Early Tuesday morning, the New York Police Department forcibly evacuated Zuccotti Park, epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
In what appears to have been a premeditated and coordinated effort to block media coverage of the raid, many journalists said they were barred from reporting the police action. Ten reporters were arrested, another was put in a choke hold and numerous others described extensive police harassment, including, perhaps ironically, a New York Post scribe who told the New York Times’s Brian Stelter that he’d been “roughed up.”
Lindsey Christ, of local cable-news channel NY1, said on-air that “the police took over, they kept everybody out and they wouldn’t let media in. It was very planned.” One of the few reporters in the park when the police moved in, Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones, was roughly dragged out of Zuccotti and was told by police that reporters had to stay in a “press pen”.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said authorities kept the media away “to prevent a situation from getting worse and to protect members of the press.” But according to the New York Times, one journalist told a police officer “I’m press!” and the officer just responded “Not tonight.”
This type of police response is typical nationwide. Police harassment of the press has been reported during Occupy protests in Chicago, Denver, Oakland, Portland, Salt Lake City, St. Louis and beyond. Josh Stearns of Free Press has been tracking media arrests and reports that the ten arrests on Tuesday (including reporters from the Daily News, NPR and AP), brings the total since OWS started to twenty-six around the country. Stearns adds: “Just as bad was the purposeful efforts by police to interfere with coverage and roughing up of numerous journalists.”
It’s time for the public to stand up. The group, SaveTheNews.org is launching a new effort asking Mayor Bloomberg and the US Conference of Mayors to publicly commit to protecting press freedoms in their cities. Add your name to the call. Public pressure is the only hope we have of forcing municipalities to protect the rights of their citizens.
You can also call Mayor Bloomberg at 212-639-9675 to speak out against the most recent arrests of journalists, demand that all charges be dropped against journalists covering OWS and implore his office to protect the rights of journalists covering protests in the future.