Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Between the Cross-hairs

Common Dreams sent out a press release from photographer Jeffrey Sauger today. The text can be read here. Mr. Sauger of Royal Oak, Michigan and Jim West of Detroit were both arrested in Toledo, Ohio two years ago while covering "a rally by a small group of Nazis outside the Government Center building." According to the release, the police out-numbered the Nazis and the counter demonstrators by 5 to 1.

"Sauger was arrested on a charge of 'criminal trespass' as he tood in a media enclosure carrying professional cameras and lenses photographing the scene. Police charged that he lacked a 'temporary media permit' that had been issued to some journalists earlier in the day. Arriving later, carrying his own press credentials, Sauger said officers had told him he didn't need the pass.

"West was arrested as he stood, alone, taking photographs near a line of horses that was being ridden past and through counter protesters. He was charged with 'failure to disperse.'

"Charges of disorderly conduct against a third news photographer, Jeffrey Willis of the Toledo Journal, have been dismissed. Willis was also arrested while photographing the police response to a crowd of anti-Nazi protesters."

I note these are still photographers, not videographers for a TV station. More than 20 years ago, I was harassed by the DC police while covering an event for the Washington Post. The TV cameramen standing virtually next to me were not bothered. I have always theorized that they could have been on TV instantly but the paper wouldn't hit the stands until hours later. In this case, I suspect Mr. Willis was backed up by his newspaper's lawyers, whereas Misters Sauger and West are from out of town and were freelancers. They didn't have corporate lawyers backing them up.

Photographers have enough to do when on these kinds of assignments and the last thing a pro would be doing is interfering with the actual events. So they must have been photographing things that the police didn't want covered. The press release says the photographers were photographing how the police were treating the peaceful anti-Nazi protesters.

So the police were supporting the Nazi demonstrators?

I haven't uncovered any other coverage of this by the main-stream media. That's not a total surprise. Who cares about the rights of a couple of freelance photographers anyway? I do wonder if the National Press Photographers Association or Photo District News has covered this in any way. I don't recall seeing any squib in ASMP's literature, either.

Freelance photographers are really alone out on the front lines. They can make really easy targets for frustrated police officers.

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