On Friday Oct. 28 Rochester Police arrested 32 people at the Occupy Rochester protest in Washington Square Park during the movement's first attempted overnight protest in the city. Among the 32 who were all arrested on the grounds of trespassing on public property after hours was junior Jonathan Foster, a student photojournalist on assignment for the Rochester Institute of Technology's student publication, Reporter Magazine.
Typically, when a journalist is arrested during a protest they're covering, they're quickly released and the charges against them dropped. This is done with the knowledge that the journalist in question was not actively supporting the protest or any associated illegal action, but merely documenting it and any attempt to hinder that would be a blatant violation of the First Amendment.
Following a Nov. 18 court hearing, however, it was announced that the trespassing charges against Foster would not be unconditionally dropped without the opposition of the Monroe Country District Attorney's office. Instead, Foster and the others charged were offered a deal in which their charges would be dismissed in exchange for 24 hours of community service and the condition that Foster is not arrested again over a set period of time. Foster's lawyer, Mickey H. Osterreicher, who is also a general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, argued that this deal, which is known as an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, is not in his client's best interest as he might be subject to further potential arrests while on future assignments.
Needless to say, we at The Lamron find the actions of the District Attorney Mike Green deplorable and a disturbing violation of Foster's First Amendment rights. Journalists arrested while covering other Occupy protests elsewhere in the country and the world, including at the original Occupy Wall Street protests at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, have been released unconditionally without any charges. Green's logic in pursuing charges against Foster is that he was a student protestor, ignoring his status as a journalist, because he works for a student publication and not a professional one.
In doing so, Green is attempting to set a dangerous precedent by delegitimizing student journalism, thereby infringing on the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press that should legally protect Foster. Had Foster been on assignment for The New York Times, it's safe to say he wouldn't be facing such preposterous charges.
All in all, the actions of the district attorney regarding Jonathan Foster's case amount to nothing less than an assault on freedom of the press, an essential part of any functioning democracy. Therefore, it's all the more alarming that Foster is in legal trouble for covering the Occupy movement, which despite its flaws, does ultimately seek to broaden that democracy.