NYPD Rings In New Year With Arrests, Press Harassment

Allison Kilkenny

Occupy Wall Street returned to Zuccotti Park this weekend for a planned New Year’s Eve celebration in which protesters, according to the Facebook event page, would reclaim” the park, and the area around it.”

Hundreds turned out for the protest, documented by vigilant tweeter Newyorkist:

There is a small tent in Liberty. Toy sized. Police tried to remove. Ppl locked arms around it,” Police turning ppl away from park. Is it closed, I asked. No, one said. Can ppl come in? No, same said. Who’s enforcing it? No one answered,” Just spoke w/​ Captain Duffy of NYPD. Tells me NYPD closed park because going to be impending arrests. We don’t want anymore ppl inside,’” Officer told man who asked, as soon as tent is put away, Zuccotti Park will reopen,” Now 25 ppl circling park, chanting we are unstoppable another world is possible,” and Via mic check: deal discussed btw mom, kids w/​ tent and NYPD. Hand tent over & police will open park. Kids to personally hand tent over.”

Gothamist has a nice recap of the night’s events. At one point, protesters tore down the metal barricades that have been set up around the park since the early days of the now-destroyed Liberty camp. 

The Daily News reports that an officer was slightly injured with a pair of scissors, according to police, and the officer was taken to Bellevue Hospital, while protesters say the police responded with pepper spray. 

CityRoom reports:

As midnight approached, the hundreds in Zuccotti Park shouted Whose year? Our year!”

Just before 1:30 a.m., security guards and police officers entered the park, where only about 150 people remained. A line of officers pushed protesters from the park and led about five people out in handcuffs. One officer used two hands to repeatedly shove backwards a credentialed news photographer who was preparing to document an arrest.

A police commander announced through a megaphone that the park, which is normally open 24 hours a day, was closed until 9 a.m., but did not provide a reason. A few moments later, officers told the crowd that had just been moved from the park that the sidewalks surrounding Zuccotti Park were also closed, and directed people across Broadway.

Just before the park was cleared, about 200 protesters marched north through SoHo and into the East Village. At 13th Street and 2nd Avenue, officers surrounded dozens of protesters walking on the sidewalk around 3:00 a.m. and began arresting some of them.

NY Daily News reports at least 68 people were arrested.

Longtime OWS protester Jeff Smith (@donbeaputz) posted the following video of an NYPD officer threatening to take the credentials of a reporter. 

There’s been some debate on Twitter about the identity of the reporter. Journalist Andrew Katz tweeted he may be Colin Moynihan from the New York Times, while others believe the video shows photojournalist Dave Sanders. However, photojournalist Yunghi Kim tweeted that she too believes the man in the video is Moynihan.

Regardless of the reporter’s identity, the video shows yet another example of police intimidating press. The NYPD can revoke (as in physically tear off) a reporter’s city-approved press credentials at any time for absolutely any reason. I’ve witnessed press lose their passes for the crime of wandering into the street to film police arresting protesters. 

In the past, I’ve griped about the nightmarish process of trying to (and somehow succeeding in) securing a press pass as an independent journalist, and Gothamist documented its own struggle to obtain badges for its reporters. 

The Kafkaesque struggle in which a reporter must prove he/​she crossed several police lines in pursuit of stories before he/​she had the authority or clearance to do so is coupled with a system where police can revoke that privilege whenever a reporter dares to use their pass.

As media changes and becomes more digitalized, independent bloggers, who remember aren’t even considered journalists by many authorities, face intimidation, harassment, and arrest for daring to document protests. That has always been the reality for on-line journalists, but now that Mayor Bloomberg and his private army have gone insane with power and started arbitrarily harassing some mainstream journalists, the reporting world has taken notice. 

Of course, Bloomberg denies police physically dragging reporters away from the story actually impedes the press’s ability to do their jobs, while some reporters yuk it up about the culture of harassment at the mayor’s swank holiday party, so maybe the mainstream press’s grip on the ugly reality of NYC’s fading First Amendment rights is, shall we say, tenuous. 

Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.
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