- Briak Kaldorf
- Keith DeVries owes Pittsburgh Filmmakers nearly $1,700 for a camera he says was busted by cops on Sept. 25.
Missy Jarzenske was headed to her Lawrenceville home on 37th Street after an afternoon of photographing the Sept. 24 anti-G-20 anarchists' march when, three blocks from her front door, she stopped on the sidewalk to take one more shot. Her boyfriend, Michael Kocis, and two other friends were photographing as well.
Police swarmed them on the sidewalk on Butler at 34th, pulled them into the street and arrested them all, she says.
"We live here! We were just taking a picture!" she recalls shouting.
Today, says Jarzenske, "I'm charged with failure to disperse in my own neighborhood, and obstructing my own sidewalk." And when she got out of jail five hours after being arrested, Jarzenske says, her camera was broken and the film ruined.
"They had ripped the back open and they had tried to tape it together" -- unsuccessfully, she says. Her other exposed roll is still missing. (Kocis' digital camera was intact, as were the photos he shot with it.)
"We weren't doing anything but documenting," says Jarzenske, who teaches photography at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. "It's kind of my job."
Some 200 people were arrested during G-20-related protests. Among them were several people trying to document the events -- either for established media outlets, or for "indymedia" enterprises and other projects. The best-known example is Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Sadie Gurman. But two Pitt News photographers were also arrested, and other journalists were exposed to crowd-control devices like pepper spray.
Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff, who were either arrested or reportedly targeted during the week, did not reply to requests for comment. But Beth Pittinger, who heads the Citizen Police Review Board, says she has already received numerous complaints about police conduct during G-20 week, including some involving camera damage.
"The frightening part of that is, it's trying to control information that comes into the public," she says.
For example, one YouTube-posted video -- by independent journalist John Moschopoulos -- was shot Sept. 25 on the corner of Fifth Avenue and South Bouquet Street in Oakland. The video (http://tinyurl.com/ylnvhkn) shows a young male being arrested: When Moschopoulos asks the arrestee's name, a K-9 officer approaches, pointing to the camera. "Spray him," the officer orders another. He is sprayed twice. "I'm on the sidewalk," he protests.
"Disperse!" comes the reply. "You were ordered to disperse. Do it now."
Moschopoulous says there were numerous people milling on the sidewalk behind him -- proof, he says, that police targeted him not for failing to disperse, but for shooting video.
Moschopoulos was not arrested. But Nate Monkelien, with Twin Cities Indymedia, doesn't expect to get his cameras and tapes back after filming several arrests Sept. 25. He was charged that night with aggravated assault, resisting arrest and other, more minor charges -- all of which he claims are "completely fabricated."
"They were definitely targeting cameramen," he says. Not everyone agrees.
Local freelance journalist Shane Dunlap, who moved to North Carolina just after G-20, says he was photographing the protests when he was arrested. Still, he doesn't feel police were taking extra notice of being filmed.
"They had their hands full," Dunlap says. Officers "were just indifferent to who you were -- professional media or not. I don't really think they cared."
Police did run right by this working journalist to catch non-media ordered to disperse during an unpermitted Sept. 24 march. And protesters weren't always fond of photographers; one of the first chants during that protest was "cameramen assholes!"
But the advent of cheap digital recorders, YouTube and even cell-phone cameras means that the line between journalist and citizen can get blurry. That's especially true in the case of "indymedia" journalists, grassroots reporters who furnish content to online sites.
"Independent journalists received harsher treatment than journalists from established outlets" during G-20, says Jessica McPherson of Pittsburgh Indymedia, who was not arrested during G-20 week. Still, she says, "Journalists shouldn't get special privileges when it is everyone's basic rights that were assaulted."
In fact, during media-briefing sessions prior to the G-20, police warned that media credentials wouldn't exempt journalists from orders to disperse. If they failed to follow police orders, reporters were told, they risked arrest as well.
"Journalists have a right to cover things that are taking place in a public sphere," says Robert D. Richards, head of Penn State's Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment. "Not only journalists, but anyone has a right to record anything that takes place in public view."
Of course, Richards adds, "journalists don't have a right to violate a law," but "dispersal orders become that grey area" for courts to decide. In such cases, the question becomes whether "there was an actual need for police to secure the area and an actual need for journalists to disperse." That question has become especially contentious regarding an Oakland demonstration on Sept. 25, when Gurman and others were arrested on the Cathedral of Learning lawn.
According to Pennsylvania law, in order for police to cite people for failure to disperse, there must be at least three crowd members whom police believe are committing disorderly conduct. That's what creates an "unlawful assembly." (There are also laws against blocking a street or sidewalk.)
But Richards points to a case dismissed this summer against a Penn State Daily Collegian photographer, who was arrested while filming a post-football victory riot in October 2008. The judge dismissed the case because "the First Amendment trumped what the police were trying to do" by ordering the crowd to disperse, Richards says.
Cris Hoel, lawyer for the arrested Pitt News photographers, says that neither student's equipment was damaged while in police custody, but believes it's an issue "that they arrested a working journalist as he worked."
Nigel Parry and Vlad Teichberg have their own theories about such encounters. Parry, of Twin Cities Indymedia, and Teichberg, of the New York-based indymedia Glass Bead Collective, had multiple members on the streets here and at last year's Republican National Convention.
"At the RNC, cameras were not harmed," Teichberg says, though reportedly 40 journalists were arrested. Cameras were confiscated from Glass Bead prior to the event, then returned. Police at the RNC "were much more professional." Here in Pittsburgh "they seemed to be picking on younger people ... easier targets. We don't know if these cameras were destroyed because there was a directive from the top or these police were acting on their own."
Pittsburgh Police did not respond by press time to a request for a copy of their policy for handling arrestee property.
Parry held a press conference after the summit. "If journalists are going to be shoved away when police start arresting people then ... there's no accountability," he said. "Either we fight for the right to document things like that ... or we let it go and let the police do what they want."
Keith DeVries, a fifth-year senior at the University of Pittsburgh, has also joined efforts to seek police accountability. DeVries had spent months filming events and interviews for a class project on G-20. On Sept. 25, he borrowed a professional-grade, shoulder-mounted video unit from Pittsburgh Filmmakers.
He filmed as Schenley Plaza was surrounded, the park patrons pushed out, and confusion reigned in the dark of the Cathedral of Learning lawn. Finally, he too was taken into custody.
DeVries says he told police, "Do what you want with the footage, but don't damage the camera. I'll have to pay for it."
When police returned the camera, DeVries says, "They had ripped the wide-angle lens in half. ... [T]he cable was still connected but the entire plastic viewfinder was ripped off and dangling."
One tape remained safely stuck inside the camera. But two finished tapes were missing, and DeVries owes Filmmakers $1,678 for damage to the camera. He also faces charges of failure to disperse and disorderly conduct.
"If they're not weapons, they're mirrors," says DeVries. "If the police ... break our mirrors, I'm sure it will bring them bad luck in the end."