The rights of journalists’ has, for the course of this country’s history, been one of the most sacred institutions. Even when everything else had gone wrong we were free to talk about, photograph, or video it. We may have been beaten and abused in a lot of ways; however, we did our jobs without fear of arrest, so long as we didn’t legitimately break the law.
Even in extremely tense situations such as the DNC, the RNC, and the NATO summit in Chicago, the arrest of a journalist was a rare event. Often if there was such an occurrence they were released without charge. All of this would change this past weekend in New York City for OWS’s one year anniversary.
It’s not that journalists were arrested that is the problem; it is the fact that they were targeted for arrest without cause or provocation.
On the evening I arrived, I was told by an NYPD LT. that my press credentials meant nothing here. This was the tone that was set for journalists who came from all over the world to witness what they felt would be the celebration of a life time and perhaps the reemergence of the Occupy Movement to the front of the pages.
On the first day of protests as Occupiers marched down the side walk from Washington Sq. to Zuccotti Park, police continually pointed out journalists they thought could paint them in an unfavorable light.
At one point, police came after me and grabbed me by the arm in an attempt to arrest me.
However, I had been warned by the police’s telegraphing behavior, and warned the NLG, practitioners of black bloc tactics, and members of various other groups I had imbedded with over the past year.
When the officer made the arrest attempt, I was immediately de-arrested and pulled into the crowd to safety at the back of the march, while police changed their targets to some protesters with a banner and others who had their faces covered with bandanas.
After the violent attack had subsided due to a small, feisty woman from Philadelphia who defended herself from police hostilities, even kicking officers’ in the genitals for their trouble. The ruckus that she had caused had put the police in a situation where they were surrounded and outnumbered by now enraged protesters chanting shame and let her go, causing commanders to give the order to withdraw for the time being.
This, however, was not to be the end of the assaults on journalists.
After the protest had arrive at Zuccotti Park journalists were prevented from taking any photographs from the side walk of the crowd gathered, on several occasions photographers were told they would be arrested if the stopped even for a moment outside of the barricaded park. In addition they were prevented from climbing anything that would give them a good high angle shot.
Around 8:30 in the evening threats and intimidation turned into violent action by the police for a second time. A group of five photojournalists were attacked and arrested by police while attempting to photograph a series of arrests in front of Trinity Church.
Police had already formed a wall across the sidewalk blocking foot traffic and preventing the observation of arrest being carried out on the other side in front of Trinity Church.
The aggression started after Sgt. Daiz of the 7th precinct told one photographer “I will be engaging you later,” pointing his finger at him in a threatening manner.
Sgt. Daiz was one of the officers leading the charge into the crowd of journalsits.
Within minutes police came into the crowd of journalists, who were still backing up in compliance with police orders, while photographing the scene in front of them.
“Police grabbed you by both arms and used you to drive a wedge through the crowd then slammed you into the side walk in the alcove, three officer had their knees in your back,” said Timothy Kyle, a photographer from Philadelphia’s Occupy Philly Media.
Police were screaming in my ear “this is what you wanted wasn’t it,” and “stop resisting,” although I was limp and compliant save that I was screaming for all to hear me that I was a journalist.
My experience wasn’t the exception, but seemed to be the rule, not just for our arrests, but for all of the arrests during the S-17 protests.
Two of the photojournalists who were arrested with me had their flex cuffs on so tight as to cause extreme pain and the loss of feeling in their hands. One female photographer’s handcuffs were so tight that not only did she loose feeling but her hands began turning cold.
Police ignored the pleas of the arrestees who tried tirelessly to get the police to re-handcuff her for over an hour, even after we arrived at the 7th precinct to be processed.
Arrestees continually moved her to the end of the line were they were taking people to be processed, just to get her through the process and out of the flex-cuffs.
After they finally cut the cuffs off of her, they told her to take off her equipment and bags, she attempted to remove her property from her pockets, while police screamed at her not to move toward her pockets and went to search her themselves.
There were no female officers present at the time.
The group of arrestees demanded that a female officer be brought in to search her. After a few minutes of stalling the lead officer called for a female officer.
The other photographer who had his handcuffs on excessively tight screamed for his life as police tried to cut the cuffs off with a pair of large scissors.
After several attempts and having caused the cuffs to be pulled tighter, the officers had to call for a special cutting tool to be used to remove flex-cuffs.
We were kept in custody until after all of the protesters had been released. It was some time after midnight when I finally walked out of the 7th precinct into the loving familial arms of Occupiers who came to hold a vigil in support of the arrestees, as is the common practice for the group.
The targeting of journalist didn’t end that night, though, it continued through the entire event with several more yet to be unidentified journalist having been arrested and released.
Most of the journalist who were arrested were either charged with Obstructing Pedestrian traffic or Disturbing the Peace, receiving a Desk Appearance Ticket and scheduled to appear at 9am on October 25th, 2012 to answer charges.