New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly wants people to know that anyone who thinks badly of his department is simply misinformed.
In an interview published Thursday in the Queens Chronicle, Kelly defended both the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics and its spying on members of the Muslim community. He also inisted that the forcible removal of protesters from Zuccotti Park last fall occurred only because they had defied orders to leave and were attempting to push through police lines.
At that point in the interview, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne amplified Kelly’s remarks by stating that that only one actual journalist had been arrested during the eviction and that any accounts to the contrary were “a total myth,” which he attributed to protesters having forged press credentials in an attempt to get past police lines.
Gothamist has scrutinized Browne’s claims closely and concludes that they are technically correct — at least if you focus narrowly on the period of several hours during which the parK was being cleared and ignore the aftermath.
“Reporters were forced away to a penned-off area outside of the park, and many credentialed press complied,” the publication explains. “But hours after that eviction ‘operation’ was accomplished, the demonstrations continued—and several reporters were arrested, including AP writer Karen Matthews, photographer Seth Wenig, Daily News reporter Matthew Lysiak, and two reporters from DNAinfo: Patrick Hedlund and photographer Paul Lomax.”
Gothamist also communicated with the consulting director of the New York Press Club, Peter Bekker, who recalled that a spokesperson for New York Mayor Bloomberg had attempted at the time “to downplay the press suppression and arrests during that action by opining in his email that of the 26 reporters arrested, only five were credentialed by NYPD.”
“The New York Press Club, to say the least, is disappointed in what this kind of official equivocation suggests about the significance to the mayor and police commissioner of a free press,” Bekker added.
The mayoral spokesperson has now written to Gothamist to clarify his email of last fall by explaining that although there were 26 arrests of journalists that day, they included some that occurred many hours after the eviction or even in other cities.
Gothamist, however, has continued to update its story with accounts of journalists — mainly freelancers and bloggers — who either say they were arrested that night or whose arrests were witnessed by protesters.
In response to the controversy, journalist Josh Stearns has created a Storify page which documents the arrests of eleven journalists in New York on the day of the eviction.
“After becoming the epicenter for press suppression and journalist arrests over the last nine months, the NYPD is trying to rewrite history and pretend like nothing ever happened,” Stearns writes.
“Embedded in Paul Browne’s comments to the Queens Chronicle is a troubling statement about the First Amendment,” he comments. “Mr. Browne believes that it is the role of the NYPD to decide who is an ‘actual reporter.’ … Some of the people arrested last November didn’t have NYPD press credentials, but they had press badges on and were working for well established outlets like the New York Daily News, Vanity Fair, Agence France-Presse, and TV New Zealand. Even so, recent court cases and statements from the Department of Justice have made clear that as we enter an age of participatory media making, the protections of the First Amendment extend to all people.”
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