Try not to get arrested.
That was my advice to the young journalists traveling thousands of miles to cover the United Nations climate-treaty negotiations going on in Copenhagen this month. I said it because it’s a truism: a journalist in jail can’t file. He or she is not able to do what he or she is there to do — send back information for the world to see. And we knew there were likely to be some massive arrests as young activists sought in Copenhagen to spur real commitments to tackling climate change.
Fortunately, InvestigateWest Editor and Executive Director Rita Hibbard was part of the discussion. She quickly followed up my admonition with something like: “But make sure you’re close enough to capture the action.” She emphasized that we can’t very well cover a protest march without being pretty close to the marchers, and that we had a right to be there.
InvestigateWest photographer Christopher Crow found himself yesterday trying to balance those two pieces of advice in the blur of a fast-moving demonstration. He was in a group of about 275 demonstrators arrested when Copenhagen cops cracked down on a protest that, to that point at least, had been peaceful. (It should be said, though, that the protesters had been pretty open about the fact that they were trying to shut down Copenhagen’s harbor.)
Now, Chris probably could have gotten away. InvestigateWest correspondent Alexander Kelly, photograph Mark Malijan and videographer Blair Kelly were there and managed to scoot. But should Chris have been arrested? Absolutely not! It really honks me off that the police not only detained him at the scene — it’s possible to make a mistake in the heat of the moment — but insisted on taking him to one of the makeshift holding areas that are serving as jails for the climate protesters.
Chris had refused to leave when the police ordered journalists out of a crowd that tried to break through a police barrier. So he was rounded up with the protesters. Fair enough. But why did he have to make the trip to the warehouse converted to a prisoners’ processing center? Crow recalled:
The police officer looked at my press card, which was issued by InvestigateWest, and asked if I was press. I said, yes, I’m press. One officer showed my card to another and they decided to arrest me anyway.
This was a guy carrying a big camera, holding a press card — a person who was, quite clearly, a journalist trying to record the demonstration. Finally, after nearly three hours at the processing center, it was Chris’s turn:
They looked at my card and said, ‘Why did you end up here?’
Why indeed? Here’s how Hibbard reacted in our press release on the incident:
This is an outrageous affront to the freedom of the press. Reporters are obligated to cover civil disturbances like the prostests in Copenhagen, and police who arrest journalists are violating their human rights. Christopher and InvestigateWest are owed an apology by the Danish authorities and we will be filing a formal protest.
Chris took it all in stride. His biggest complaint — and it’s a big deal to me, at least:
It made me a day late submitting my photos.
But in the end, Chris made the right decision. Check out the terrific photos on this post that really give you a feeling for what it feels like to be in the middle of the melee.