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 Another Reason to Remember September 11th 

Submitted by Ann Alquist on Thu, 09/11/2008 - 00:56

Back in my home country, I'm bracing myself for another anniversary of September 11th, 2001. It's the day when, for most Americans, the world suddenly seemed surprisingly hostile, when "They" acted out on a rage not experienced before in the United States. I'm going to remember it for another reason, and I was reminded of that reason when I spoke to a colleague who was arrested recently during the Republican National Convention last week. 

Going up University Avenue, Art Hughes, a reporter for Public News Service, was trying to get in front of a group of demonstrators. He found himself on the police line. He says they started lobbing concussion grenades and smoke into the crowd, and when one of the riot cops told him to get out, he did, headed back to the parking lot off University. At that point he thought the crowd had scattered, but noticed the Marion bridge was empty. 

"I could tell it was a trap," he told me over the phone recently. "They were just going to arrest everyone on that bridge."

A police officer told him to get on the bridge. With his press credentials in full view, he explained who he was, and what he was doing. It didn't matter. 

Some reporters were a little luckier. Someone had the foresight to program the number of an attorney into a cell phone and he was able to get several reporters out of the arrest. Art wasn't so lucky. He was charged with unlawful assembly. (For those you who are not intimate with the American constitution, the First Amendment guarantees the right to free assembly - interesting charge.)

Art's been doing reporting for a long time. Even before I moved to the Twin Cities, I knew his voice when he was a radio reporter in Washington State ( I was in college at the time in Olympia.) He remembers the WTO protests of 1999 in Seattle. That's when he says attitudes changed towards arresting journalists, and of course, after September 11th, 2001. 

"There was a shift in public sentiment," he says. "It turned more towards public security than traditional freedoms. 

He compared the arrests of reporters last week to China. 

"Two dozen journalists arrested in two days. That's the same number of reporters arrested in China for this past year."

It made me think about the role reporters played during another significant time in American history - the civil rights movement and the Vietnam conflict. The images of body bags and torn flesh and blood. Police hosing down unarmed demonstrators during a civil rights march. Powerful images, powerful stories documented by reporters - and they changed a generation. They did their jobs - and because some guys, a couple hundred years ago, had the foresight to write down a little sentence safeguarding a free press. 

There are no constitution police to call, no 1st Amendment 9-1-1 (for Germans, that is the ubiquitous emergency number in the US) when you find yourself as Art did, handcuffed for 2 hours, for merely bearing witness to the actions of a city that closely resemble a police state. 

So on September 11th, I am going to meditate for awhile on how the press has been intimidated by a reluctant public to confront the dark side of the American government - and salute the press that did document the brutishness of law enforcement. I won't be saluting CNN, MSNBC, or NPR, because while they were cozily sitting inside the Xcel Energy Center providing hours of commentary and analysis,  the local news media and citizen journalists of the Twin Cities were getting the story. They will bear the responsibility of covering the fall out of these arrests, in that awkward position of the press covering the press. It gives me a great deal of heart that the Saint Paul Police haven't completely shredded the U.S. Constitution - maybe gave it a kick in the teeth - and the rule of law will prevail. 



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