Guardian reporter's inside story on arrested protesters

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Story and photos by Jobert Poblete

I thought I was keeping a safe distance, observing Day of Action protesters as they went onto Interstate 880 to block traffic rather than participating, until a line of riot cops came barreling towards where I stood by the side of a freeway offramp. But my flight instinct took over, and I found myself running along northbound 880 with my notebook and pen still in my hands. What had been an impressive but otherwise peaceful protest was taking a surreal turn. But maybe I should start from the beginning.

As a recent UC Berkeley grad, I had been on campus many times in the last few months, invited by friends to support the occupations and protests that were fueling an extraordinary movement to defend public education. So I was excited to go out on March 4th to cover the Day of Action in the East Bay. This was a new experience for me. Like any good Berkeley grad, I've participated in my share of protests, but now I was a Bay Guardian news intern and this was the first time I was going out as a reporter.

There was a lot to be impressed with that day. In Berkeley, activists had succeeded in creating a broad coalition made up of graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, union members, lecturers, and campus workers and staff. These constituencies were well-represented Thursday morning.

Berkeley organizers were also working to expand their movement beyond the university. Callie Maidhof, a graduate student in anthropology, told me that March 4th is the “first attempt to organize beyond a single system, to organize across California, across the public education systems, and across the nation.”

On the four and a half mile march from Berkeley to downtown Oakland, there was plenty of evidence that they were succeeding. As the Berkeley contingent marched down Telegraph Ave., it was joined by middle school and high school students who brought their own concerns about teacher layoffs and program cuts.

At the rally in Oakland, I spoke to high school students who had walked out of their schools to participate. Sophomore Sienee Dakina from Oakland's Envision Academy told me that her school lost three teachers because of budget cuts. “We feel like it's not right,” Dakina said. “We're losing our teachers.” Ninth graders Victoria Romero and Andrea Barba from Life Academy told me that they were protesting so that the school district would “not take our dreams away.”

When the rally ended, some people were headed to San Francisco to take part in the big rally at Civic Center. I knew that there would already be Guardian reporters there, so I decided to stay in Oakland for what was being billed as an after-protest dance party and “snake march.”

The dance party started around 4:30 with a couple hundred people taking Broadway accompanied by a mobile sound system, black flags, and large banners that declared “We Have Decided Not to Die” and “Occupy Everything.” For the first time that day, I saw riot cops in full force. I read these as signs that something dramatic was probably in store. The dance party wound its way through downtown Oakland, stopping in front of the UC Office of the President before heading towards West Oakland.

I was at the back of the march, talking to an Oakland teacher who was telling me about layoffs at his school, when the police started warning the crowd that they could face arrest. I fell behind and was playing catch-up as a group of around 150 people took to the freeway. I decided to stick by the offramp and watched as a bicyclist, who appeared to be riding on the freeway away from the march, got violently tackled by a fast-moving line of cops.

It was at this point that another line of cops started up the offramp and I fled up the freeway. An officer on a motorcycle yelled at me to continue and join the protesters or face arrest. I ran to catch up with the crowd, which was in chaos as the police approached. (I later learned that, in the chaos, a local high school student fell off the elevated highway and was taken to Highland Hospital with serious injuries.) I saw two kids – perhaps as young as 12 or 13 – trying to get away on skateboards. I was with a cluster of journalists as a line of cops and a blur of batons fell upon a group on the far side of the southbound lanes. We retreated to the dividing wall, me still clutching my pen and notebook, holding my hands in the air.

We were ordered to lay on the ground. My pen was still out so I continued taking notes. An officer noticed me and ordered me up. I explained that I was a reporter and offered to show him proof of my affiliation with the Guardian. “But you're on a freeway,” he said. “You're under arrest.” He did help me secure my notes and camera.

I was handcuffed and ordered to kneel on the side of the highway with the protesters, next to a friend from Berkeley, a graduate student at the journalism school. We knelt for hours waiting for the buses that would take us to Glenn Dyer jail in Oakland and Santa Rita jail in Dublin. A handful of stranded motorists cheered, presumably for the protesters, and in one of the lofts next to the freeway, a resident had posted a sign that said “FUCK U Protesters.”

I was sent to Santa Rita with around 100 of those arrested on the freeway. We were informed that we would be charged with misdemeanors and released, but it was clear that our numbers had overwhelmed the jail's systems. Deputies told us that we would be in there for 10 hours. Ten hours turned into 20, most of that time spent in a cold concrete cell, seven feet long and seven feet wide, with 14 other inmates. There wasn't room for all of us to lie down at the same time. The fluorescent lights were kept on all night, and I was disoriented, groggy.

The sheriff's deputies joked about IEDs and half-heartedly threatened us with prison clichés. An agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement visited my cell and questioned me and another person of color, asking us for our names and where we were born. My cell mates, worried about the possibility that an undocumented student had been arrested, discussed whether we should refuse to answer their questions. An inmate in a nearby cell hurled obscenities at the “protesters.” But most of the other inmates were merely curious. A few held up their fists in solidarity as they were led past our cell.

I shared cells with a diverse group of people, some I had known for years: a teacher's aid, a Berkeley freshman computer science major, a veteran, an older man who called himself a communist, and a handful of community college students from Modesto. There were a number of other journalists: two stringers working for Democracy Now!, a reporter from the Daily Californian, and a friend who was covering the protest for Indybay.org. I had seen other journalists with big video rigs on the freeway, but one of the other arrestees told me that they had been allowed to leave.

We passed the time as best we could. The Berkeley computer science major taught us how to fold origami cranes. One of the other reporters gave an impromptu teach-in about some Bay Area residents imprisoned in Iran. We took advantage of the concrete cell's unique acoustic properties by humming harmonies. A few cells over, the women agitated for food and we got bologna sandwiches and a strange powdered juice that tasted like the color yellow. Mostly, we tried to sleep, in fetal positions, sitting up, or curled around the toilet using our arms, shoes, and rolls of TP for pillows.

There were also discussions about the movement: how to make it broader, how best to organize and make decisions, and what should come next. It was clear to me that many of the people I was with did not know that they would end up on a freeway, but if there were any regrets, no one in my cell let that on. One man commented that the movement was getting bigger – earlier protests had resulted in dozens of arrests, but this one had 150 people taking a freeway. Another said that only the movement “intellectuals” were taking militant action. A community college student objected to that point. Earlier, he had joked about the $6 increase in his fees, but now he spoke bitterly and passionately about how he considered himself working class and not an intellectual. The budget cuts had made him feel that a quality education at a UC was getting further from his grasp.

I was not released until around 4 p.m. on Friday, charged with two misdemeanors – unlawful assembly and obstructing a public place – and ordered to appear in court April 5. Outside the jail, a small crowd of supporters had been gathered all day and it did not take long to find a familiar face and a ride back home.

A friend who had worked through the night to rally support and secure attorneys told me that a lot of students were upset about what had happened. They were critical about what they called a lack of planning and angry that protesters had been led into an action they did not fully understand and did not fully prepare for.

But the freeway action also showed how far the movement has come. Resistance to the budget cuts has spilled out of the universities and gotten bigger, broader, and, yes, perhaps more foolhardy. From my vantage point on that elevated highway, the movement has definitely upped the ante and more and more people are calling the bet.

Comments

You claim to be a protester and a reporter at the same time.

Imagine if someone claimed to be a tea-party protester and a reporter at the same time... how would you think about their news-story?

As someone who is in the local progressive activist community, I would rather see reporters be reporters, and protesters be protesters. I like solid journalism.

While there will always be personal bias in the news, there was an astonishing number of people actively blocking the overpass, actively taunting the police, who then claimed to be reporters.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 7:50 am

Yes, Guest, we should cut this guy some slack since he was an intern. But it is obvious at every turn here that he was highly supportive of and sympathetic to the protesters. The fact that he got caught up in the arrest was, I suspect, the result of his being a little too ideologically and personally close to those he was supposed to be objectively covering.

So, a rookie error. My professional advice to Jobert would be to decide what he wants to when he grows up - an objective investigative journalist or a professional agitator. If he continues to try and hedge the difference, I can near guarantee this won't be the last time he finds himself on his knees, handcuffed.

Posted by Tom Foolery on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 8:37 am

How is this worse than Fox news covering the tea parties? The Guardian didn't help organize the protests and the reporter is honest about how he feels about the protest. There is nothing wrong or unethical about that. If you don't like it; you can read the Examiner or the Chronicle. They just won't be so honest about their bias.

Posted by djLito on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

I am very pleased when I know or learn the political views of reporters/journalists. I'm tired of those reporters/journalists who charade as being so-called "objective" as if they have had a lobotomy and don't have any political views/thoughts/feelings in their head whatsoever. It's nonsense.

Reporters/journalists are human beings just like the rest of us. So why shouldn't they let their views be known? And if one doesn't like reading what is on this site, one can go over to SFHate (aka SFGate) and read the daily hate "bait articles" there intended to bring the Nazis pouring onto that pathetic site to spew their willful-ignorance and hate. The so-called "reporters" at SFHate certainly don't mind letting one know what they think about the homeless, immigration, bicyclists, David Compos, Chris Daly, et al. They freely express their opinions... of hate.

Giving one's opinion and views is true free speech and one should not have to muzzle oneself or put a gag order on oneself or suspend one's First Amendment rights under the US Constitution just because one wears the label of "reporter" or "journalist."

Posted by Sam on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

Simply because there were individuals present as protesters later claiming to be journalists, does not negate the fact that journalists are arrested all the time for allegedly participating without having done so and that this could certainly have occurred here.

There is nothing wrong with being a protester one day and a journalist the next as long as you don't merge the two at the same moment. The point is to be able to keep yourself separate at the event you're covering and keep your reporting truthful. Simply having affinity with protesters or talking to them while you're trapped in a cell for 20hrs shouldn't be viewed as flaw. There is no such thing as being unbiased, the only thing you can do is strive to be unbiased or provide a truthful, honest analysis of the events.

Your personal views of society, economics, politics, etc. shape how you report on a story no matter who you are. It doesn't mean you're lying, but it does mean that you emphasize some portions and ignore others as irrelevant; every journalists does this.

Posted by Also a Journalist on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

First of all, this is the "Politics Blog" section of the Guardian; you will be hard-pressed to find other articles here dressed up in a journalism school, faux-objective style. Second of all, once they flexicuff you and take away your pen and notebook, the choice is theirs, not yours.

Posted by Arrested videographer on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

Wow, you guys are really cool. What a treat for the rest of us that you've deigned to put aside your quill pens long enough to type up this archaic drivel.

Good story, Jobert. Thanks.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

there were plenty of corporate media people all over on the freeway that didn't get arrested. that speaks far more to the biases of the police -- that only Channel 2 is "real" news -- than it does to any decisions made at the time by the author here

as for this ridiculous claim -- "an astonishing number of people ... actively taunting the police ... claimed to be reporters" -- I ask you to back it up with evidence. otherwise, I will call that out as a big fat deliberate lie. I've followed the story rathery closely and only heard about a half dozen people who were arrested claim to be journalists, and, lo and behold, they all actually are, and they were acting as such at the time of their arrest.

Posted by say huh? on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

"How is this worse than Fox news covering the tea parties? "

It's not worse, it is just as bad.

It's all so amazing to me, for the left (and non morons) FOX news is shorthand for rightwing bias, mention FOX news and journalism at the same time and 75% of the nation will laugh out loud.

So saying "How is this worse than Fox news covering the tea parties?" is very odd to me.

FOX news and the Bay Guardian (and the lefts Democracy Now, Indybay.org etc...) want to partake in the news and even drive the agenda bus if we let them, then when things go sour they complain "but I'm a member of the media you can't arrest me, and by the way, FOX news is biased."

Posted by glen matlock on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 4:48 pm

Not associating with or befriending protesters is also a political decision. Calling a writer "objective" just means the writer's politics are so closely in line with the power structure that they don't show up as different in any way.

What an honest writer can do is to disclose his or her relevant interests, friendships, and other involvements so readers can make up their own minds about any resulting slant. If mainstream news reporters did that fully you might be surprised.

Look back to the earlier 20th century and think about the model of the "writer engagé." If it was good enough for Orwell and Camus it's damn well good enough for the Bay Guardian.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

Jobert was indeed working as a reporter that day, as I wrote on this blog even before he was arrested. And as his editor, I was aware of his connections to the movement and I encouraged him to make those clear in this post. As others here have said, that's just being honest (more honest than some other media outlets are about their supposed objectivity), and it doesn't take away from his ability to convey what happened that day or from his rights as a journalist covering a story.

As a newspaper, we whole-heartedly support "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," a right not coincidentally found in the same constitutional amendment as freedom of the press. Furthermore, the Guardian has long unapologetically advocated for a more progressive tax system that adequately funds public education and services, the central demand on the Day of Action. Just because other media have forgotten that the First Amendment was created precisely so that journalists could stand with the people at time like this -- and not be arrested for it -- doesn't mean that we're going to shrink from asserting our rights or apologize to those who would enfeeble us.

Steven T. Jones, City Editor, Bay Guardian

Posted by steven on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

I hear you're good for it.

Posted by The SF Weekly's Big Pile of Money on Mar. 10, 2010 @ 2:14 am

Not associating with or befriending protesters is also a political decision. Calling a writer "objective" just means the writer's politics are so closely in line with the power structure that they don't show up as different in any way.

What an honest writer can do is to disclose his or her relevant interests, friendships, and other involvements so readers can make up their own minds about any resulting slant. If mainstream news reporters did that fully you might be surprised.

Look back to the earlier 20th century and think about the model of the "writer engagé." If it was good enough for Orwell and Camus it's damn well good enough for the Bay Guardian.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

I just finished "Down and Out in Paris and London"

It's odd that you mention Orwell because that's what I thought of when I read

"I fell behind and was playing catch-up as a group of around 150 people took to the freeway."

"The dance party started around 4:30 with a couple hundred people taking Broadway accompanied by a mobile sound system, black flags, and large banners that declared “We Have Decided Not to Die” and “Occupy Everything.”"

"Took the freeway" "Taking Broadway" ???? Interesting use of words there.

The guy gets caught in the March with his bros' as they take the freeway , and then shit gets serious, then he's all of a sudden a journalist?

Good lord get real guest, the author was yucking it up "deciding not to die" and he got arrested, and from personal experience I can tell you, getting arrested sucks.

It's hilarious that he wanted to leave his protesting pals to sit it out in jail as he "occupied something else" than the jail.

A John Reed he is not.

Posted by glen matlock on Mar. 09, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

It comes down to whether SFBG wants to be taken seriously as a source of news and opinion that tries to be objective and neutral.

Or whether it is a mouthpiece for a shameless agenda.

It can choose which, of course, and the truth is that those who read it do so mostly to get a warm, fuzzy feeling about their political bias, and not in search of serious news or debate.

Or maybe because they want an escort.

I guess that is why it is weekly and free. If it cost a buck, I'm not sure many would buy it. And you get what you pay for in journalism.

Posted by Tom Foolery on Mar. 10, 2010 @ 6:15 am

...media from all areas of the spectrum, even from the SFBG, or FOX news spectrum...

When Ben Braddlee retired he said a major problem with the modern media is that the people who supposedly reported on the political class in Washington, joined the political class at parties and events, thus joining them as part of the political class.

Not only has the SFBG joined a segment of the political class in the city and state, it has become an apologist and cheerleader for it's favorite members of that class, any attack on the stupidities of the SF progressive is an attack on the reality of the Bay Guardian. At this point the Guardian has lost all self awareness, it wants to be and is a part of the political class, while it expects non true believers to think of it as a reliable source for information.

The problem is even worse in this case, the "reporter" was out having a nice day in the sun stopping traffic and sticking it to the man, then he got arrested, then complained to the cops that he was a "journalist".

Everything about the article was loaded gibberish too. Taking an intersection is illegally stopping traffic, when people took to the freeway they were braking the law, more ridiculous sodomizing of language by the self centered spoiled entitled left.

Posted by glen matlock on Mar. 10, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

I think the real reason behind this protest is that folks are finally starting to line up and rage against the machine --- look at how they shafter Howard Stern out of a job on American idol

Posted by Guest on Apr. 01, 2010 @ 10:02 am