NYPD officers allegedly mistreated the media during their coverage of the Zuccotti Park “eviction.” Photo by AP.
November 28, 2011Two angry letters to New York City officials sent last Tuesday by a group of prominent media outlets and the New York Civil Liberties Union request a meeting with city leaders to discuss police mistreatment and "targeting" of the media that led to a "media blackout" and violation of the First Amendment as police cleared protestors from Zuccotti Park.
According to the letter by the NYCLU, more than 25 journalists have been arrested thus far, with many being subject to physical force by police officers that have resulted in some injuries.
The letters that were sent to Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul J. Browne, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, describe the "profound displeasure, disappointment and concern" with police mistreatment of the media in their recent coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protest.
Among those who signed the letter from the media organizations written on "The New York Times Company" letterhead are representatives from The Associated Press, Reuters, The Daily News, The New York Post, Dow Jones & Company, WCBS-TV, WNBC-TV, WABC-TV, NBC Universal, The National Press Photographers Association and the New York Press Photographers.
In their letter to Browne, media outlets complain of the NYPD impairing their ability to cover the news, as well as injuring reporters and photographers during the "eviction" of demonstrators from Zuccotti Park. The NYCLU sent a similar letter in conjunction with the one authored by the media organizations.
A portion of the first letter, sent by the media outlets, reads, "if anything, the police actions of last week have been more hostile to the press than any other event in recent memory ... the credentialed press were targeted and subject to increased scrutiny and greater restrictions than members of the general public."
The letter cited reports from the media outlets' "clients" in which credentialed media personnel were intentionally separated from the events by police, making it impossible for reporters to do their jobs properly. In addition to being constricted to a "press pen" situated blocks away from the action, their view was blocked by "strategic placement of police buses around the perimeter."
One of the four condemning examples from the letter alleges that a female photographer was shooting photos of protestors at about 9 a.m. on Nov. 17 near the corner of Pine and Williams streets. An officer who identified her as a member of the media from her clearly visible DCPI-issued press pass told her to move to the sidewalk "to avoid being caught up in the police action."
As the photographer moved toward the sidewalk, a different officer told her to move again to the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road. Shortly after, before the photographer had moved to any sidewalk, a third officer grabbed her and threw her to the ground where she hit her head on the pavement.
The letter from the media outlets offered to provide Browne with further examples should he require them. The media organizations say Browne had promised to review written complaints submitted to him and agreed that additional training for new officers would be beneficial. According to the letter, four attempts to contact Browne and Lieutenant Eugene Whyte, as Browne requested, were not returned.
The NYCLU reacted similarly to the media outlets and stated in their letter their disappointment with the violation of rights that allegedly took place in New York City. "The NYPD must respect freedom of the press — a core democratic principle," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "The NYPD's actions — abusing and arresting reporters, and enforcing a media blackout of the park eviction — raise grave concerns. Given Mayor Bloomberg's repeated expressions of support for the First Amendment, we have no doubt he will take action to address these issues."
NYCLU's Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said, "It's clear the NYPD aggressively blocked reporters from covering the eviction, which was a news event of national interest.
"The Department's behavior showed a disturbing disregard for the First Amendment. We expect Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly to take immediate steps to ensure that police officers respect the freedom of the press," Dunn said.