At least 17 reporters, including several student journalists and photographers, were arrested while covering the International Monetary Fund-World Bank protests Friday Sept. 27 in downtown Washington, D.C.
The reporters were among 654 total people arrested, handcuffed and held for, in some cases, more than 25 hours by Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department.
The police officers, in full riot gear, surrounded the crowds in the Freedom Plaza and Pershing Square areas of downtown and hoarded them onto buses. The arrested journalists included three George Washington University photographers, two University of Maryland writers and one reporter from George Mason University.
Debra Kahn and Jason Flanagan, staff writers for the University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback, were in Freedom Plaza the morning of the arrests. Kahn and Flanagan said they had been in the area for only a few minutes when they noticed it was being closed off by the police.
“It just seemed as though we walked into a trap,” said Flanagan.
Flanagan said he and Kahn showed police officers valid press passes, but were nonetheless denied their request to leave. They said they were then handcuffed and placed on a bus for 13 hours.
Editors at The Diamondback made several calls to the police department pleading to have their two reporters released. However, the police department said they would have to be booked before they could be released.
The Maryland reporters, along with the arrested protestors and other journalists, were moved to the Metropolitan Police Academy gymnasium, where they were to be processed.
“[The Police] told us we would be in and out in about 20 minutes,” said Flanagan.
However, Kahn and Flanagan said they spent two hours being fingerprinted and having their pictures taken. They added that they had their right wrists cuffed to their left ankles and sat on the gymnasium floor for another nine hours.
Flanagan said police led the crowd in the gymnasium to believe they would be released very quickly if they paid a $50 fine and gave up their right to a trial. He said police made it seem as though those who wanted a trial date would have to be held for the entire weekend.
The two Maryland writers, as well as the protestors and other arrested reporters, were charged with failure to obey a lawful police order.
The police officers alleged they gave the crowd a warning before making the wave of arrests. However, Flanagan says he and most of the other people arrested did not hear this announcement at all.
Chris Zarconi, a photo editor at for George Washington University’s student newspaper The Hatchet who was also arrested that day, said he too did not hear any such police warning.
Before being officially charged, Zarconi said, “I even asked some of [the police officers] in the gymnasium if they heard that announcement, and no one said yes.”
Zarconi, who was detained by D.C. police for almost 26 hours, along with two other GW photographers, said he was disappointed with how the situation was handled. He felt the D.C. police were disorganized and unprepared. “This was definitely a violation of rights,” he said. “I certainly think that press had a right to be there.”
Robert Drechsel, a UW professor, said journalists covering an event like the IMF-World Bank Protests, “as a general rule, have no more or less rights anyone else.”
He added, “If [journalists] break the law, then they should be arrested.”
UW political science professor Donald Downs agreed, but added, “[An] illegal police order doesn’t need to be obeyed.”