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2008-09-03

Amy Goodman Grills St. Paul Police Chief About Her Arrest and Two Democracy Now! Producers

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John Harrington, St. Paul police chief being questioned by Amy Goodman.

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On Tuesday morning, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington held a news conference where he spoke about the nearly 300 people arrested in a police crackdown on protesters a day earlier. Among them were several journalists covering the protests in the streets, including three of us at Democracy Now! — Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. Amy Goodman questions Harrington about the arrests. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:

Outside the Xcel Center, the protests continued on the streets of St. Paul. In the largest demonstration of the day, thousands of people took part in an anti-poverty rally and march organized by the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign that ended near the Republican convention arena. Hundreds of police officers, many in riot gear and on horseback and bicycles, were on the streets, as well. Police fired teargas, rubber bullets and flash bombs into the crowd. At least ten people were arrested during the day.

On Monday, the opening day of the Republican convention, nearly 300 people were arrested in a police crackdown on protesters, among them several journalists covering the protests in the streets, including three of us at Democracy Now! I was arrested along with Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. We were all released on Monday night.

Yesterday morning, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington held a news conference just blocks from the studio where we’re broadcasting from, Saint Paul Neighborhood Network. After our morning broadcast, we headed over to the news conference to hear what the police chief, Police Chief Harrington, had to say.

    POLICE CHIEF JOHN HARRINGTON: Yesterday, there was a group of people, not the protesters, in my mind, not the group that was here to have their voices heard in protest, but a group of criminals who came here with a very expressed goal and intent. They came here to try and stop the convention, to crash the gates, to stop the buses and the delegates from being able to do their lawful duty. They failed. They made numerous attempts to crash the gates and never really got in. They made numerous attempts to stop the buses, and while they slowed our transportation down a little bit, every delegate that left for the convention got to the convention, and every delegate that left that was heading back to their hotels at the end of the night got back to their hotels. So, on all points of that, in my mind, that means that the criminals who came here to damage city property, damage private property, assault and intimidate the public were unsuccessful in completing their mission.

    They tried very diligently to disturb the 10,000 estimated people that were there for a lawful protest at the State Capitol, who, despite that — and I really do give them great credit — despite the fact that the protesters were setting fires, slashing tires, throwing rocks and feces at people during their protest, the peaceful protesters maintained order, maintained their intent to get down to the public viewing area to protest, had their protest and moved on from there. And so, I give them also great credit for their perseverance in the face of what I’m sure must have seemed as a very scary sight as people ran in and out of their groups and tried to disrupt their peaceful protest and their ability to exercise their First Amendment rights.

    I believe that, overall, while it was — there were moments of chaos yesterday, what you saw yesterday was control. We expected to have problems, we were prepared for those problems, and we responded to those problems in, I think, a very reasonable approach and a very reasonable manner.

    Overnight, we had very few arrests; I believe nine arrests happened overnight. The total as of right now, we believe, is 283 arrests from the incidents yesterday, of which, of that 283, 120 of them are for felony — either felony riot, aggravated criminal damage to property or assault. There is fifty-one gross misdemeanor arrests, which are primarily lesser forms of aggravated criminal damage to property, and then there were 103 misdemeanor arrests, typically for participating in unlawful assembly or disorderly conduct.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    I’m Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!, a daily public radio and television program. I was arrested yesterday by the police, along with my two producers. And I want to know what the policy is for reporters. We are fully credentialed, all of us, both from the convention and our own press credentials.

    First, it was our two producers. It was over at 7th and Jackson. One of them, Nicole Salazar, had a camera. She was videotaping. The police moved in very quickly. She was stepping back behind the car. She was videotaping this whole thing. The police moved in at her. We have the videotape, played it on the show today. As she shouted “Press! Press!,” they said put your face in the ground. They pushed her to the ground. They put their boot in her back. Another one pulled on her leg, and they were telling her to keep her face down to pull along the gravel. Sharif Abdel Kouddous is our other producer. He was there. They threw him up against the wall. They bloodied his arm. They bloodied her face.

    And I was called. I was on the convention floor interviewing the delegation from Minnesota and Alaska. I got a call, the producers are being arrested. I raced down here by foot. I went up to the riot police line. I said, “I would like to talk to a commanding officer.” This is all videotaped. And they took me, handcuffed me immediately, said, “You’re under arrest.” They pushed me to the ground. I said, “You can clearly see I have all the proper credentials.” I have my security clearance for the floor, for example, of the convention. So Secret Service came over, and they pulled it off. “Now you don’t,” they said.

    So, my question is, they have — they face PC riot, probable cause riot. I’ve already been charged with a misdemeanor. What is your policy with the press? How is the press to operate in this kind of environment? And a last question is, our producers were here, but the police only allow in two people from each press, but this is empty, and all the police are here. They far outnumber us in the press. Why our reporters can’t be here?

    POLICE CHIEF JOHN HARRINGTON: I don’t — I can’t — the last part of that, I can’t answer.

    In terms of the policy, reporters have rights, and what we have tried to do is try and create a balance of that. If we announce, if there is an unlawful assembly or we are in the midst of a riot, we will announce — and I believe we announced routinely and rather loudly that we needed people to step out of the area — and that if reporters fail to do that, if they are in the midst of the riot, we can’t protect them, and it will be very difficult for us in a moment of that kind of chaos to be able to make those kind of fine distinctions.

    What we have attempted to do is to expedite — if reporters are taken into custody — to expedite making sure that they are taken out of the general population, try to review their cases, and try and get them released from custody, pending further investigations. The fact that a person is a reporter or has a credential doesn’t give them additional rights to commit any crimes, though. And I don’t — while I don’t know your case — I haven’t seen your video, so I really can’t respond to what you’re saying happened there in that particular case.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What is the crime that the reporters committed but reporting on what is happening?

    POLICE CHIEF JOHN HARRINGTON: And I can’t answer that question, because I haven’t seen your video. And I can’t really address that, because I think those cases are going to be eventually completely investigated. They will then be moved to a court for hearing, and that evidence would be part of that. And I really am not in a position to be able to argue the merits of the criminal case either way. But what I would say is that if a reporter is committing a crime while they’re there under their credentials, I think they become regular citizens. And I — so I cannot answer your question about that.

    But, in general, what we’re trying to do is give reporters access. We have tried to give them, in fact, I think extraordinary access by embedding reporters in our mobile field force, as we were trying to do everything we can to make our operation as transparent to the news media as we possibly can. If we have reporters that are caught up in the middle of a riotous situation, our intention is to try and, as quickly as possible, separate them out, and given a quick preliminary investigation, if it’s at all possible, to get them released from custody, which I believe was done in your case.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Do you [inaudible] how soon will they be dropping the charges against us?

    POLICE CHIEF JOHN HARRINGTON: They’ll investigate them, and if there is no grounds for the charges, I would expect they would, sure.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And the preemptive raid on I-Witness Video, the reason for that?

    POLICE CHIEF JOHN HARRINGTON: I don’t know anything about that.

AMY GOODMAN:

[no audio]... against my producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, and me. You heard what he said: he’s investigating.

And the second thing that he said, I asked him about, was whether — why there was a preemptive raid on I-Witness Video on Saturday at their home, the group that monitors police, where they’re staying in St. Paul. They come from New York and from around the country. The police moved in with a warrant that did not list their address but the house next door. They came into the house. One of those in charge, one of the authorities who moved in, had an AR-15 automatic weapon. When the police came into the living room, where the group was huddled, he had a pistol that was targeted at them.

Well, as for our case, we have been charged, Democracy Now! producers and I, with — I have been charged with a misdemeanor, obstruction of legal process and interference with a peace officer. Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar still face a charge of probable cause felony riot. We have yet to hear whether those charges will be dropped. The video of my arrest was the most viewed video on YouTube yesterday. You can go to our website at democracynow.org, where you can see that video, as well as Nicole Salazar videotaping her own violent arrest. Of course, she and Sharif had not gone to the protest to do that. They had gone to video what was taking place on the streets of St. Paul.

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