Within the last two months of the Occupy Wall Street movement, we’ve seen people getting shoved around and pepper-sprayed by the police. But those being subjected to force aren’t just the protestors of the 99%, they are the reporters covering the movement. This week in a New York Times editorial, we hear from one such journalist who brings up some interesting points about the occurences and the handling of the “allegations” by the police.
A mayoral aide, Stu Loeser, sent out an email to reporters in NYC. In that email he “said that he heard of journalists ‘supposedly’ wearing police press badges who ‘allegedly encountered problems on the streets of New York.” Michael Powel, a reporter and writer of the NYT editorial says all of this “alleged” behavior was witnessed first hand by reporters and cops alike and was done in a manner in blatant disregard of the rights of the press.
“Over several days, New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers.” When the city was asked if there was some change in policy regarding the treatment of the press, they were brushed off as if the recent behaviors had never happened and that suggesting there was some sort of shift in policy would be an admittance of wrongdoings that simply didn’t occur (in the eyes of the city).
Of course, the police want people to know that they do not allow members of the press to break the law in order to gather the news. But circumstances over the past few months show again and again that members of the press were doing little more than snapping photos, asking questions, and taking notes.
One photographer, who attempted to snap pictures of a bloodied protestor being carried off by police, was charged by officers who lifted a barrier and struck the photographer in the chest, knees, and shins while informing him he was not allowed to photograph on the sidewalk. Other reporters have faced disorderly conduct arrest for doing nothing more than documenting the Occupy movement.
The city of New York gives out police press passes, these passes are worn around the neck and seem to be the city’s way of okaying some members of the press for covering police actions while others are not. But these passes don’t necessarily do any good, particularly because the city is so stingy in granted them and even renewing them.
The passes did save some holders from arrest during the Zuccotti Park eviction last week. Police took those press members to a “pen”, secluded from the park, while those without were lumped in with the other protestors. Pass-carrying press members could only hear shouts from their pen, unable to witness the eviction and what it all entailed.
Horrifying images of police abuse nationwide are becoming disturbingly commonplace, from the pepper-spraying of UC Davis students, to DC police violently pulling a handicapped man out of his wheelchair.
It is our hope that these incidents can ultimately result in real reforms in how the police are ordered to handle peaceful and lawful protests in the Occupy movement and beyond.