Journalist detained as Occupy Nashville holds statewide assembly



Another journalist was rounded up in a small batch of Occupy Nashville arrests early Saturday morning, though no charges were filed against him.

Matthew Hamill, who hosts This Occupied Life on 107.1 WRFN-LPFM, Radio Free Nashville, was videotaping the arrests of four Occupy Nashville protesters who marched down Lower Broadway when a Metro police officer grabbed him from behind.

“I’m with the press, I’m with the press,” Hamill says repeatedly, according to video of the incident posted on YouTube. The gathering crowd chants, “He’s media.”

“I don’t care,” the officer replies at least twice.

Hamill says he was detained for about 30 minutes and let go without having any charges filed against him. The four protesters weren’t so lucky and were given misdemeanor citations for disorderly conduct after, police say, they refused to protest on the sidewalks instead of in the middle of the road.

Hamill is the third journalist to be detained by authorities while covering Occupy Nashville activities. The Tennessee Highway Patrol previously arrested a Nashville Scene reporter and a student journalist covering mass arrests in the plaza. Those charges were later dropped.

Such arrests have drawn protests from the public and media organizations, which argue that detaining and arresting journalists leaves an information blackout on the Occupy movement and the government response.

Metro police defended the officer’s actions.

“In reviewing the video, the officer is speaking in the context of the individual ignoring previous commands to remain on the sidewalk. You hear the officer telling him he should not have walked out into the street,” police spokeswoman Kris Mumford said in a written response. “Press status does not override the law. Any citizen of any profession is required to obey police lines and directives. Once the situation was evaluated, he was released without being cited.”

Protesters come from across the state

The arrests come on the heels of the first “Tennessee General Assembly,” a gathering of Occupy protesters from across the state to strategize and focus their efforts. On Saturday, the group held its first major gathering at the plaza outside the state Capitol, a gathering of about 200 people from around the state. Protesters from Knoxville, Johnson City, Chattanooga and Clarksville joined their Nashville allies, along with outside groups such as the United Auto Workers and a group of students and staff at Vanderbilt Divinity School, to protest corporate greed and to advocate for economic equality.

“I say enough. I say there is no conscience in corporations. Corporations are not persons,” said John Munn, a Nashville protester. “They are destroying our country. They are destroying our world.”

Raymond Artis, one of the organizers with Occupy Nashville, said the turnout was better than expected.

“The most important thing is, it’s been a rejuvenating energy,” he said. “We have people coming from all over the state, all over the country. It’s amazing.”

'They just grabbed me and put cuffs on me'

Also attending were some of those arrested the prior night. Lynette Leppart said that Metro police gave them only a few seconds to leave the road before moving in. She said she went to retrieve the belongings of one of the protesters who was being arrested when she was nabbed as well.

“They just grabbed me and put cuffs on me without telling me why I was arrested,” she said. “I think they’re completely unfair. The whole time I’m in the back of a cop car, there are drunk people stumbling in the streets. They’re only arresting protesters.”

Police said the protesters had plenty of time to move. “The four ignored repeated requests both in person and over a public address system to continue walking but to do so on the sidewalk,” Mumford said.

Hamill said he was disappointed and angry at Metro’s detaining of him. He acknowledges he has been a part of the Occupy movement but has been on the sidelines, documenting it as a journalist for his radio show.

“Had police brutality gone down, there would have been nobody to document it,” he said. “It’s the constitutional right of the press to be there and document it. If they’re not going to allow us to do it, it’s a scary thought.”