The NYPD holds the authority over issuing press credentials that reporters need to cover everything from breaking news, protests and parades in New York City.
But officers on duty during the George Floyd protests have reportedly used such authority against reporters out in the field covering them, verbally threatening and even arresting journalists reporting on the protests after curfew — regardless of whether they have a valid pass.
Because of these reports, City Comptroller Scott Stringer wrote to Mayor Bill de Blasio Saturday urging him to relieve the NYPD of its duties to issue press credentials. The Mayor’s office, Stringer argued, would be better suited in bearing that responsibility and ensuring that all journalists in New York City are able to do their job free of intimidation.
The comptroller’s letter comes amid reports that the NYPD has suspended the issuance of new press cards to all applicants during the protests. De Blasio announced later on Saturday that the NYPD will resume processing press credential applications.
In NYC, press credentials are issued by the NYPD (I know), and they just told me they have suspended new applications for credentials "until further notice." pic.twitter.com/KieDQyctcy
— Melissa Gira Grant (@melissagira) June 5, 2020
“I am concerned that after days of mass protests over the killing of George Floyd – protests that the NYPD have repeatedly used to beat and jail peaceful demonstrators – the department has decided that it is summarily shutting down the issuance of new press credentials to all applicants,” Stringer wrote. “The move serves to underscore once again why the NYPD is exactly the wrong agency to be endowed with the critical task of safeguarding our rights as New Yorkers and Americans to a free and unfettered press corps.”
Stringer told de Blasio that he believes the NYPD’s press credential responsibility has been “long held but never aptly warranted.” The requirements that allow the NYPD to issue the credentials, he argued, reflect a “very narrow and outdated view of who deserves to be issued a credential.”
The application for an NYPD press card is stringent, and to some observers, it resembles a catch-22.
To qualify for the credential, applicants must submit six stories focused on “emergency, spot or breaking news events and/or public events of a non-emergency nature, where police, fire lines or other restrictions, limitations, or barriers established by the City of New York have been set up for security or crowd control purposes, within the City of New York; or events sponsored by the City of New York which are open to members of the press.”
But in many circumstances, especially breaking news events, reporters or photographers without credentials won’t be allowed access beyond a police or fire line.
The back of an NYPD press credential outlines the conditions by which a reporter must abide. While it entitles the bearer to, “subject to safety and evidence preservation concerns, cross police, fire lines or other restrictions, limitations or barriers established by the City of New York at emergency, spot or breaking news and public events,” it also notes that the card “may be taken away by competent authority at any time.”
“I question the utility of a press pass if it can be stripped without cause by any ‘competent authority,’ up to and including any member of the NYPD who may object in the moment to a reporter doing his or her job,” Stringer wrote. “At a time when your Administration has gone out of its way to classify reporters ‘essential’ workers who deserve to cover recent events in an unfettered manner, such overbearing language is offensive to the concept of a free press and the values upon which this city is founded.”
The threat of credential revocation has come up frequently among reporters covering the George Floyd protests this week after the 8 p.m. curfew, including for two reporters at amNewYork Metro. The executive order that de Blasio signed to establish the curfew exempted from it members of the media with valid NYPD credentials.
In one instance, a senior NYPD officer, using profane language, threatened to take reporter Ben Verde’s press pass while he was covering arrests during a protest in Williamsburg on June 4.
White shirt office tells me “we gave you a chance to leave.” I inform him curfew doesn’t apply to me, he charges me and says “you got a problem? I’ll take your fucking press pass.”
— Ben Verde (@verde_nyc) June 5, 2020
The night before, June 3, a cop walked up to reporter Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech as she covered a Brooklyn protest. The reporter tapped on her camera with his baton and asked while she was still there.
Both Verde and O’Connell-Domenech have valid NYPD credentials.
Other reporters out covering the protests this past week reported similar intimidation, detainment, and even assault.
Jessica Finn works for E! News.
THREAD: We were “detained” by the #NYPD last night for 4 hours. My bf & I watched a group of peaceful protesters coming down 3rd Ave just before 9pm from inside our apt. The #NYPD was following along on bikes & walking with batons on the side of the group. It quickly turned ugly pic.twitter.com/V02EmV4soe
— Jessica Finn (@JessicaFinnNYC) June 4, 2020
Christopher Mathias writes for The Huffington Post.
After cops tackled & arrested me, & after I identified myself as a journalist, they refused to give me my phone, leaving it on the street.
Later that night another journalist found my phone. Turned out it was recording while cops pressed my head into the concrete & cursed at me https://t.co/Qs185nMXyh
— Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias) June 3, 2020
Keith Boykin reports for CNN.
— Rod Hagwood (@RodHagwood) June 3, 2020
Tyler Blint-Welsh writes for The Wall Street Journal.
Lost my glasses and my ankle is in searing pain after NYPD hit me in the face multiple times with riot shields and pushed me to the ground. I was backing away as request, with my hands up. My NYPD-issued press badge was clearly visible. I’m just sitting here crying. This sucks.
— Tyler Blint-Welsh (@tylergabriel_) June 1, 2020
The incidents happened despite de Blasio’s executive order recognizing reporters as “essential workers” able to do their job after the 8 p.m. curfew. This was supported by a tweet from Dani Lever, communications director for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who jointly announced the curfew with the mayor Monday.
To all the reporters out there who continue to inform the public everyday: The news media is exempt from tonight's curfew, as you are essential.
— Dani Lever (@Dani_Lever) June 1, 2020
On June 5, de Blasio reaffirmed the reporter exemption in a tweet, stating that journalists “are essential workers, too.” He pledged that he would “get NYPD to fix this immediately.”
Same goes for journalists covering protests and out doing their jobs. They are essential workers, too. We WILL protect their rights. The public depends on the information they provide. Will get NYPD to fix this immediately.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) June 5, 2020
Stringer urged de Blasio to immediately shift press credential duties from the NYPD to the Office of the Mayor. He also called for new standards for press card qualification “that better speak to the diversity of reportage that so many journalists bring to their work in this day and age, whether online, in print, or over the airwaves.”
He also noted in his letter to de Blasio that reporters working for all kinds of media outlets, large and small, have been subject to the same treatment. He noted that, in an era where newsrooms are much smaller than they used to be, reporters cover multiple beats and subjects, and they may not meet the NYPD’s stringent press card qualifications.
“At the end of the day, what’s important is protecting the ability of reporters to do their jobs in a free and unfettered manner, and to make sure that the diversity of opinion that is so central to New York City’s broader culture is reflected in its accredited press corps,” Stringer added.
When contacted by amNewYork Metro about Stringer’s requests, Freddi Goldstein, the mayor’s press secretary, replied, “We’ll review the proposal.”
De Blasio said he’s directed the NYPD to once again process press credential applications.
This was wrong. Being in a crisis is no excuse.
City Hall has directed NYPD to resume and expedite issuing press passes, and that’s what will happen. https://t.co/dsKL5sN7qb
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) June 6, 2020
amNewYorkMetro is awaiting comment from the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, which handles press credential requests.