Police charge at protesters during an anti-Nato protest march in Chicago
A group of independent journalists who were detained at gunpoint while covering the NATO summit believe they may have been intentionally targeted by police.
At least four journalists
– including a Getty photographer – were arrested covering the event, and a number of others suffered injuries while working.
While the overall arrest count following the summit was relatively low and some journalists said authorities were accommodating, the treatment of some members of the media has raised concerns.
Late Saturday night Tim Pool, Luke Rudkowski, Geoff Shively and two friends were driving to an apartment where they had been staying in Chicago. The group had spent the day live streaming and documenting anti-NATO protests.
As they approached a stop sign, roughly a dozen police vehicles – marked and unmarked – reportedly surrounded their car with lights flashing. Using their cellphones Pool and Rudkowski activated their live stream feeds.
"Fuckin' hands!" one officer is heard yelling, as police approached the vehicle with their guns drawn.
Rudkowski, who was in the back passenger seat, reached his arm outside the window, his phone in hand. It nearly cost him his life.
"They started screaming: 'Don't shoot, it's only a cellphone, don't shoot!'" Rudkowski said. "I was scared that they easily could have shot me because they saw something in my hands."
Police bent Shively over the vehicle and handcuffed the remaining four. Officers rifled through the vehicle and reportedly smashed batteries and external hard drives belonging to the journalists. Rudkowksi's phone was taken from him and much of his footage from the incident was deleted.
According to Shively, a senior officer said their car matched "the exact description of another vehicle" police were looking for. Shively says that when they were initially stopped he heard an officer say: "We found them."
All five were released without charge. They suspect they may have been targeted. "We thought we were being set up earlier, especially at our place," Rudkowski said.
That afternoon a woman renting the apartment where the group was staying allegedly informed them that police had gathered outside the residence and were not allowing people to enter. She reportedly advised them not to return.
Pool believes it is possible they were deliberately targeted by police. "They knew who we were. They weren't pulling over a random car," he said.
Chicago police did not respond to a request for comment.
Pool and Rudkowski are among the most well-known live stream journalists covering the Occupy movement. Pool's work has been profiled in Time magazine and number of other publications. Shivley recently returned from a live streaming trip to Syria. Rudkowski – who was granted NATO press credentials – has a history of confronting political figures and executives with his camera. A day before his detention, Rudkowski questioned Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy and asked if the department intended to use agent provocateurs in responding to the NATO demonstrations.
Hours before the live streamers were detained, Mike Paczesny, who works with Rudkowski's media outlet, We Are Change, claims he was held for over seven hours at a Chicago police precinct in connection with a separate incident and was questioned about Rudkowski.
The allegation that journalists were targeted complicates the view that police handled the press at NATO appropriately, a suggestion made by some who were on the ground.
"In comparison to the NYPD, they were much more professional," said CS Muncy, a photographer with the Village Voice, who has covered Occupy actions in New York City and who photographed the Nato demonstrations. Muncy says the police were accommodating to credentialed members of the press and displayed "deference" to the protesters. "It could've been much, much worse."
Muncy did note that reports suggesting live stream journalists were deliberately targeted were "creepy". He said: "That's the more insidious side of things."
Some journalists were injured in clashes between demonstrators and police. Max Braverman, a self-described citizen journalist, suffered cuts to his head Sunday afternoon as police attempted to disperse thousands of protesters following a veterans for peace rally he was documenting.
Scott Olson, a photographer with Getty, was hit on the head with a police baton on Sunday. Another Getty photographer, Joshua Lott, was arrested, too.
Josh Stearns, journalism and public media campaign director at Free Press, who has been documenting arrests and allegations of journalist abuse since the beginning of the Occupy movement, said the situation in Chicago was not as bad as during previous protests in other cities.
"When you compare something like what happened this weekend to some of the bigger events in New York and Oakland, obviously the kind of press suppression that we saw in those cities didn't happen here," he said. "But there was a significant amount of press getting roughed up."
Stearns added that the alleged targeting of the live streamers was "one of the most troubling things to come out". He believes there is good reason to suspect the group was targeted.
"It's really hard to know beyond what they were able to capture in their audio and video," Stearns said. "However, more than one person prior to that had warned them that they heard police on the radios talking about looking for Tim Pool and others. So it does seem as though they were targeted in some way, shape or form."