Skip to main content

MTA cop tries to stop videographer at Atlantic Yards site

Though a good number of photographers regularly shoot around the Atlantic Yards footprint and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Vanderbilt Yard, a video artist/teacher on the first week of her visit to Brooklyn found herself on the wrong side of an MTA police officer Sunday.

He attempted to confiscate her camera, questioned whether she was part of an anti-AY organization, and more than once reminded her that the project was proceeding, according to her account.

Katherin McInnis, who teaches video and photography in San Francisco and is visiting Brooklyn on sabbatical, told me she was hardly traumatized by the encounter, because she knew she had the right to shoot video--and blurry, “arty” video at that--from the Pacific Street sidewalk bordering the Vanderbilt Yard. (On her AV Diary, she posted some stills, some of which are reproduced here.)

[See comment from Tracy Collins, who says that building security/construction officials, not cops, have occasionally tried to stop him from taking photos.]

Complaint to be filed

But she said she would file a complaint out of principle. “I feel a certain amount of responsibility,” she said. “I know this situation comes up for my students, my fellow photographers, getting harassed in some cases. It’s important that the cops know they can’t take away your camera, and that other people know that as well. I don’t have so much as a parking ticket. He was asking, ‘Have you ever been arrested, have you ever been detained?’” Even if you had [been], you’re still allowed to take photographs.”

The encounter had some inadvertent comic moments. “He kept asking me if I was a member of an organization,” trying to find out if she was part of a group opposing the project, McInnis recounted. “I totally had no idea. I told him I was part of an art collective. That didn’t help.”

When the officer asked why she was interested in the railyards, her response was “Aren’t they going away?” She thought would defuse the situation, she recounted, but it didn’t help.

MTA response, MTA record

I called the MTA public affairs office early yesterday afternoon and outlined the incident, as recounted by McInnis, named the officer, asked if there was an incident report, and asked for the MTA policy. I didn't get a response by the end of day, but when one is forthcoming, I’ll add it.

The MTA police have a track record of harassing photographers. A 3/17/06 article on the web site of the National Press Photographers Association reported that the MTA had pledged to the New York Civil Liberties Union that it will remind its staff and law enforcement officers that there is no photography ban on MTA property.

The photographers’ group noted that, despite the defeat of an MTA-favored ban on photography, MTA personnel, specifically on the Long Island Railroad, had harassed photographers, even threatening them with arrest. The Vanderbilt Yard is used to service LIRR trains.

Interest piqued

McInnis, who was staying with friends in the neighborhood, said she’d become curious after seeing so many signs in windows of homes and businesses opposing Atlantic Yards. After downloading a map, she took her “small consumer video camera” to the site.

She said that she’d been shooting for about ten minutes, while listening to an iPod, when the police officer approached her. He told her to turn off the camera and then asked her to turn it over. She said she didn’t think she was required to do so. He told her she wasn’t being cooperative. He asked for ID, and she provided her California driver’s license as well as her Brooklyn address.

He then ran a "security check" and asked McInnis if she’d ever been arrested, detained, or questioned--questions that seem more directed toward terrorism (a lingering issue for the Atlantic Yards project) than political opposition.

Finally, she said, he asked if she was part of any organization "opposing these Yards." She said no. He said "You know the project is probably going to go through." She made no response. He indicated she was free to go.


  1. i've been told a number of times that i'm not allowed to photograph buildings from a public sidewalk, but never by the police or MTA. i usually get this hassle from (i assume) building security or construction/demolition contractor foremen.

    thanks for sticking up for us, Katherin!

  2. I've often been told "no photos" from building security when taking photographs from the public sidewalk. I usually just stop and say, "call the police, I'll wait" and so far they've always backed down.

    Never tangled with MTA "police" yet though. Given their reputation, I probably won't use that tactic.

  3. "Finally, she said, he asked if she was part of any organization "opposing these Yards." She said no. He said "You know the project is probably going to go through."

    That was a very, very stupid thing for the MTA cop to say, because worse than his illegal attempt to confiscate the camera, this makes it clear that his intent was arbitrary in hindering the exercise of her legal rights.

  4. I've been stopped on Pacific Street by regular cops and asked to show ID whilst taking pictures there - but for an MTA Cop to demand your camera is ridiculous and certainly not legal.

  5. Then-MTA police chief Kevin McConville agreed to direct MTA officers *not* to harass photographers about two years ago, after Daily News photographer Todd Maisel and I worked together to expose the problem (see link below), and the NYCLU threatened to sue (as referenced in this post).
    While they’ve gotten better since then, the problem persists. Just last summer an officer prevented me from shooting video at penn station after a major storm had shut down LIRR service.
    -Bobby Cuza, NY1 transit reporter

  6. If i'm doing a shoot, is there some document out there that spells this out??? that when (not if) I'm bothered, I at least have proof that's it's legal.

    I can see why people would just submit, cause they don't want to deal with the hassle. Even giving my ID and having them run it seems too much.

  7. A few months ago, I was stopped for taking pictures in a subway station; the four plainclothes cops demanded ID and wrote down my details.

    Afterwards, I did some research and found that in New York State, the police cannot compel you to produce ID unless they are detaining you (in what is known as a Terry stop or a "level three De Bour encounter")...both of those require the police to assert "reasonable suspicion" that one is involved in criminal activity.

    And I am not a lawyer, but I would think it very difficult for the police to argue that that threshold of "reasonable suspicion" exists when photography is not against the law. (And, the courts have found that refusal to provide identity does not in itself constitute suspicious behavior.)

  8. This is a regular occurrence in NYC. The problem becomes when people let it roll off their shoulders instead of following up with a complaint to the proper department, as well as an email to the NYCLU. If you don't like it, so something to change it.

  9. Yes. If you give up your rights, you're giving up my right, because I'm the next guy along. They're our rights. Know them and stand up for them.
    It doesn't mean be a jerk about it, and it doesn't mean making stupid sacrifices, but it does mean standing your ground until you can't, and then following up.
    Oh, and maybe stop electing people who don't give a rat(ner)'s ass about our rights.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in November 2017, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won't be so cheap.


Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in 2017: no new towers, unfilled affordable units, Islanders prepare to leave, project timetable fuzzy

My 2018 preview.

It was another wait-and-see year for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, with one big twist--the beginning of a slow goodbye for the New York Islanders--but continued delays for towers, a lost (mostly) 421-a subsidy for condos, and new skepticism about unfilled not-so-affordable housing units.

So ongoing questions linger regarding the project's pace, affordability, and even future ownership.

In my 2017 preview, I predicted--not exactly going out on a limb--that two and likely three more towers would open, though it would be unclear how fast they'd lease up and sell.

Indeed, we've learned that the middle-income below-market units at 461 Dean (which opened in 2016) and 535 Carlton have leased very slowly, while it's too soon to assess progress for commensurate units at 38 Sixth. (At 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth, middle-income units make up half the "100% affordable" buildings.) Meanwhile, many apartments are up for rent at the 550 Vanderbilt condo buildin…