Violent and in many cases illegal suppression of journalists occurred during several police crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in the past few weeks.
Claiming it was ‘for their own safety,’ there were reports of journalists being kept in a holding area blocks from where Occupiers were being evicted and arrested. Several journalists who managed to get close to the action were roughly shoved, beaten, and arrested as well, despite verbally informing the officers that they were members of the press and brandishing proper press credentials.
The risk of arrest is even higher for student journalists, as they lack the big name employers and credentials of many of their professional counterparts. At least four college journalists have been arrested at the scene of “Occupy” demonstrations while trying to cover news: two in Atlanta, one in Nashville and one in Rochester, N.Y. In Atlanta, college journalists from Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University spent a night in jail after being caught up in a roundup as Atlanta Police Department officers attempted to clear a downtown street.
That’s why the Student Press Law Center and the leading media-law firm Holland & Knight LLP are offering student journalists free legal assistance around-the-clock if they are jailed while covering “Occupy” demonstrations.
“In the chaos of a demonstration, there are so often misunderstandings and miscommunications between journalists and police that we feel it’s important to let students know they aren’t alone,” said attorney Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “’Occupy’ is a national story of special importance to young people, and young journalists are being heavily relied on to bring the news to the public, sometimes putting themselves in harm’s way. We hope no one ever has to use this service, but we think it will be reassuring for students to know it’s there.”
Student journalists with an emergency at the scene of an “Occupy” protest should call the Center’s hotline – 703-807-1904, extension 121 – anytime. SPLC attorneys will refer emergency calls to Holland & Knight volunteer attorneys who are on-call in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville. The volunteers will work to help students who are incarcerated while covering the news.
Along with announcing the legal helpline, the SPLC is distributing a “tip sheet” for journalists covering “Occupy” protests or similar demonstrations, to help minimize their risk of conflict with police. The tip sheet is available at www.splc.org/protests.
Image Credit: Flickr – david_shankbone