Peppered in NYC

A bunch of leftists have been camping out in lower Manhattan for some days now, causing trouble where possible but generally not getting much attention, probably because no one is really interested in Communism anymore. That changed last weekend, however, courtesy of the NYPD; and as it happened, my nephew Andrew was in the thick of it.

Andrew is a free-lance photojournalist who has lived in New York for the last five years. He is a terrific photographer and has a knack for being where the action is, like a linebacker with a nose for the football. Over the years, he has had several run-ins with New York policemen who didn’t like being photographed. On at least one occasion, they seized his camera. His experiences have given me a personal perspective on the issue of citizen observation of police practices. It is understandable that policemen don’t like to be filmed or photographed as they are carrying out their duties in public places; who would want someone with a camera following him around as he does his work? Understandable, but completely unjustifiable: people obviously have a right to film or photograph what goes on in public places.

Last Saturday, Andrew was on the scene when protesters clashed with the NYPD. He told the New York Times that he “saw officers drag a woman from behind a net and throw her on the ground.” He snapped this photograph, which he later sold to the Sunday Times:

Andrew started walking down the sidewalk, unaware that he had become enmeshed in what would turn out to be a significant news story. Moments before he took his picture, Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna had walked up to a group of young women and, for no apparent reason, sprayed them with pepper spray. The video has become famous, and has prompted an investigation by both the NYPD and Manhattan’s District Attorney. I can’t find an embeddable version for some reason, but you can view it here. At the end of the video you see the women on the sidewalk, screaming, while surrounding policemen look at each other with “WTF?” expressions.

Seconds later, apparently just after Andrew shot the above photo, Bologna unleashed another pepper spray. Again, there is no evident reason why. This short video clip shows the second attack; you can see Andrew briefly, with his press credentials plainly visible:

Andrew was rather nonchalant about being sprayed:

He stepped forward and photographed the scene, then started walking on a sidewalk toward University Place.

“I felt something wet on my hand and my face,” he said, adding that he was not sure who had sprayed him. Moments later, he said, “it started to burn.”

Afterward, Mr. Hinderaker said, he crossed paths with Inspector Bologna, who told him, “You better get out of here,” and added that he could be arrested.

One can only assume that this kind of police abuse has been going on for a long time, but was not often revealed–at least, not this starkly–before the era of ubiquitous digital photography and video. But the days are gone when a policeman can wantonly assault protesters, no matter how obnoxious they may be–let alone photographers. That’s a good thing.