If there's any question as to whether Pool, Cynic, or anyone else has the right to document Occupy and other protests up close, the answer may be in a May 14 US Department of Justice memo to the Baltimore Police Department. In regards to a non-Occupy-related Maryland case in which cops destroyed a man's recording of an arrest, the DOJ advised that transparent policies be made to ensure that "private individuals may gather and disseminate information of public concern, including the conduct of law enforcement." In other words: people with cameras are not to be arbitrarily fucked with.
Stearns of Free Press says his concern is that the Baltimore instructions will go ignored. Much like the invigorated media-relations plan in St. Paul, the directives have yet to resonate nationally and are unlikely to be consulted for the upcoming party conventions in Tampa and Charlotte, where word is there will be no official press credentials for anything that happens outside the designated halls. In the meantime, for those in the street when madness transpires, Stearns says it's important to watch out for each other and to educate the public about growing challenges to first-hand reporting.
"There's an assumption on the part of authorities that everyone with a camera is out to get them," he says, "whereas in reality, we're just living in an increasingly participatory democracy. The most important step here is to keep discussing what the First Amendment means in a digital age. We can't just have that conversation in courtrooms afterwards."
Chris Faraone's book on Occupy, 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, is available now. Follow him on Twitter @fara1.
: News Features
, arrests, counterculture, media coverage