Police Vs. The Press p.6

By: Stacy Jones THE ARREST OF a freelance reporter on assignment for the New York Times has strained the already tense relationship between New York City journalists and police, sparking outrage and activism among freedom of the press supporters.
The reporter, Julia Campbell, was arrested and handcuffed March 18 while covering the Brooklyn funeral of slain rap star Christopher G. Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls and the Notorious B.I.G.
Campbell was charged with disorderly conduct and issued a summons to appear in Brooklyn Criminal Court on April 15.
Campbell, who was wearing a police issued press pass, was arrested, along with nine others, while police attempted to stop some in the crowd from dancing on parked cars. The confrontation led to a fight between police and dozens of fans. The officers resorted to using pepper spray and nightsticks to control the crowd.
After being hit by pepper spray, Campbell, as quoted in a New York Times article, asked a policeman what he was doing. The police officer reportedly responded by grabbing Campbell's arm and pushing her away. She was arrested shortly afterward.
According to a preliminary police report, Campbell twice had confrontations with police officers. The first came after police were clearing an area and issuing a summons to an individual for drinking alcohol. In the rush, the report states, Campbell was blocked from the action. She allegedly protested about not being allowed to get her story and called one of the officers a "bastard."
The second incident, the one that resulted in Campbell's arrest, has Campbell "interfering with police action in a dense crowd," according to the report. The report also states that Campbell pushed "others into the police" and pushed a police lieutenant "in the chest and attempted to get past him."
Immediately after the incident, Times metropolitan editor Michael Oreskes called the police department to "launch a very strong protest."
A letter signed by Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld was also sent to the police department.
"She was a credentialed reporter doing her job and she shouldn't have been arrested," said Oreskes, who explained that Campbell is being represented by Times legal counsel.
Despite calls by Times management to have the charges against Campbell dropped, the police department has not complied. However, an investigation of the incident by the police department's Office of Internal Affairs is continuing, said Marilyn Mode, deputy police commissioner for public information.
"The police have investigated themselves and found themselves not guilty, but the video of Ms. Campbell's arrest and the statements of eyewitnesses make clear their investigation is a whitewash," said the New York Press Club in a media release.
In addition to talking to witnesses, police investigators are also reviewing tapes of the incident, but have made no conclusions about Campbell's arrest.
For Oreskes, the tape of the arrest supports Campbell's innocence.
"We've looked at that tape very carefully and we don't see anything out of line," he said.
According to Mode, any blame for the delay of the investigation should not be put on the police department. One of the stumbling blocks, claims Mode, is reporters' unwillingness to discuss the situation with police.
"Much to our dismay, the reporters in the vicinity [of the arrest] have refused to talk to us," said Mode. "None are cooperating with our investigation."
Mode alleged that the silent treatment was a directive of the New York Press Club.
"They're doing what they accuse us of being . . . a blue wall of silence."
"Not at all," said Eric Greenberg, a Press Club spokesman, of Mode's charges.
"The Press Club is not in a position to tell journalists to cooperate or not. That is entirely up to their organization's management," said Greenberg. "We have no authority over these people."
The police department's "pattern of interference" prompted the Press Club to create a Media/Public Safety Conflict Incident Report. The forms will be distributed to club members, news organizations and journalists who cover New York. Reporters who are involved in a conflict are being encouraged to fill out the form and send it to the Press Club, which will compile the reports and monitor the situation, said Greenberg.
The form is just the latest effort by the Press Club to reign in police harassment of journalists. In February, club President Deborah Wetzel sent a letter to Police Commissioner Howard Safir decrying the department's conduct.
The two-page letter opened with eight recent reported incidents of police interference with a reporter's work. The complaints ranged from physical and verbal abuse to police restricting photographers access to crime scenes to reporters unable to get basic information on the phone from the department's public information office.
In a letter to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani protesting Campbell's arrest, the Press Club wrote, "It is time you did something to restore to New York that tradition of press freedom that existed for many years before you took office."
At the Times, Oreskes declined to comment on police harassment of New York City journalists or on the Giuliani administration, which so far has shown support for the police department's actions.
"Our only concern is Julia," he said. "We want the charges against Julia dropped."
?(New York Times stringer Julia Campbell is handcuffed by police as she is handcuffed by police as she is arrested for disorderly conduct during a disturbance that broke out following the funeral procession of rap star Notorious B.I.G.) [Photo]

?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com)
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 29, 1997)


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