An RT crew was recently arrested by US police while filming protests near the Fort Benning military base in the US state of Georgia.
Correspondent Kaelyn Forde’s and her cameraman Jon Conway were detained while covering a rally protesting the School of the Americas. They were arrested after the demonstration was over and everybody, including correspondents, was leaving the area. The arrests were rough and included the use of hard plastic hand cuffs, the same type commonly used by US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, injuring Kaelyn Forde’s wrists. At the time of their arrests the correspondents were not told what crime they were being charged with.
They were held as protestors even though they presented valid press credentials to the court. Currently out on bail after 32 hours in custody, Forde and Conway were eventually charged with partaking in an illegal protest and disobeying the orders of law enforcement officers.
The School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is a US tax payer funded military operation that trains military soldiers from Latin American nations. Many of its graduates have gone on to insight coups and human rights violations in their home nations. Previous graduates include Pinochet of Chile, D'Aubuisson of El Salvador, Banzer in Bolivia, Galtieri's in Argentina and Rios Montt of Guatemala. Some have even found School of the Americas ties to the more recent coup in Honduras.
Davis Swanson, author of the newly released book, "War is a Lie" said this case is a disturbing trend in America, and the constitutional rights of both the press and the activists were violated by the police.
He explained the rights of a free press and free assembly seem to be thrown out when it comes to coverage of the US government, military, congressional campaigns and political parties.
“There is the freedom of assembly as well as the freedom of the press in our First Amendment, and it is being attacked,” Swanson said. “This is something that has been growing in recent years.”
There is a growing police presence at peaceful rallies and events, explained Swanson. Police are increasing their efforts and hostility at non-violent rallies. The event was a Christian protest, made up of activists that included priests, nuns, elderly individuals and minors.
“It is a growing problem that ought to concern all of us,” he said.
Swanson argued there was no justification for the police to violate the people’s first amendment rights. Increasing arrests, hostility and preemptive targeting of activists is unjust.
“There seems to be a crack down on people protesting even as the protests diminish in size,” he added.
The US military targets the media. The uses intimidation and releases tailored stories to the media, and most US media simply bend to the power and intimidation of the government, Swanson argued.
“We have a campaign of intimidation that is very very successful,” he said. “There are two disgraceful things that happened here. One,an arrest of journalists and activists, and two, most US media outlets not there, not risking arrests, complying withthe desires of those in power or successfully intimidated.”
Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of Code Pink, an activist organization, is no stranger to protests and rallies. She said “it’s insane” that the police arrested journalists who were simply covering the protest.
“I think it’s quite strange,” she said. “[It] doesn’t really go with the pattern of previous years.”
“Under President Obama we thought there would be more room for exercising our First Amendment rights, and yet we see under this President, things like the FBI raids of activists in Chicago and Minneapolis,” she explained. “That didn’t even happen to us under the Bush years. It’s quite strange.”
There is an “extremely distrusting” pattern of cracking down on activism and the exercising of constitutional rights.
Benjamin argued people need to be outspoken and protest the arrests of activists and members of the media to send a message that the First Amendment is being violated. This incident, she hopes, will highlight the new pattern of aggression toward activists and highlight the existence of the School of the Americas.
Radio host Alex Jones said the arrests are a frightening sign and an attempt by the government to further curb American freedoms.
Having been arrested in the past as a member of the press, Jones said Forde’s story is all too familiar. First, the police force you to move, and then move you again, and when you comply they arrest you anyway, he explained.
“This is part of an ongoing program to persecute protestors and the press,” he said. “Now they’re trying to pass legislation where the Justice Department can shut down any website they want without a judge or jury. Tyranny is coming to the United States.”
In addition, there is growing trend of police targeting press and the freedom to report. In some US states videotaping police has even become an arrest-able offence, even for news coverage. Law enforcement and the government are targeting the media so they cannot report what is going on, Jones explained.
“They are stabbing our most cherished First Amendment in the heart,” he said. “The most important thing in our Bill of Rights.”
Jones also explained that the government itself is videoing the press and protestors at rallies, even though the government arrests when you video them. He called this practice “classical tyranny” and comparable to the secret police of former East Germany.
“This is an attempt to intimidate speech and people need to stand up to big brother and say we’re not afraid,” he said. “People shouldn’t be intimidated.”
Peter Hart, a media analyst from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting explained that major US media outlets are largely silent about stories they feel are not supposed to be covered, such as the School of the Americas. US Corporate media see these stories as less than news worthy, he said.
This leads many in law enforcement to assume the journalists who cover these stories are part of the problem, when in fact they are simply reporting.
“The rest of the media in this county has never stood up to defend those journalist who are out there coving stories that the rest of the media simply aren’t touching,” Hart said. “The big story in the New York Times about this protest was about how no one was there, it wasn’t a very big deal and the protests of previous years had been much larger, not about the police tactics, not about these arrests on no charge.”
He argued that those in the “elite media” will typically stand in solidarity with one another when arrests or accusations occur. But this is not the case when it comes to lesser known media outlets.
Calling the arrests an act of intimidation, Sara Flounders, the co-director of the International Action Center said the activists and the journalists were arrested for no reason at all.
“This is really US tactics that are increasingly used against journalist around the world now coming back here to the United States,” she said. “We’ve seen time and again in war zones the journalists who are independent journalists who are targeted and then it’s labeled an accident. So, some o those same tactics come back here in an effort to shut down peaceful protests which is entirely legal, this was a permitted demonstration, and yet both the demonstrators and members of the media who were covering it were arrested for no reason whatsoever except an act of intimidation.
Flounders argued that the military and the media are tied to one another. Thus US media rarely covers these events. She contended that the roll of the US media is shaped by the government, both in content and in how stories are covered.
Blogger David Lindorff from ThisCantBeHappening.net argued police are using peaceful protests to study and intimidate activists.
“You’re being watched. They want you to know you’re being watched,” said Lindorff.
He explained there is also a new and more aggressive attitude toward interfering with the free press. Police are beginning to operate as provocateurs, setting themselves up inside activist groups and encouraging activists to go beyond the line of the law. In addition, police are now posing as members of the press.
Lindorff recalled an incident at an anti-war rally he attended in the past, where an officer was posing as a member of the press, with a camera, filming the speakers, activists and individuals taking part in the event.
“I was told by the Philadelphia police is that these films end up being shipped off to central area in Homeland Security,” he said. “These are all being compiled. They are collecting photos on people. It’s generally, in the US, were moving slowly, glacially maybe, sometimes faster, toward a police state.”
There was around 20 others arrested t the event, including Tammi Ramirez, a student and SOAW activist. Ramirez was at the rally, but was trying to find her car to leave, when police arrested her without cause.
She explained she was walking with her group back to their car, when they were separated. She continued in the same direction towards her vehicle, asking police officers for help to find her way back. They simply pushed her way, instructing her to move along. She did.
When she was able to get a hold of her group and learned where they were, she began to cross the street towards her car to meet them, still walking in the direction she had been instructed to go. However, an officer pointed, singled here out and had her arrested. She was not told why.
“Many people were arrested not because they were protesting, but just because they were just walking in the street trying to get to their cars,” she said. “They arrested me very roughly and I just kept asking them, what did I do, what did I do? I asked you guys how I could cross the street. They just dragged me to the bus.”
Ramirez recorded with her camera video footage on the police bus, including footage of RT correspondent Kaelyn Forde in handcuffs, crying from how tight they were around her writs.
“It was shocking how tight her handcuffs were,” she said. “This is for sure police brutality, I though.”
After her arrest, Ramirez was never told her what she was charged with. She was questioned about her immigration status based on her accent and forced to speak on the phone with US immigration services.
“I told them I am from El Salvador, but I live in Washington, DC and I go to school in Wisconsin,” she explained. “Many of my friends who are also permanent residents have gotten arrested before and gotten in many troubles, some of them even deported. I thought to myself, I cannot get deported, my family is here living here in Washington, DC, my friend, my education, I only have three weeks left to complete my two bachelors at Beloit College. I just could not imagine what was going to happen to me if I got deported to El Salvador.”
The court later dropped the charges against Ramirez.