Journalists Detained in Occupy Wall Street Raid

New York

Té / 16 November 2011

Journalists at the overnight raid of Occupy Wall Street’s New York encampment were kept at a distance from covering it Tuesday, and several were arrested, handcuffed and hauled onto police buses along with hundreds of protesters.

At least half a dozen journalists were among those arrested in and around Zuccotti Park and at other protest sites in downtown Manhattan, according to demonstrators and other journalists who photographed and filmed their peers being taken into custody.

Reporter Karen Matthews and photographer Seth Wenig of The Associated Press in New York were detained for about four hours after they followed protesters through an opening in a chain-link fence into a separate park owned by a church. Matthew Lysiak of the Daily News of New York was also arrested, according to witnesses and the Daily News. The police, who arrested 22 people at the church-owned park, said the reporters and protesters were trespassing on private property.

Multiple arrests

Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the New York Police Department’s policy of keeping the media back, saying it was intended to keep them out of harm’s way.

"The police department routinely keeps members of the press off to the side when they’re in the middle of a police action. It’s to prevent the situation from getting worse and it’s to protect the members of the press," the mayor said.

But journalists said the multiple arrests, which followed the detention of two journalists Sunday handcuffed at a protest in Chapel Hill, N.C., were unusual even for the most chaotic press events. Media organizations and city officials said the behavior was troubling, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the council would look into "reports of excessive force by the NYPD and reports of infringement of the rights of the press."

"American foreign correspondents routinely put themselves in harm’s way to do their jobs, in some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. And their NYC colleagues deserve the freedom to make the same choice," Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said.

Julie Walker, a freelance radio journalist, told the AP she was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge while walking several blocks north of Zuccotti Park after covering the raid. She said an officer grabbed her arm twice and arrested her after she asked for the officer’s name and badge number.

"I told them I’m a reporter," said Walker, who was working for National Public Radio. "I had my recorder on before he ripped it out of my hand."

"I said, ’You’re arresting the media?’"

Journalists who arrived on the outskirts of Zuccotti Park as riot police evicted protesters said they were kept from standing in one place to watch the events and some, including an AP videojournalist, said they were kept several blocks from the site. Journalists wearing press passes were kept on the sidewalks and away from the park, along with the protesters, several said.

The NYPD didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment outlining its policies toward journalists and couldn’t immediately say how many journalists were arrested.

Deputy NYPD Inspector Kim Royster said that four journalists were among those arrested at the church-owned park and that protesters clipped a chain-link fence to get in. "It was private property and there was signage that said no trespassing," Royster said.

A protester at the site confirmed the account, saying protesters tore a hole in a chain-link fence to get into the park after the Zuccotti encampment was cleared.

"They had hardware. There was a chunk of wood keeping it together along with a chain and they used hardware to remove all of it," protester April Kidwell said.

Matthews, of the AP, said she went through the fence to cover police interaction with protesters after seeing both private security guards and police inside. When she tried to leave the area, she was told she was under arrest.

"I said, ’You’re arresting the media?’" she said. "They said, ’The media doesn’t get to trespass.’"

The arrests of Matthews, Wenig and Lysiak were voided, and they were released a few hours after they were detained.

"The police put me in handcuffs"

"Journalists should not be restricted from access to news events or detained for attempting to do their jobs," said Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor for the AP. "We were unhappy that two of our staff members were swept up in the police operation, but we appreciate the NYPD’s decision to release them."

Doug Higginbotham, a freelance video journalist working for TV New Zealand, said he was arrested late Tuesday morning after protesters tried to re-enter Zuccotti Park. Higginbotham said he was standing on top of a phone booth to film and was told to get down.

"The police just pulled me off, put me in handcuffs, slapped me against the truck. They took my press ID off me," said Higginbotham, who has worked a decade in New York.

"Ten years. Never been arrested. I covered 9/11. I covered DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn)."

Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik, Samantha Gross and Amy Westfeldt contributed to this report .

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