In a letter sent today to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the New York Civil Liberties Union objected to the Police Department’s mistreatment of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests.
The letter expresses concerns about the "media blackout" the NYPD imposed during last week’s forced eviction of Zuccotti Park, which effectively prevented firsthand reporting of the incident. It urges Mayor Bloomberg to convene a meeting with the NYPD, media outlets and the NYCLU to discuss the Police Department’s mistreatment of the press. The NYCLU’s letter was sent in conjunction with a similar letter from several major media organizations.
"The NYPD must respect freedom of the press – a core democratic principle," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. "The NYPD’s actions – abusing and arresting reporters, and enforcing a media blackout of the park eviction – raise grave concerns. Given Mayor Bloomberg’s repeated expressions of support for the First Amendment, we have no doubt he will take action to address these issues."
In addition to the two letters, a group of organizations that represent journalists announced today the formation of the Coalition for the First Amendment to monitor relations between the NYPD and the press.
The NYCLU has documented numerous accounts in which journalists were arrested, threatened with arrest and subjected to physical force by police officers while seeking to cover the eviction. In one incident, a journalist was struck with a police baton, bruising his arm and damaging his camera’s lens. Another reporter reported being struck on the shoulder with a baton immediately after identifying herself as a journalist to a police officer. In another incident, a reporter had his NYPD-issued press credential yanked from his neck for attempting to cover the eviction.
In addition to these and other incidents, the city reportedly closed off airspace over Zuccotti Park to prevent news helicopters from documenting the police raid.
"It’s clear the NYPD aggressively blocked reporters from covering the eviction, which was a news event of national interest," said Christopher Dunn, the NYCU’s associate legal director. "The Department’s behavior showed a disturbing disregard for the First Amendment. We expect Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly to take immediate steps to ensure that police officers respect the freedom of the press."
The letter from media organizations was signed by representatives of The New York Times, the National Press Photographers Association, the Associated Press, Reuters, the Daily News, the New York Post, Dow Jones & Company, WCBS-TV, WNBC-TV, NBC Universal, the New York Press Club, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the New York Press Photographers Association.