I rushed up the steps to witness the gathering force of 72 state troopers. I activated my Flip video camera and began to film them. As they readied to march, some two dozen protesters locked arms in a daisy chain of civil disobedience, singing “We Shall Overcome.”
Within minutes, the troopers advanced in a phalanx. I backed away, filming. While I was trying to back off the plaza, Flip cam in hand and rolling, I heard a voice say, “You’re under arrest.”
They must be talking to someone else, I thought — maybe to one of the protesters to my right, but surely not me. But in my hasty backwards exit I bumped into even more troopers who had snuck up behind me.
“I’m getting off,” I told them. I was grabbed from behind.
“Whoa!” I said. “I’m a member of the media.”
“Your time is up,” a trooper said.
“Hey!” This time I shouted. “I’m a member of the media!”
None of the officers seemed to listen to me. No one offered to look at my credentials, no one gave me an opportunity to put them in contact with my editor. Nor did they listen to a colleague, who kept shouting I was a member of the press. He later said a trooper told him, “You want to be next?”
The combined weight of heavily equipped Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers was too much. My knees buckled, and I was slowly, firmly introduced face-first to the freezing marble of the plaza. They dug their knees into my back and tightly affixed a pair of zip-tie handcuffs, the plastic gouging my wrists. From all directions, I could hear screaming.