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.
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.