Democracy Now! reporters win settlement for arrests during 2008 Republican convention

Nicole Salazar caught the cop on tape moments before he knocked her to the ground.
Nicole Salazar caught the cop on tape moments before he knocked her to the ground.

That Nicole Salazar videotaped her arrest is both fortunate and unfortunate.

It's fortunate because that same tape just helped Salazar, a producer for the Democracy Now! news show, and two other journalists win a settlement in their lawsuit against the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul for bad police work during the 2008 Republican National Convention.

It's unfortunate because in the course of the lawsuit, Salazar was forced to watch the disturbing tape again. Anjana Samnat, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights who brought the case for Democracy Now!,  said she'd been in the room when the tape was played.

"When you looked at Nicole's face during the playing of the video," Samant said, "you could just see her cringe."

The settlement reached yesterday brings monetary compensation to the three journalists, including host Amy Goodman. Perhaps more important, it will force a change in St. Paul Police's official tactics in dealing with large crowds.

The decisive video clip begins with Salazar backing up, away from police who are sprinting toward her in full riot gear. Salazar asks frantically, "Where are we supposed to go? Where are we supposed to go?"

"Get down!" a cop yells back, then forces her to the ground. "Get down on your face," he says, ignoring Salazar's pleas of "Press!"

"I'm on my face!" she cries, as the camera falls from her hands. Then, Salazar wails in pain, twice.

Salazar's arrest, during which her face was pressed into the ground, left her with cuts and bruises. Her fate was similar to that of Sharif Kouddous, another Democracy Now! journalist who'd gone looking for Salazar. When he saw her in handcuffs, Kouddous confronted police, only to get arrested himself. For his trouble, Kouddous was pushed up against a wall and punched.

Finally, Amy Goodman, the show's host, was told that two of her journalists had been arrested. Goodman pestered a cop about speaking to a supervisor, she, too got thrown in handcuffs.

Goodman, Salazar and Kouddous were among at least 40 journalists arrested during the convention, according to Samant. They were detained, cited, and let go -- though Koudous was actually arrested yet again two days later on the Marion Street Bridge.

The lawsuit brought by Goodman, Salazar and Kouddous claimed that their arrests "significantly hindered [their] ability to serve as the eyes and ears of the American public" during the chaos of the RNC.

Apparently, lawyers for the Twin Cities -- and the federal government, roped-in because one officer involved was Secret Service -- don't disagree, or don't think they can win in a courtroom.

Yesterday's settlement will cost local government $90,000, with the federal government chipping in another $10,000. The city of St. Paul will also offer additional training for police on crowd control, including training on how to handle journalists in those situations, which will be sent to the Center for Constitutional Rights for review.

Samant says the settlement is well-timed, with the Occupy Wall Street protests now stirring the country, and headed to Minneapolis on Friday morning. Citing major protests at meetings over the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization, along with the 2008 RNC and the Occupy Wall Street movement, Samant said this issue will continue to crop up for cities and police.

"Public protest isn't going to go away," Samant said. "And if anything, it looks like there's momentum building, with people's frustration, and that it's going to happen again and again. It's inevitable that law enforcement will have to deal with protesters and journalists."

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