Photo dramatizes conflict between photojournalists and the NYPD

Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

A tipster forwarded us this Associated Press photo that paints a pretty vivid picture of what happened in the worst altercations between police and photojournalists on Nov. 17 (see comments below), after the clearing of Zuccotti Park resulted in several days of protests throughout lower Manhattan and elsewhere:

The photo, from Nov. 17, shows a 33-year-old credentialed freelance photographer named Andrew Kelly, who shoots for numerous wire services and newspapers, looking rather horrified as two officers, one with a baton pressed against his abdomen, wrestle him to the ground.

In recent weeks, we've been writing regulary about NYPD-press relations, which have been fragile at best ever since reports began streaming in about the former group infringing on the latter's First Amendment rights.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

As we reported Tuesday, photojournalists have been particularly susceptible to interference from police, especially during the ongoing Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, the next of which is scheduled for tomorrow.

The most recent example occurred earlier this week, when cops were caught on camera getting physical with a New York Times photographer named Robert Stolarik while he was documenting arrests at a protest in the World Financial Center. One officer went so far as to repeatedly, and intentionally, block Stolarik's shots, disregarding the frustrated photographer's clearly visible police-issued press pass.

But the bulk of such recent incidents took place in mid-November during the two days of street demonstrations following the eviction of Zuccotti Park. A Nov. 21 letter to the NYPD drafted by a New York Times attorney on behalf of 13 news organizations described a number of them, including arrests and alleged physical assaults on print and photojournalists alike.

The A.P. image seems to speak for itself. But we tracked Kelly down to find out what had really happened here.

Reached by phone, Kelly said that at the time, he was scurrying over to the site of an arrest when the beefier of two officers blindsided him with a knee to the ribs. The picture was taken in the moments immediately thereafter.

"What did you do that for? I'm press," Kelly recalled saying.

"Sorry. I didn't realize you were press," he said the officer replied. As you can see in the picture, he was carrying two cameras and was wearing his credentials over his coat around his neck.

Kelly said he has encountered some general obstruction while on assignment since: "The thing that annoys me the most is, you say, 'Hey look, I'm press!' And it doesn't seem to matter at all."

Nevertheless, he plans to be back out there tomorrow when protesters descend on Duarte Square to celebrate the three-month anniversary of the Occupy movement.

"I'd be much more comfortable if I didn't fear I was going to get arrested for taking photos," he said. "Let's put it that way."

We're continuing to talk to photo editors and reporters, but in the meantime, one photo editor has told us that on Nov. 17, several photographers with long histories of being willing to go right to the center of the action said they wanted off the protest beat that day: Damaged equipment, stripped credentials, and sometimes minor injuries are too high a price to pay for a freelance gig that doesn't carry insurance. Most news organizations rely on freelance photographers.

The AP photo, taken by Mary Altaffer, was published to the AP photostream with the following caption:

CAPTION: Police officers shove freelance photographer Andrew Kelly to the ground while he was working taking pictures of demonstrators affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement as they block the entrance to the New York Stock Exchange on Broad Street, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011 in New York. Two days after the encampment that sparked the global Occupy protest movement was cleared by authorities, demonstrators marched through New York’s financial district and promised a national day of action with mass gatherings in other cities.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)