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Indybay Feature

March 19th Report from Arrestee

by Josh Wolf (web [at] joshwolf.net)
I attended the protests as a journalist, and had been actively working to stay out of the officers’ way as I filmed the various actions commemorating the five-year anniversary of the war. I don’t pretend to be neutral; I marched down the streets in a state of rage and sadness the day the bombs first dropped, but I was clearly acting as a news gatherer at the time of my arrest.
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“You’ll be the first one cited and released,” the officer reassured me as I protested my unlawful detention. While I was the first to be led away in handcuffs, this wasn’t the “catch and release” operation the cop had suggested it was. I actually wouldn’t be released until six that evening. It was 10:30AM, and I was just about to take a break from filming and grab something for breakfast. I knew I should’ve eaten before I left, but had wanted to begin filming as early as possible.

I attended the protests as a journalist, and had been actively working to stay out of the officers’ way as I filmed the various actions commemorating the five-year anniversary of the war. I don’t pretend to be neutral; I marched down the streets in a state of rage and sadness the day the bombs first dropped, but I was clearly acting as a news gatherer at the time of my arrest. The police didn’t care, and throughout the day several other journalists would find themselves imprisoned for reporting on the day’s dissent.

In my case, I was documenting a die-in at the intersection of 3rd and Market. Approximately 30 people laid down in the street and had remained in place for about 20 minutes when the police formed a circle around those participating in the die-in. Having covered numerous San Francisco protests in the past, I knew to place myself outside the police encirclement. For some reason an officer decided he wanted me arrested and I found myself being dragged by the back of my head into the arrest-zone. I explained that I had no intention of interfering with police business and had been pulled into the circle inadvertently, but my complaints went unanswered and I soon found myself placed under arrest and transported onto a bus operated by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.

The bus was loaded with protesters along with another videographer, and we were taken to the county jail at 850 Bryant. Once in custody, the atmosphere morphed into a surreal environment that could only exist in San Francisco. As the bus pulled into the jail, Deputy McConnell from the Sheriff’s department came aboard and told us he had two requests: he asked us to keep the sally-port clean so that inmates from the general population aren’t forced to clean the area later, and instructed us not to use any electronic equipment that we may still have in our possession. He then offered some rather sympathetic words of advice to one protester who had chosen to identify herself as a Jane Doe.

Throughout the day, many of us had an opportunity to talk to Deputy McConnell and we learned that he had served in both Gulf Wars and that he marches with Iraq Veterans Against the War. He told us he had been arrested in a protest in the East Bay and many of us quickly developed a respect for our jailer in a way that might almost resemble a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

With few exceptions, the rank-and-file Police officers and Sheriff’s deputies that I dealt with exhibited a level of professionalism that deserves to be commended. I did witness isolated incidents of brutality, and there are other reports that seem to indicate this was a problem throughout the day, but the people that I encountered personally were just doing their jobs. The Police Department’s arrest process and the several hours we spent detained was shameful, but I’m inclined to suspect that this malfeasance rests on those in charge.

We were processed almost immediately upon our arrival. It was a pleasant surprise seeing a gaggle of police working so diligently to process our citations. Around noon it appeared that the arduous task of completing our paperwork was complete and a citation had been affixed to everyone’s personal property. Those amongst us who were elderly had been released, and we assumed the rest of us would be let back out in short order. Having nothing left to do, the cops began to congregate in small circles and practiced the fine art of killing time.

More arrestees arrived later in the day, and they too were quickly processed. Once again, the police worked hard to get the paperwork squared away, and those over 65 were quickly set free. Once finished, the police returned to their task of doing nothing. I grew frustrated, and became hungrier and hungrier. I’m sure many of us felt the same. An man named Eric asked if he could get his snacks out of his bag and the officer gladly rifled through his sack and tossed the walnuts, Luna Bar, and apple to him who then shared the bounty amongst us.

At 2pm we were given a glass of water; at 4pm the deputies brought us “dinner.” With ravenous hunger we devoured the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the slice of cheese, and the cookies we were provided. The chants had died down earlier, but picked up again with renewed vitality. Many of us began to suspect that we were still in custody as part of an effort to keep us off of the streets. This suspicion was partly confirmed when more than one officer joined in a chant of, “let us go.”

A bit later, a new chant emerged from the crowd. “Who’s filing a complaint with the police commission?”

“I am, I am.”

I don’t know if it was simply a coincidence, but within a matter of minutes people were finally processed out and I imagine that most of us were free by 6:30pm. A man who had been arrested while crossing the street on his lunch break, quickly sprang for his cell phone to explain to his wife why he hadn’t come home. I grabbed my camera and hurried off to the ANSWER rally cursing myself once again for having not eaten breakfast.
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Comments (Hide Comments)
by Heather
Seems to be a suspicious pattern of arresting the media, maybe to prevent reports about what's going on.
by anonimo
does anyone still believe we have a free press?
by Dragon Lover
In what capacity were you a journalist. Are you affiliated with any recognized newsgroup and did you have proper ID as a journalist.
by anonimo
does anyone still believe we have a free press?
by Dragon Lover
In what capacity were you a journalist. Are you affiliated with any recognized newsgroup and did you have proper ID as a journalist.
by The-fuzz-I-mean-the-fizz
just what we need, SF mayoral candidates telling us how efficient the justice system works. Maybe you'll do better next election Josh Wolf, with all the support this'll get you from the police unions. (not)

by Sludge
Thanks for the report back Josh, your comments are very perceptive, 'specially the Stockholm Syndrome. My experience is that the SFPD and Deputy sheriffs are heartless and needlessly cruel comes from experience at similar actions. They hold you as long as they can to keep you from rejoining the actions...it's just a tactic for them, "Nothing to do with your rights as a Citizen", assuming you still believe you actually have any.
Glad you are out. Not surprised they targeted you as media and sympahetic to the side they hate.

Keep up the good work.
by Josh Wolf (web [at] joshwolf.net)
First off, if we want to talk about the efficiency of the justice system, we shouldn't be talking about protesters. Ninety-nine percent of the people arrested in this city are not arrested for protesting, and the way the police act in these situations is completely different from how they handle protesters and is often abhorrent.

The thesis of my article is that many of the things I disagreed with about the cops yesterday, likely came from the above. The obvious exception are the incidents of police brutality that did occur, but I can not speak to the things I wasn't able to witness.

As for the Police Officers Association, I think they are a despicable organization, and while cops should have the right to organize too -- the POA's influence results in the public suffering. While I don't intend to run for office in the future, I would never publicly acknowledge an endorsement from the POA -- an endorsement that I can assure you I will never receive.

Finally, yes, the police are people. I may not respect the career they have chosen to pursue and have grave doubts that any professional police construct can ever truly serve the people they work for, but yes, the police are people last time I checked.

A large portion of cops served in the military, and when that's the only thing on your resume there aren't many places liable to hire you so they become cops and prison guards. At the point that we figure out a means to provide a sustainable life for all interested police officers as an alternative to their oppressive occupational choice then I will join you in saying that these officers have no excuse for taking such a role.

In the mean time, the economy is in the shits, and the SFPD is offering $70,000 and looking for people on a constant basis. While I'd die before becoming a cop, I don't think I'd lose respect for anyone I knew who found themselves in dire financial straits and joined the SFPD in order to take care of their family.
by Josh Wolf (web [at] joshwolf.net)
You ask:

in what capacity I am a journalist:

I have acted as a journalist covering political dissent and other issues in the bay area for over three years and have published material to Indybay and my own site during that time. My work has been used in various places, but I don't see the need to go into particulars (e-mail me if you want to know).

am I affiliated with any recognized newsgroup:

I don't know quite what that means, but I was out in the streets with the intent to publish my material on this site, at joshwolf.net, and also for Fog City Journal. I'd say all of these are recognized news sites though my own site is obviously not a group. For what it's worth Luke Thomas, the proprietor of Fog City Journal does have a press pass from the City Government if that is what defines recognition to you.

did I have proper ID as a journalist:

I feel that there is no proper ID as a journalist. I have confidence that I could secure a press pass from the city, but I do not feel that I should be compelled to do so. Requiring press passes for access is not in line with the first amendment in my opinion and approaches state-sanctioned journalism. For this reason, I have never attempted to acquire a government-issued press pass.

I did have proper ID on my person although I don't feel that anyone should be compelled to carry that either.
by Dragon Lover
I do not doubt that you are a journalist Josh. However it seems that anyone could grab a camera a claim to be a journalist. Just because you have a blog or post on an informal newsgroup does not make one a journalist. The reason for ID is so that the police can seperate the protestors from the journalists. Whether you think it is right or not if you do jump through the hoops then why shouledthe powers that be recognize your claims.
It ain't like the old days. Pretty much anyone who claims to be press is press, especially if they can point to anything printed in any medium. But that mostly applies to large-scale things like court cases and such.

Cops on the scene are free to pick and choose who they want to allow access to. If they have heard of you or your org, they are more likely to grant you access or privs. It's that small and subjective now. Sometimes, though, even folks from CNN will get swept up as they did yesterday.
by luci
You can trust that they know who indybay is. They know that IMCistas are going to get in there and expose what's going on. I liked Josh's comment about not wanting the state to say who is a journalist. If they can say someone who criticizes the government is not a journalist, what kind of a system are we living in? Don't they do that in fascism?
by snowflake
stay strong my brother! thanks for the report!
by cp
Cnet http://www.cnet.com/8300-13508_1-19.html

Moreover, there are fewer and fewer working journalists due to the economics of print and television newspapers. This economy is going to totally crater some newspapers during the recession, because advertising will be cut by many companies before they lay off other core workers. Newspapers used to be financed to a surprising extent by used car and rental housing want ads, and now everyone both reads their news online and uses craigslist.

If the absolute number of 'recognized' journalists can become so compacted because one needs to be a paid working journalist, what does that mean for our first amendment? Soon only Fox and a few others will have press freedom.
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