Does The NYPD Really Think That Shooting Photos/Videos Of Protests Is 'Disorderly Conduct?'
from the censorship-at-its-finest dept
The mess in NYC with the way the NYPD are handling the whole “Occupy Wall Street” situation continues. We’ve already covered the story of the police falsely claiming that video evidence of an incident where an officer (Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna) pepper sprayed women did not show the full story. In those posts, we highlighted the importance of photographic and video evidence from people around the incident, and noted how important the right to film police is for a functioning democracy. Now there’s increasing evidence that the NYPD targeted people reporting on, videotaping or filming the police, in making a bunch of arrests.
Reporter John Farley, working for WNET MetroFocus — which is part of New York’s PBS station — wrote the story after being arrested himself, on “disorderly conduct” charges. What was his disorderly conduct? Apparently it was attempting to interview some of those women who were pepper sprayed by Bologna. He properly identified himself to the police as a reporter, but they did not care. He was still arrested and spent nine hours in custody. While some of the others in custody with him were, in fact, protestors, some were merely bystanders trying to record what was going on. He notes two such stories. The first is of a guy who was working at a cafe right by the pepper spray incident:
The arrest of my cell mate, Sam Queary, 24, adds another dimension to the issue: that of the inadvertent, spontaneous citizen journalist. Queary happened to be at work at Grey Dog Cafe near Union Square when the protesters marched by.
?I heard a commotion and went outside to find cops macing women and arresting people and hitting people with nightsticks, so I started taking pictures,? said Queary. ?I followed a young, black male as he was being accosted by five cops. As I tried to take a picture I was pushed away. I asked why I was pushed away and then the next thing you know I was being judo flipped.?
The second involved a woman who just pulled out her camera phone as events were unfolding in front of her, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the protest:
I also met Rosa A., 33, in the police van while we were being transported to the 1st Precinct for processing. She had been shopping at the Barnes and Noble on Union Square when she saw the protesters outside. As many New Yorkers do when they see something unusual, she snapped a picture. And she was arrested.
?I?ve never been arrested,? said Rosa A., in visible pain from the plastic handcuffs. ?I was just there looking at magazines.? She laughed, lightening the mood in the police van. Even our arresting officer, in the van with us, chuckled.
While an NYPD spokesperson has been telling the press that police did not target those with cameras, it’s hard to understand any other reason for those three people being arrested and charged. Besides, given the fact that NYPD spokespeople talking about this incident have already had their credibility destroyed by the video evidence, it’s tough to take those claims seriously. Even if the police weren’t officially targeting people with cameras, as Farley noted, they didn’t seem to make any attempt to distinguish protesters from bystanders or press:
I don?t know precisely why I was arrested, though I have been charged with disorderly conduct. But what I realized is that in a sudden burst of urban chaos, how can the police distinguish between passersby and protesters who may be committing civil disobedience or any other type of punishable offense? Or between citizen journalists and professional journalists?
In the past, we’ve seen police use “disorderly conduct” charges against those who film them. It’s a nice catch-all that police can use to arrest almost anyone. Perhaps we should be looking to fix the law that allows arrests on “disorderly conduct” when such a law seems to be regularly abused by police to target those who are respecting the law, but doing things the police just don’t like?