by John Grooms
Tim Funk, a veteran political reporter and current religion reporter for the Charlotte Observer, was arrested during the Moral Monday protests at the General Assembly building in Raleigh yesterday (fortunately he has since been released). Funk was covering the protests for the Observer, so he naturally stayed with the approximately 60 protesters waiting to be arrested after General Assembly police told the group to disperse. That's a reporter's job, and it is rare that police sweep up reporters when they are legitimately covering protests, even during protests that involve civil disobedience.
The General Assembly police chief, Jeff Weaver, said Funk was arrested and taken away in handcuffs because he did not heed the authorities' warning - which is proof enough that Weaver and his one-step-above-WalMart-security-guards force don't know what the hell they're doing.
Observer managing editor was quoted in the daily paper, saying, "We believe there was no reason to detain him (Funk). He wasn't there to do anything but report the story, to talk to Charlotte clergy. He was doing his job in a public place."
I agree with Carpenter, but would add just this:
Funk's arrest is a serious breach of accepted protocol by the General Assembly police force. In addition, when a member of the press is arrested while doing his or her legitimate job, a message is sent that the authorities don't want the press to cover the event the reporter was writing about. This isn't Iran or China or Guatemala, or Chicago in '68 for that matter - or any other place where it's perfectly OK for government goons to harass reporters. Freedom of the press is guaranteed in the Constitution, and must be defended from flagrantly stupid actions like General Assembly police's arrest of Funk. To that end, I urge the Observer to demand a full apology from the General Assembly and its security guards, er, police force. It'd be nice for legislative leaders and the governor to chime in with their support of the First Amendment, too. If apologies aren't forthcoming, I urge the Observer to file suit against the General Assembly, its "police force," Officer Jeff Weaver specifically, plus the governor, for violating the paper's freedom of the press. They have it coming.