Volume 17 • Issue 15 | SEPTEMBER 3 - 10, 2004



Photogs report rough cop treatment

By Josh Rogers

News photographer Robert Stolarik was taking pictures of an arrest Tuesday near Union Square Park when he says police tackled him to the ground and cuffed his hands so tightly he thought it cut off his circulation. Thursday he was wearing two casts because doctors feared he could have fractured two bones in his wrists. He’s more concerned about being allowed to do his job than he is with his injuries.

“It’s the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been as a journalist and I’ve had a gun to my head in Colombia,” Stolarik, 35, said. “All of your rights can be take away instantly.”

Stolarik and six other news photographers, in separate interviews with Downtown Express, accused police of overly aggressive treatment the evening of Aug. 31, when a group known as A31 staged a series of un-permitted, anti-Republican protests throughout Manhattan and close to 600 arrests were made.

The seven all said they were wearing their N.Y.P.D.-issued credentials and were not hindering the police in any way during protests against the Republican National Convention. Although the protests and arrests of demonstrators have been covered widely, the reports of rough treatment against photographers trying to cover the protests has received little attention.

Downtown Express photo by Jennifer Weisbord
Anti-Republican demonstrators rang bells around the World Trade Center site on Saturday.

A Daily News photographer who requested anonymity, said after police subdued a group of splinter protestors near 27th St. he and his colleagues were waiting on the sidewalk when they were attacked by police.

“We were on Madison Ave. chilling out catching our breath – there had to be about a dozen [photographers] — and out of nowhere a blue wall comes and starts pushing and shoving. I got smacked in the face – cameras are swinging in the air. It was totally excessive force for no reason.

He said he began bleeding when a camera owned by another photographer hit him in the head.

Keith Bedford, a freelancer working for The New York Times that night, was standing near the Daily News photographer and gave a similar account. He said just before that incident, police also pushed and shoved him to the ground on Park Ave. S.

“They forced us off the sidewalk, hit us with nightsticks—shoving them into our chests,” said Bedford.

Police Inspector Michael Coan, who works in the office of the deputy commissioner for public information – commonly referred to as D.C.P.I. — said he has been working to void the arrests of a handful of photographers like Stolarik who have been taken into custody in part of the police sweeps.

“Have there been times when there have been arrests that were not justified,” Coan asked. “I’m not naive.”

Photographers usually have to get closer to the scene than reporters so they are more likely to come into physical contact with police.

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie
Bike protestors were arrested last Friday for blocking traffic.

Coan said although photographers may think they are not in the way, and in some cases, police actions “might have been part of a bigger picture.”

He said there were a lot of disorderly protests particlualry on Tuesday night and there were several teams of D.C.P.I. officers looking to set up areas where journalists could stand, although officers couldn’t be at every scene.

Stolarik is a freelancer who works for Downtown Express. That night, he had just left an assignment for the Times and was working for Polaris Images at Union Square. He said he showed police officers his credentials with his photo prior to the protest beginning. When he saw officers make the first arrest he began taking pictures and said a police supervisor “ordered them to take me down. They had me down — they were choking me…. They said they didn’t want pictures of this — that was the only thing I was told.”

For the rest of the evening, he said he encountered officers who went out of their way to help him and others who were unusually belligerent. He recalls one supervisor saying, “you have the right to remain silent so shut the f*** up.”

He said the plastic handcuffs were so tight he felt he was not getting any blood to his hands. Once in a police van, he said a police officer looked at his hands and decided to loosen the cuffs. He had about $14,000 worth of cameras, lenses and a laptop in his bag along with a bottle of Gatorade. He said once he was taken to the holding pen set up for protestors at Pier 57, an officer noticed the bag was wet from the Gatorade. Even though the bag had a tag saying it was illegal to open, Stolarik said an officer was nice enough to wipe the camera off on Stolarik’s tee-shirt and save it from permanent damage.

His equipment is insured, but he said his policy has exceptions if it is damaged or confiscated in any government action. He described the treatment of detainees at Pier 57 as awful, but he did not want to go into any more details about his six-hour stint there. Protestors have made numerous complaints this week about the temporary holding pens on the pier.

Jennifer Szymaszek, a photographer with a large news wire service she asked not be identified, said: “I was pushed really pretty hard right in my chest by a cop.” She said some of the protestors were unruly, but most were standing and trying to comply with police orders when they were pushed and arrested.

“Some were young kind of punky, anarchist kids who kind of wanted to start something. They were throwing cones in the middle of the street,” she recalled of an incident on 27th St. near Madison Ave. “We were staying back enough — we were not getting in anyone’s way. There’s no need to randomly start pushing people.”

Once the photographers she was with regrouped, she said everyone felt hesitant to return and take more pictures.

“I feel like censorship of what photographers can cover has been increasingly present this summer and it has gotten even worse for the convention,” she said.

Three freelancers who work for Downtown Express regularly also reported being pushed or tackled – Ramin Talaie, Lorenzo Ciniglio and Elisabeth Robert. They were not on assignment for the paper that night.

Talaie said he was at Herald Square Tuesday evening at about 7 p.m. when a police officer grabbed his backpack filled with heavy equipment from behind. Talaie could not see the officer but witnesses told him it was a female officer who then grabbed his shirt collar and pulled him into a Daily News photographer knocking both journalists to the ground.

“ ‘We told you to move,’ Talaie recalled an officer saying. “ [But] nobody told me to move.” He said two or three protestors knocked over a wooden police barricade and were tackled by police, but other protestors were not doing anything disruptive.

He said police made the situation worse. “Their actions really escalated things in my opinion,” Talaie said. “They could have let [protestors] keep screaming instead of pushing them back.”

Robert was at Park Ave. S. near 25th St. taking pictures of a group of people being arrested when she said an officer wearing an N.Y.P.D. tee shirt came up and pushed her to the ground.

“You could have just asked me to move,” Robert recalled saying after being pushed. “And he was like, ‘I just did.’ ” She said she complained to a police supervisor at the scene who said, “ ‘yeah I’ll fire him.’ He was really condescending and dismissive.”

A few minutes later an officer asked bystanders to leave and when Robert showed him her credentials and asked if the order applied to the press, “he said ‘especially the press.’ ”

Ciniglio said overall, police have shown restraint but they were too aggressive outside the Public Library Wednesday. He said a police lieutenant “was pushing people when it really was not necessary.” He said the officer “cross-chested me with his stick” and I was not in the way of the police. He saw a group of about 60 protestors break off and run down Fifth Ave. toward 26th St. He said the group looked to be out of control and police actions arresting them seemed appropriate.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly defended police actions arresting protestors Tuesday night. “Once more I want to commend the members of the New York City Police Department who have showed great restraint, often in the face of relentless provocation,” he said.

Josh@DowntownExpress.com



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