Sometimes things get out of hand. And, usually, there is a group of people whose occupation it is to protect us from those situations. But as was the case on Monday night in Minnesota, the people who are supposed to protect us got a little bit out of hand themselves.
On Monday night, three colleagues of mine from the Kentucky Kernel were arrested while documenting the protests outside the Republican National Convention. Photographers Ed Matthews and Britney McIntosh, along with photo advisor Jim Winn were all arrested and charged with rioting. Matthews and McIntosh were both charged with felonies, while Winn was charged with a misdemeanor.
Nothing indicates that any of the three were actually participating in the protests, much less violating any laws that would warrant their arrest. The police officers subdued the Kernel staff members with the use of pepper spray and the threat of a gun, certainly unnecessary given that all evidence suggests that Matthews, McIntosh and Winn were not actually breaking any laws. Regardless, we cannot know whether or not they were acting inappropriately, as they are still incommunicado in the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center. If convicted, Matthews and McIntosh would face a minimum sentence of one year in jail and a $3000 fine. Perhaps the bright spot in all of this is that at least we know what they have been charged with.
More so than the arrest of colleagues, the problem is that this conundrum of excessive police violence is not new. From the unprovoked attack by a New York City police officer on a Critical Mass bicyclist, and the subsequent arrests of those documenting the unconstitutional and overtly violent police actions, to last week’s encounters outside of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, or even this week’s arrest of journalist Amy Goodman, police overreaction has become the expected norm in our society. These previous instances are illustrative that the phenomenon of police violence is not exclusive to the typically high security conventions of the Republican party, but instead have begun to pervade even traditionally liberal or progressive institutions. So, in the face of physical assault, felony charges and unwarranted jail time, how we reclaim our constitutional rights – not just to assemble and protest, but to document these actions as part of a free and open press? Or perhaps the better question is, can we still reclaim these rights?
Photo: Chad Davis via flickr under a Creative Commons License