Martin Stolar, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild who defends journalists covering Occupy Wall Street, says police should make an effort to distinguish press from protester. "It's not inevitable that reporters are arrested," says Stolar. "When it looks like someone is not participating directly, it takes a modicum of inquiry to get a bit of information from them and to see what they're doing there. What I've seen as the process in New York is to arrest them and sort things out later, which tends to chill the media's ability to record what goes on."
Stearns says that a recent legal settlement stemming from the 2008 RNC protest — between three arrested journalists and the US Secret Service and police departments of Minneapolis and St. Paul — has positive implications for reporters everywhere. As part of the agreement, cops in those cities are undergoing special training in how to deal with the media in major protest scenarios. Whether those tactics are being deployed elsewhere, however, is another story.
Occupy Wall Street livestreamer Tim Pool and a growing legion of his smartphone-toting comrades have provided extensive and critical coverage of the Occupy movement, their video dispatches giving viewers from around the world a candid window onto major events. During the anti-NATO protests, the Chicago NBC affiliate even incorporated livestreams from Pool and others into its protest coverage. Still, that didn't stop police from apparently targeting them.
After covering marches all afternoon on Saturday, Pool was riding back to his crash spot along with fellow livestreamers Luke Rudkowski and Geoff Shively. Without warning, they were pulled over by an unmarked Crown Victoria, then surrounded by squad cars. The Chicago police ignored all media inquiries about the incident, but Pool claims that everyone in the group was handcuffed and interrogated, their credit-card numbers recorded and hard drives smashed before they were released with no charges.
The incident was not unexpected. In the days leading up to NATO, a memo circulated by the Illinois News Broadcasters Association — based on their meetings with the CPD — detailed the department's planned media approach. Among other things, the document noted that anyone who followed protesters onto private property would be subject to arrest, and that there wouldn't be quick personal recognizance bonds for jailed members of the media. Officials kept the promise, arresting journalists — including credentialed Getty photographer Joshua Lott — and clubbing a number of others.
"When working something like the NATO protests, I like to think I have the same civil rights and civil liberties as anybody else," says Ryan Williams, a Chicago-based freelancer who contributes to In These Times and other publications. Williams says the crackdown on media has significantly worsened in Chicago since Occupy started. Fellow indie reporter Aaron Cynic, an outright Occupy supporter who's covered the movement for Chicagoist and his own Diatribe Media, takes his criticism one step further. "This is no longer just about whether people like me are being treated equally," he says. "It's about the deliberate targeting of independent press."