I didn't get to watch much of John McCain's speech last night, I was too busy watching my colleagues get shot at and arrested along with dozens of other media professionals from organizations around the world.
I'm not talking about our crew currently in South Ossetia, this was one of my network's crews in St. Paul covering the RNC.
I wasn't the only one shocked to see the scene unfold on one of the many monitors on my desk, a co-worker walking by saw the screen and asked me what was blowing up in the Middle East. When I told her it was our crew in St. Paul she sat down next to me and we both watched the events unfold in horror.
The fact of the matter is what happened last night could have happened in the Middle East or a former Soviet Republic. Our news crew was being deliberately fired at with pepper pellets, rubber bullets and stun grenades from American police officers.
Video after the jump.
St. Paul isn't a war zone where journalists get fired upon and lose their lives because a camera over-the-shoulder looks like an RPG launcher from the distance, this was a properly accredited network news team, wearing credentials and a vest with the words "PRESS" in big fat bold letters on their chest getting fired upon in an American city.
The crew (a photographer, soundman and producer) was on a city street sidewalk (perfectly legal) filming the protesters marching down the street. The police confronted the protesters and started firing tear gas, pepper pellets and stun grenades at them.
The large crowd dispersed into a neighboring parking lot and the media followed them.
A police officer in full riot gear comes charging at the crew thrusting his baton towards the chest of the producer. The producer identifies herself as press and throws up the credentials she's wearing around her neck.
"I don't get a fuck who you are, get the fuck out of here," the officer shouted, pushing her. Other cops run up with their guns pointed and starts pushing the press into the crowd of protesters.
This was the scene the entire night.
The media would follow the protesters and the police would point their weapons at them and fire directly towards them. At one point in the evening an officer runs up to a group of cameramen filming and drops a flash grenade in the middle of them and runs away. The grenade went off in a bright flash and bang, slightly injuring a few of the photographers.
The entire evening journalists were pushed, shoved, intimidated, shot at, abused and finally arrested.
The officers corralled the group of some 300 protesters, along with some 50 working press, onto a bridge and sealed it off from both directions—forming a line of police in full riot gear on each side with weapons drawn.
The cops started shouting at everyone to sit down and put their hands up, saying that they were to be arrested.
The media professionals did what they have always done in this situation, they filed out of the crowd to the edge and continued taking their pictures.
The police became more irate and started to throw flash grenades onto the brideg. At that point you can hear the journalists start talking among themselves.
"I think the mean us to," said one reporter.
"You got to be fucking kidding me," said another in response.
"Bullshit," said a soundman.
The press started shouting at the police identifying who they were.
The police continued their threats, finally saying that they would come in using force if they didn't sit down.
Journalists started to sit down, still recording the scene, all getting on the phone to report in what was happening.
I heard the photographer over the camera's microphone in a shaky voice explaining the situation to the newsroom. He sounds scared and confused.
"Yah they're going to arrest us all… including the press," he says to the person on the phone.
You can tell that the person on the other end of the conversation can't believe it.
"We told them we're press, they don't care," the conversation continued.
A Japanese crew was still standing; one of them was carrying a ladder used to see over crowds to get a better angle.
The cops threaten to bring him down with force, calling the ladder a weapon.
The Japanese crew looks scared, they all scream "Press, press!" at the police.
More scared voices among the media, pan to the protesters, and then the feed went black.
My colleagues last night had every reason to be scared.
1:41 in, you can see part of what I am talking about.
For the first time in a long time my career made me feel physically sick to my stomach—this is coming from a journalist who worked the Iraq beat during the peak of beheading season.
I was trying to describe why I felt this way to a friend over the phone and it dawned on me.
This is America, not a police state. We expect this behavior from other places in the world, but not the USA.
Talking to more veteran co-workers, they can't even remember when the police got this violent with the media in the US. During the massive WTO protest in the 90s, journalists were allowed to stand with the police line to do their jobs.
Someone made a good point, when the dogs and hoses were released on the civil rights marchers we were able to stand our ground and film that too.
We just don't do things like this in America, we have laws, multiple laws against this.
After being detained for some time, our crew was released without any charges. They reported back that they were going to be charged with felonious intent. At the end of the day the laws came through, but at too high of a price, it came at the cost of preventing us from doing our job.
This just isn't a Republican issue, a producer with ABC News was arrested at the DNC in Denver for standing on a public sidewalk. He was actually formally charged after being pushed into the street by a sheriff's deputy.
And this isn't a case of someone being careless like the reporter from Democracy Now who walked past a police line.
This was the working media doing their job in a lawful manner being prevented from showing the truth.
In journalism school we called that a "chilling effect."