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Journalists detained at NYC Occupy protests

By Meghan Barr

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 15 2011 2:05 p.m. MST

NEW YORK — Journalists at the overnight raid of Occupy Wall Street's New York encampment were kept at a distance from covering it Tuesday, and several were arrested, handcuffed and hauled onto police buses along with hundreds of protesters.

At least half a dozen journalists were among those arrested in and around Zuccotti Park and at other protest sites in downtown Manhattan, according to demonstrators and other journalists who photographed and filmed their peers being taken into custody.

Reporter Karen Matthews and photographer Seth Wenig of The Associated Press in New York were taken into custody along with about eight other people after they followed protesters through an opening in a chain-link fence into a park, according to an AP reporter and other witnesses. Matthew Lysiak of the Daily News of New York was also arrested at the park, according to witnesses and the Daily News.

Julie Walker, a freelance radio journalist, told the AP she was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge while walking several blocks north of Zuccotti Park after covering the raid that evicted protesters from the two-month encampment. She said an officer grabbed her arm twice and arrested her after she asked for the officer's name and badge number.

"I told them I'm a reporter," said Walker, who was working for National Public Radio. "I had my recorder on before he ripped it out of my hand."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the NYPD's policy of keeping the media back, saying it was intended to keep them out of harm's way.

"The police department routinely keeps members of the press off to the side when they're in the middle of a police action. It's to prevent the situation from getting worse and it's to protect the members of the press," the mayor said.

But journalists said the multiple arrests, which followed the detention of two journalists Sunday who were handcuffed at a protest in Chapel Hill, N.C., were unusual even for the most chaotic press events. A city official said the police behavior was troubling and called for an investigation.

"American foreign correspondents routinely put themselves in harm's way to do their jobs, in some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. And their NYC colleagues deserve the freedom to make the same choice," Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said. "Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square."

Journalists who arrived on the outskirts of Zuccotti Park as riot police evicted protesters said they were kept from standing in one place to watch the events and some, including an AP videojournalist, said they were kept several blocks from the site. Journalists wearing press passes were kept on the sidewalks and away from the park, along with the protesters, several said.

The NYPD didn't immediately respond to a request for comment outlining its policies toward journalists, and couldn't immediately say how many journalists were arrested.

Deputy NYPD inspector Kim Royster said that 22 people were arrested, including two AP journalists and two other journalists, for entering a private park; protesters clipped a chain link fence to get in, she said.

"The space was off limits. It was private property and there was signage that said no trespassing," Royster said.

A protester at the site confirmed the police account, saying protesters tore a hole in a chain link fence to get into the park after the Zuccotti encampment was cleared.

"They had hardware. There was a chunk of wood keeping it together along with a chain and they used hardware to remove all of it," protester April Kidwell said.

Doug Higginbotham, a freelance video journalist working for TV New Zealand, said he was arrested late Tuesday morning after protesters tried to re-enter Zuccotti Park. Higginbotham said he was standing on top of a phone booth to film and was told to get down.

"The police just pulled me off, put me in handcuffs, slapped me against the truck. They took my press ID off me," said Higginbotham, who has worked a decade in New York.

"Ten years. Never been arrested. I covered 9/11. I covered DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn)."

The Deadline Club, New York's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, condemned the arrests Tuesday and urged that the detained journalists be released immediately.

"The Deadline Club believes that a free press is the cornerstone of our democracy and opposes any police interference with journalists in the lawful pursuance of their reporting," the organization said in a statement on its website.

Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik, Samantha Gross and Amy Westfeldt contributed to this report.

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