journalist to go inside the convention center.” And he said, “You won’t be needing it today,” walked off.

I asked my arresting officer, who incidentally was not my arresting officer — they just assigned some guy to take the picture of me and process me — he said, “I don’t know who that guy is. He looks like Secret Service.” I said, “Well, why don’t you acknowledge that this was taken, witness it somehow?” And he refused to do so. And I believe they did the same to you. They took that pass off your neck.

AMY GOODMAN: Right. The Secret Service came up, and they — he ripped it off of my neck.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: And I said, “That is my pass. I want a receipt that you have taken that.” But of course, they didn’t give it.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And then, once I was put on the bus, as well — and just to reiterate what you were saying, while I was being arrested, I was, you know, slammed violently. I got scratches on my elbow and bruises on my chest and back. But the most painful part of it was these plastic handcuffs. They were extremely tight. Getting onto the bus, I asked one of the officers, I said, “Can you just cut these off and put on new ones?” because you can’t loosen those. And his response to that was to grab them and tighten them. So it was very painful on the way. I actually still don’t have feeling in part of my hand. So —-

AMY GOODMAN: The same with mine. In fact, when they took mine off and put on new ones, they also were tighter.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: And they kept saying they’re not tight. And I kept saying, “No, they’re digging in.”

And so, I think the other major issue is the level of harassment of the press, and we’re seeing it increasingly. Of course, we just came out of Saturday, where we raced from the airport, got a text that I-Witness Video, which did such a remarkable job as the New York Police Department will also admit, documenting what happened in 2004 at the RNC, the I-Witness Video collective was in a house in St. Paul. They just arrived, beginning to organize their week of documenting what was happening here. And there was a preemptive raid in the house. They didn’t even have a warrant for this house. They had a warrant for the house next door. And the police moved in, and we documented all of that. I have to say, when I was inside the jail next to the pens, I asked one of the St. Paul cops what he thought about these preemptive raids. He said, “Awesome! Awesome!”

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, that’s another thing. And I said -— I kept saying — they kept asking me, “What are you doing here? Why are you here?” I said, “We’re press. We’re here to bear witness to what’s going on, and that’s why we’re in the streets.” And he kept saying, “Oh, you should use a telescopic lens,” or, “You know, when it gets rowdy, you should just stay behind the corner.” I said, “No, that’s not what we’re here to do. You need to respect the fact that we’re media. If someone’s carrying a camera, you don’t tackle them to the floor.” And this is respected widely in most of the world, but there seems to have been, in this country, a violation of that separation, and media are treated very badly, frankly. And this — it seems to be getting worse, especially in this RNC, with these preemptive raids, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And what they call these, quote, "national security events." Well, I’m very glad you’re out of jail. Nicole went to the hospital last night. Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, for being there, doing your job. Sharif?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I’d just like to thank all the producers here who helped us while we were inside, putting out the word to all the media — they were constantly doing interviews, they put out a press release — and just to thank everyone who called in. Apparently the jail got many, many calls, they said over a thousand, and I’m sure that helped secure our release. We both have pending felony charges and were released that night. So, just a big thank you to everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: One of those who weighed in was Congress member Keith Ellison of Minneapolis. He’s going to join us in a minute, and then we’re going to talk about what happened in New Orleans. Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, thanks so much for doing your job.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Thank you, Amy.

NICOLE SALAZAR: Thanks, Amy.

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