Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Cops closemouthed about incident at Atlantic Terminal during May 3 rally

So what exactly happened on May 3, when police at the plaza outside the Forest City Ratner-owned Atlantic Terminal mall, where Atlantic Yards supporters were gathering for a quietly organized counter-protest to the "Time Out" rally scheduled by AY opponents, decided to bar a photographer with a camera and a journalist with a pen?

I haven't gotten any clear answers from the New York Police Department (NYPD). Given that another rally--albeit on public property, rather than publicly accessible open space controlled by Forest City Ratner--will be held tomorrow, those answers are worth knowing.

[June 7 update: see explanation from NYPD regarding part of the incident.]

Vague explanation, not-vague order

As I wrote, when I arrived at the plaza, photographer Adrian Kinloch, his camera visible, was finding himself stalemated by cops, who said that “the person in charge” did not permit photos. I said I was there only to take notes and talk to people, but was quickly told I had to leave.

Though I asked for more of an explanation, Sgt. Jones of the 77th Precinct (right) said he didn’t have time to provide one, and forcefully but not roughly gripped my arm and walked me across the street. Kinloch got a picture.

Checking with the cops

I wanted more of an explanation, so I called the 77th Precinct the next morning. The staffer on the phone questioned whether an incident at the mall, which is just to the north of precinct boundaries, would have involved police from the 77th. I said he could check the picture. He said he had no Internet access.

An hour later I got a call from a detective in the precinct's Community Affairs office, who expressed similar skepticism. I suggested that it was not unreasonable for police from the 77th to have been involved, given that the group eventually moved to Vanderbilt Avenue and Pacific Street, which is within precinct boundaries (see X marked at right).

Two days later, I hand-delivered a print copy of my blog article and a letter to the precinct, asking several specific questions: why this happened, whether the sergeant was acting appropriately and, if such a situation again presents itself, how to proceed.

The detective I'd spoken to had finally seen my blog and confirmed that the sergeant was from the precinct. I was hoping that precinct brass might give me some answers informally or pass on my queries to an official spokesman.

Escalating the query

A day later, I contacted the NYPD press office and asked, more specifically: Was I removed from the plaza because I was there as a journalist? Was he removing me because I was clearly not part of the groups demonstrating? On whose authority was he acting--the precinct? the owner of the mall?

I got a brief response a day later: "A preliminary investigation found no police misconduct."

Beyond misconduct

Maybe so, but that struck me as a rather narrow response. I reiterated my questions and also asked whether the plaza's role as "publicly-accessible private space" played any role in the incident.

In other words, had it been purely public space, would it have made any difference? Is it the job of police or private security guards to first enforce regulations regarding private space? Were the police acting on behalf of the mall owner and substituting for private security guards?

That issue is important because Forest City Ratner controls other publicly-accessible private space, notably the Commons at MetroTech. And while the developer has pledged that the open space at Atlantic Yards--all to be delivered in Phase 2 of the project, which has no timeline--would be managed by a conservancy or not-for-profit entity, that still raises questions about what would be permitted. Similar questions could be raised about the civic space promised in the Urban Room.

No answer

I've sent two follow-up email messages and left one phone message. I haven't gotten a response. But the questions linger: what exactly were the cops doing, and on whose request were they acting?

2 comments:

  1. keep investigating. You are really doing a great service to our community. Keep up the good work

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  2. I am going to take a ballpark guess and say that as far as the law goes, you were on public property. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck... that's how the courts are going to size it up as far as first amendment privileges go.

    But I am not an expert and I'd urge you to consult with the NYCLU, which will both assist you in getting answers from NYPD and clarifying the legal questions.

    On a day when the NYPD illegally covered up a controversial piece of art (see the Times), your questions are extremely important. Please keep pursuing them.

    And it's just outrageous that these officers seem to be catering to the whims of a private company.

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