New York City police continued their rampage against protesters and photographers during today’s Occupy Wall Street anniversary protest, including an incident in the above video where a cop shoves a photographer to the ground.

The video makes it is obvious that tensions are running high with one protester getting arrested after trying to pull a cop away from making another arrest.

The photographer is none other than Paul Weiskel, a Photography is Not a Crime reader whom I’ve written about in the past. 

Weiskel explained that the incident took place after he snapped this photo.


A cop told me to move back so I moved back while trying to take pictures. He then grabbed the front of my lens so naturally I tell him to not touch my camera and apparently he didn’t like that. It was an asshole cop being an asshole cop. I hounded those two for badge numbers for a couple blocks…

The New York Times posted a video showing police ordering photographers not to take anymore photos, a futile attempt considering everybody seems to have a camera.

One officer repeatedly shoved photographers with a baton and a police lieutenant warned that no more photographs should be taken. “That’s over with,” the lieutenant said.

The issue once again seems to come down to who has NYPD-issued press credentials, which is essentially saying government-approved journalists who work for corporate conglomerate media entities have more rights than non-government-approved journalists who prefer to remain independent, which not only is a complete contradiction to the First Amendment but a perfect example of what the Occupy activists are protesting against.

In one incident, police knocked down Village Voice photographer C.S. Muncy and detained him before releasing him after he flashed his NYPD-issued credentials.

But Muncy’s friend, John Knefel, who does not have the police-issued credentials but nonetheless still operates an internet radio show called Radio Dispatch, was arrested.

Knefel was also arrested last year during an Occupy Wall Street protest, prompting a Boing Boing article titled “Who is a Journalist?”

Knefel is a writer and comedian, one of the many people documenting OWS from the inside while trying to navigate the very grey boundaries of journalist and participant in the age of Internet journalism. Personally, I think this conflict is pretty interesting. If I can get all “journalism ethics class” for a minute here, I think OWS is drawing attention to the already existing need for new definitions of who constitutes “media” and who doesn’t. Why is this more confusing than you might thing? Let me use Knefel as an example.

Knefel doesn’t work for a major media outlet. But he’s also not just some random bystander. He’s got a political podcast with new episodes three times a week. Do we only call someone a journalist if they have enough page views? Do they have to have a journalism degree? What’s the line?

Knefel is a biased source of information. But so are a lot of mainstream commentators. We’d call someone from Fox News a journalist. We’d call someone from Reason magazine a journalist. We’d call somebody from Mother Jones a journalist. Having a clear political angle to your coverage doesn’t make you not a journalist. Except when it does. So what are the actual criteria?

Knefel didn’t have a press pass. But, as Xeni has pointed out, the press pass system in New York is incredibly convoluted and contradictory. So what if you can’t get one? Does that mean you aren’t a journalist? This is particularly problematic given the fact that the rules seem to be set up to favor long-standing publications with lots of resources that mostly just cover New York City. How does that fit into a globalized world? Why punish media entrepreneurship?

Julia Reinhart, the National Press Photographers Association member who was arrested Monday, said she would not have been arrested had she had the NYPD-issued credentials.

I was walking down Wall Street towards Pear Street following a group of protesters down the sidewalk towards the intersection. I had been out shooting pictures since 6:30 am and saw another confrontation building across the street when I observed a white shirt cop reading a dispersal order to protesters on the sidewalk. I crossed the street to photograph him doing that and anticipating some arrest shots. As he was reading the dispersal order he looked at me stopping and  setting up for my shot when he said “that’s it. Take her.” And so I was arrested.

To qualify for an NYPD-issued press pass, a photojournalist must meet the following criteria, according to the NYPD:

Applicants must be a member of the media who covers, in person, emergency, spot or breaking news events and/or public events of a non-emergency nature, where police, fire lines or other restrictions, limitations, or barriers established by the City of New York have been set up for security or crowd control purposes, within the City of New York; or covers, in person, events sponsored by the City of New York which are open to members of the press.

Applicants also must submit one or more articles, commentaries, books, photographs, videos, films or audios published or broadcast within the twenty–four (24) months immediately preceding the Press Card application, sufficient to show that the applicant covered in person six (6) or more events occurring on separate days.

As Reinhart points out, this requires the journalist to cover events without the police credentials, which can lead to their arrest.

The whole qualifications process for an NYPD press pass is quite Kafkaesque. You need to have six stories published for which a press pass is required, but when you go there you get in trouble for not having the credential.

Even then, the credentials still do not protect the journalist from arrest as Robert Stolarik learned last month.

Stolarik, who has been shooting for the New York Times for years, was stripped of his credentials for almost three weeks, making it extremely difficult for him to do his job and proving the NYPD has no qualms in challenging the most respected newspaper in the country.

But press credentials, whether they are issued by police or by news companies, do not give the photographers any more legal rights than anybody else when it comes to taking pictures on a public street.

The advantages of having the police credentials is that they allow one to be escorted behind police lines, but they don’t give journalists the right to just walk past police lines at their leisure.

They also allow journalists to attend police press conferences, which are usually held inside a small room within the department, making it understandable why they wouldn’t open it up to the general public.

In 2009, three bloggers sued the NYPD because they were denied credentials on the basis that they did not work for a “legitimate news organization.”

The NYPD recanted and the bloggers were given credentials. And in 2010, it vowed to “modernize the City’s credentialing system to reflect changes to the media industry and, for the first time, expressly incorporate online-only media such as blogs.”

But even then, the process to obtain credentials can still take months and favor local journalists over those from out-of-town who never had a chance to apply.

Take the case of Chris Faraone, a reporter from the Boston Phoenix, who was arrested Monday on charges of disturbing the peace.

When I asked him on Twitter about whether or not NYPD-issued credentials would have kept him out of jail, he responded by saying, “those credentials and those only MIGHT have saved me.”

So it boils down to police deciding who is a journalist, which in essence, is no different than the journalists in Cuba who are hand-picked by the Castro regime.

In fairness, when everybody has a camera, it’s nearly impossible to determine who is a journalist and who is a protester.

In many cases, some activists with cameras are the designated journalists of the movement, documenting the protests to spread their message.

And in other cases, journalists have an underlying sympathy for the protesters, even though they are not part of the movement.

And in most cases, it’s probably a case of everybody having a camera whether they are part of the protest or just somebody with a Flickr account and an expensive new camera hoping to get some cool shots.

Either way, if they are not breaking the law, they should not be arrested.

After all, the First Amendment guarantees Freedom of the Press for every citizen regardless if they have police-issued credentials.

But over the last few days, we’ve seen multiple reports of police jumping into crowds on sidewalks and making arrests, including of several other reporters I have not mentioned here, which are listed in Josh Strearn’s compilation on his Storify blog.

They are not only cracking down on the right to take photos, they are cracking down on the right to assemble peacefully.

Perhaps they believe they are doing the city a favor. Or more likely, they believe they are doing Wall Street a favor by protecting the interests of the country’s financier’s.

But they’re not doing themselves a favor because with each unlawful and overly aggressive arrest, they lose a little more credibility.

Let’s not forget that the Occupy Wall Street movement did not gain national traction last year until a video emerged showing NYPD Commander Anthony Bologna sneakily pepper spraying a group of woman before darting off.

While this year’s protests are drawing only a fraction of what we saw last year, all it takes is a few over-the-top abusive acts to emerge on Youtube to rile people into taking to the streets.

So far, the worst to emerge is in the above video, but it’s only a matter of time before it gets worse.

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I am immersed in a legal case where I not only want to clear my criminal charges stemming from my arrest in January, but I want to sue the Miami-Dade Police Department for deleting my footage, which I was able to recover.

My goal is to set some type of precedent to ensure this does not happen as often as it does today where cops simply get away with it.

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