Moral Low Ground


“You’re Not Press Tonight”: NYPD Block, Brutalize Journalists Trying to Cover ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Eviction Raid; Mayor Bloomberg Admits Media Blackout

Chances are  if you’re reading this, you don’t need a lesson on First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or freedom of the press. But apparently, New York City officials do. For early this morning as NYPD thugs in full riot gear set about violently evicting the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ encampment in Lower Manhattan, a media blackout was in effect. If you were wondering why professional video or even photos of this morning’s action are harder to find than tits on a turtle, now you know.

According to gothamist, airspace in Lower Manhattan was closed to news choppers. Reporters on the ground who tried to do their jobs and cover the eviction found themselves blocked– or worse– by New York’s finest. Reporters from the New York Times and NPR were arrested, as were at least two local officials including New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez. Not only was Rodriguez apprehended, he was also beaten bloody by the boys in blue. A New York Post reporter was allegedly placed in a choke hold, an NBC correspondent’s press pass was confiscated and numerous journalists were attacked with chemical weapons. AlterNet’s Kristen Gwynne was among those pepper sprayed and roughed up. She tweeted: “Holy shit this is crazy pepper spray, pushing us, beating and arresting peaceful protesters.”

NYPD officers were, as always, models of professionalism. “Get the fuck back! Fuck back I said,” one screamed to journalists and protesters alike. Another shouted “shame! shame!”, mocking the chants of bystanders as he shoved protesters up the street (see photo here). Chillingly, police told some reporters “You’re not press tonight.”

The censorship, brutalization and arrest of journalists is a glaringly obvious violation of the First Amendment. And it’s not just happening in New York; according to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), reporters have been arrested or detained while covering ‘Occupy’ stories in Nashville, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Richmond, VA and Chapel Hill, NC. The SPJ has condemned the arrest of reporters at ‘Occupy Wall Street’:

SPJ calls for all charges against these journalists to be dropped and for greater care by police to avoid arresting or otherwise obstructing journalists who are simply and clearly doing their jobs.

In these recent instances, the journalists were either wearing press credentials or explained to police that they were reporters covering the protests. They were clearly exercising the constitutional right of a free press.

“We know that as protests escalate it may be difficult for police to distinguish bystanders from participants, but it is clear now that many journalists have been erroneously arrested without cause,” SPJ President John Ensslin said. “These errors must be rectified immediately.”

The New York Press Club has also strongly condemned the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, calling the forceful exclusion and arrests of journalists “outrageous.”

The Huffington Post reports that Mayor Bloomberg has admitted to barring reporters from covering the eviction raid, explaining that he did so “to protect members of the press,” and “to prevent a situation from getting worse.”

Kinda reminds me of when President Obama blocked the release of  additional Abu Ghraib torture photos, claiming that doing so would inflame anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world and place U.S. troops invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan in danger of retaliatory attacks. Then, as now, the obvious comes to mind: its not so much the images that inflame, but rather the acts depicted in them. Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to block journalists’ access to this morning’s eviction raid shows he’s afraid and has something to hide. But in this day and age when all of us are equipped with the technological means to be journalists, Bloomberg’s censorship can only do more harm than good.

Amateur video of police violently arresting ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protesters:

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