Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"You got that credential you’re wearing from us, and we can take it away from you.”

This is not a good story to start 2012 with: "The Rules on News Coverage Are Clear, but the Police Keep Pushing". See related with new update at end of scroll.

Via The New York Times:
January 2, 2012

In late November, the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, ordered every precinct in his domain to read a statement. Officers, the commissioner said, must “respect the public’s right to know about these events and the media’s right of access to report.”

Any officer who “unreasonably interferes” with reporters or blocks photographers will be subject to disciplinary actions.

These are fine words. Of course, his words followed on the heels of a few days in mid-November when the police arrested, punched, kicked and used metal barriers to ram reporters and photographers covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.

And recent events suggest that the commissioner should speak more loudly. Ryan Devereaux, a reporter, serves as Exhibit 1A that all is not well.

On Dec. 17, Mr. Devereaux covered a demonstration at Duarte Square on Canal Street for “Democracy Now!,” a news program carried on 1,000 stations. Ragamuffin demonstrators surged and the police pushed back. A linebacker-size officer grabbed the collar of Mr. Devereaux, who wore an ID identifying him as a reporter. The cop jammed a fist into his throat, turning Mr. Devereaux into a de facto battering ram to push back protesters.

“I yelled, ‘I’m a journalist!’ and he kept shoving his fist and yelling to his men, ‘Push, boys!’ ”

Eventually, with curses and threats to arrest Mr. Devereaux, the officer relaxed his grip.

You don’t have to take his word. An Associated Press photograph shows this uniformed fellow grinding a meat-hook fist into the larynx of Mr. Devereaux, who is about 5 feet 5 inches. A video, easily found online, shows an officer blocking a photographer for The New York Times at the World Financial Center, jumping to put his face in front of the camera as demonstrators are arrested in the background.

And three nights ago, at a New Year’s Eve demonstration at Zuccotti Park, a captain began pushing Colin Moynihan, a reporter covering the protest for The Times. After the reporter asked the captain to stop, another officer threatened to yank away his police press pass. “That’s a boss; you do what a boss tells you,” the officer said, adding a little later, “You got that credential you’re wearing from us, and we can take it away from you.”

Reporting and policing can be high-adrenaline jobs. . But the decade-long trajectory in New York is toward expanded police power. Officers routinely infiltrate groups engaged in lawful dissent, spy on churches and mosques, and often toss demonstrators and reporters around with impunity.

When this is challenged, the police commissioner and the mayor often shrug it off and fight court orders. The mayor even argued that to let the press watch the police retake Zuccotti Park would be to violate the privacy of protesters. “It wouldn’t be fair,” he said.

As arguments go, this is perversely counterintuitive. But the mayor’s words reflect, as State Senator Eric Adams, the civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel and two others wrote in a recent letter to the commissioner, a misunderstanding of long-established patrol guide procedures. The regulations are clear:

“The media will be given access as close to the activity as possible, with a clear line of sight and within hearing range of the incident.”

Precisely the opposite occurred on Nov. 15, when police officers herded reporters into a pen out of sight and sound of Zuccotti Park.

The next day, the protesters moved north and briefly occupied a lot owned by Trinity Church. As the police closed in on demonstrators, they also handcuffed and arrested Associated Press and Daily News reporters. Mayoral press representatives stoutly insisted that the police acted properly. “It is impossible to say the reporters were not breaking the law,” a spokesman wrote to me.
Let me venture into the world of the impossible then. The police patrolmen’s guide is explicit. “Members of the media,” it states, “will not be arrested for criminal trespass unless an owner expressly indicates ... that the press is not to be permitted.”

I checked with the landlord, Trinity Church. They’d made no such call. Paul J. Browne, a deputy police commissioner, agreed. That is why, he noted in an e-mail, “The reporter arrests at Duarte were voided.”

Senator Adams retired as a police captain. He loved the blue and all it implied, and acknowledges he was not above cursing the laws that restrained him.

“Who wouldn’t like unlimited power?” he said.

That is precisely why the past decade worries him so. “If the police and the mayor won’t follow their own rules, whose rules will they follow?” he says. “And very few people ask any questions.”
New York, Mr. Adams says, “is leading the way in not wanting to know where it’s going.”

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