Journalist recalls getting arrested at 2008 RNC

Journalist recalls getting arrested at 2008 RNC

The original version of this article was published on on Sept. 5, 2008. The author, John P. Wise, was covering the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., when he was among a handful of journalists who were arrested while covering protests.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Many of you might have spent Thursday night watching John McCain formally accept his nomination for GOP presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

As it was happening, I was sitting on a bridge, waiting to be handcuffed, arrested, transported and fingerprinted, then booked on a charge of unlawful assembly.

I was one of about 20 journalists among the 300 or so people who were ordered by police to disperse from a protest area and head toward what is known as the Marion Street Bridge.

Once we got there, we realized we'd been trapped. After being herded like cattle onto the bridge, we saw officers sealing off both ends of it, but it was too late.

"If you are on the bridge right now, you are under arrest," the authoritative voice on the bullhorn said. "Sit down, put your hands on your heads, and shut your mouths."

(Watch video of the chaos below. This article continues below the video)

We heard this announcement or a variation of it several times.

What I'm now trying to convince my bosses of is that I was covering the protest with my cameras. Just kidding; it actually hasn't taken any convincing. Not only do my superiors know I was doing my job, but they were incredibly supportive and took immediate action, and now I have an attorney's business card to prove it.

What my cameras captured all week were pictures of the protests in several areas of St. Paul. And Thursday night's event wasn't necessarily violent in terms of physical confrontations, but it made national headlines nonetheless.

I've read no news reports since Thursday of police being harmed or threatened by protesters. So a casual news observer might think the officers reacted with the smoke bombs and concussion grenades because the marchers' protest permit had expired, which it did a few hours earlier.

What I saw was just another peaceful protest that only grew troublesome when officers tried to prevent the marchers from crossing a bridge to the side of town that runs into the Xcel Center, site of the RNC and McCain's speech Thursday night.

But I'm not here to speculate. I just want you all to know what I saw. We can talk about free speech and free press and this amendment and that one, but what troubles me more than the fact that I now have an arrest on my adult record is the way that it happened.

Personally, I didn't like how we were herded onto the bridge in such a deceitful manner. Officers on foot and on bikes -- wearing gas masks -- were verbally forceful in their orders for us to disperse in a particular direction. Most, including my colleague Alice Kalthoff and me, followed those instructions, but after taking a few steps, other officers on horseback told us to go in yet another direction. So if we were to follow the instructions of one group, we'd need to
disobey those of another. It was a very confusing situation.

And then, once order was restored and 300 of us were sitting on the bridge, and officers began to talk to us in a more orderly fashion, our small group of five or six journalists was told repeatedly that since we were all properly credentialed, we'll probably be let go without any trouble.

Alice was released, but I had my credential removed and was loaded onto a bus, a silk necktie the only visible difference between my fellow miscreants and me.

The mood at the Ramsey County Jail was pretty serious. As friendly and personable as the arresting officers became after things calmed down on the bridge, that's how cold the county folks were once we got off the bus. We were patted down very thoroughly, and even despite that, and despite the metal detector, the memory cards that I slyly slid out of my cameras two hours earlier remained undetected in my sock.

For a few hours, I sat in a cell with 10 others, then was called to answer some routine questions, but became fearful when my expired Kentucky license -- I've lived in New York for 27 months now -- prompted a small huddle of officers.

I escaped trouble there, and was assured by yet another officer that I'd get my camera gear that was previously confiscated. I figured this wouldn't be all bad.

But after sitting on a cold floor for another hour, I got a little cranky, so the news after 1 a.m. local time that my camera gear won't be available until Monday wasn't met with much happiness.

I finally got out of there, more than five hours after I was first told to sit down on that bridge. I made it to the FOX News tent, made a couple phone calls, picked up my laptop and drove to my hotel. A 7 a.m. visit with an attorney awaited, then came a trip to the airport to fly back home.

The attorney seems very sharp and is confident the charge will be dropped. So the only setbacks will have been a few hours of displeasure, a few days without my cameras and a night on which I got only 90 minutes of sleep.

Not too big of a deal in exchange for having a pretty good story to tell for the rest of my life. In fact, I've been asked to tell it to some journalism students at my college alma mater when I visit Cincinnati next month. Even my latest Karl Rove story suddenly isn't a big deal.

John P. Wise is the director of digital media at WAVE 3 News in Louisville, Ky., and is in Cleveland helping sister station WOIO cover this week's Republican National Convention. Follow him on Twitter at @wisejohnp as he takes photos and tries to avoid getting arrested again.