More than a dozen news organizations are demanding a meeting with the NYPD after as many as 10 journalists were arrested--and dozens of others harassed--while trying to cover last week's raid on Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park. The New York Times is helping coordinate the news organizations' complaints with the NYPD.
In a letter co-signed by executives from the Associated Press, Reuters, New York Post, Daily News, Dow Jones, NBC and others, New York Times Company vice president and assistant general counsel George Freeman criticized the NYPD's "hostile" tactics, and requested an immediate meeting with police commissioner Ray Kelly and Paul Brown, the department's deputy commissioner of public information.
"Credentialed media were identified, segregated and kept away from viewing, reporting on and photographing vital matters of public concern," Freeman wrote. "A press pen was set up blocks away and those kept there were further prevented from seeing what was occurring by the strategic placement of police buses around the perimeter. Moreover, there have been numerous instances where police officers struck or otherwise intentionally impeded photographers as they were taking photos, keeping them from doing their job and from documenting instances of seeming police aggression."
The letter details four specific examples of "police behavior that clearly violates NYPD policies and procedures as concerns the media" and officers "overreaching their authority":
• On 11/15 during the "eviction" of Zuccotti Park, a member of DCPI called out to all members of the press. He asked "who had credentials?" and then instructed those who did to leave the park immediately or be subject to arrest. At this point there were several hundred people and police officers inside the park. After making his announcement a Community Affairs member grabbed one newspaper photographer and dragged him from the park. At the same time this Community Affairs officer also threatened to arrest another credentialed photographer for being inside the park.
• A female photographer, who was carrying clearly visible DCPI-issued press credentials, was taking photos of protestors near the corner of Pine and Williams Streets about 9AM on 11/17/2001. At one point, an officer (recognizing that she was a member of the media) advised her to move to the sidewalk to avoid being caught up in the police action. As she moved towards the sidewalk, another officer told her to move to the sidewalk on the other side of the road. A short time later, before she got to any sidewalk, she was grabbed by a third officer and thrown to the ground, hitting her head on the pavement.
• A female reporter, also displaying DCPI-issued press credentials, was standing with a group of photographers at a barricade on Cedar Street, between Broadway and Trinity Place, about 12 PM on 11/17/2011 when a group of police officers moved towards them and started pushing the group back. One officer, described by the reporter as very tall (approximately 6'5"), shoved the reporter with both his arms, forcing the reporter to fall backwards, landing on her right elbow, and resulting in her yelling in pain. The reporter said the officer then proceeded to pick her up by the collar while yelling "stop pretending." The reporter went to Bellevue Hospital for treatment of her injuries.
• Another incident occurred that same day near the west end of the park where a photographer, standing on the sidewalk on Trinity Place, was photographing a man the police were carrying from somewhere in the park who was covered in blood. The photographer was standing behind a metal barrier 20 to 30 yards from the scene. As he raised his camera to take a picture two other police officers came running toward him, grabbed a metal barrier and forcefully lunged at him striking the photographer in the chest, knees and shin. As they did that they screamed that he was not permitted to be taking pictures on the sidewalk -- the most traditionally recognized public forum aside from a park.
"We've worked together in the past to iron out misunderstandings," Brown wrote in an email to CapitalNewYork.com, "and will be happy to do so again."
During a press conference after the raid, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the police, saying that NYPD officers barred media from covering the raid for their own protection, and "to prevent a situation from getting worse."
If Bloomberg and company were trying to silence press coverage of the raid, that strategy clearly backfired. According to Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, the Occupy Wall Street story accounted for 13 percent of the overall newshole between Nov. 14 and Nov. 20. The week before, coverage of the protests accounted for less than 1 percent.
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