In a press release issued on November 15, the PEN American Center deplored the violation of press freedoms in connection with the Occupy Wall Street protests. Journalists (including reporters from news outlets including CNBC, NBC, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters) were barred from streets in lower Manhattan surrounding Zuccotti Park, where hundreds of police in riot gear descended upon the park shortly after 1 a.m. on November 15, using pepper spray and by some reports tear gas to drive protesters from the encampment that had been the site of peaceful protests for nearly two months. Over two hundred protesters were arrested, some were beaten, and personal property was seized and in many cases destroyed.
Press attempting to cover the story were turned away; some who persisted in attempting to report the story were arrested or even beaten. As the PEN press release notes, “Julie Walker, who is reporting on the protests for NPR, was arrested and released late Tuesday morning, and Jared Malsin, a freelancer for the New York Times, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Others were forcefully removed from the park or handled roughly by police.”
This blockade of the press ordered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and enforced by the New York Police Department is part of a wave of media blackouts surrounding protests across the country. The PEN press release notes that similar tactics have been employed in “Milwaukee, Nashville, and Oakland, where a cameraman was attacked and left with a concussion.”
Reporter Luke Rudkowski captured video footage of the forcible removal of the press from Zuccotti Park on November 15, including his own expulsion beginning at minute 5:00; police shoving press photographers aside at minute 8:30; and a journalist being forced to enter a police vehicle at 9:50.
In response to this alarming use of force against peaceful protesters right in our midst and violation of the press freedoms that are an essential part of a democratic society, Laura McVeigh, executive director of PEN International, has issued the following statement: “At a time when freedom of expression is under threat worldwide, this denial of media access and restriction on press coverage is shameful and undemocratic. It sends the wrong signal to the American people and to the rest of the world.”