Media advocates are expressing outrage over the arrest of a New York Times freelance photographer Saturday night. New York police allegedly knocked the journalist to the ground, beat him and took his two cameras and press credentials.
Times Attorney George Freeman said photographer Robert Stolarik, 43, was “on assignment, doing his job” when police stopped him from taking pictures of an arrest in the Bronx. “He’s hurting,” Freeman said in an interview, adding that Stolarik checked himself into the hospital following his release from custody early Sunday morning. Both Freeman and Stolarik did not give specific details about the injuries.
Stolarik said he was photographing the arrest when an officer blocked his camera. Stolarik said he showed his press credentials, identified himself as a journalist and asked for the officer’s badge number. “They told me to get the fuck out of there, and then they attacked me,” he said in an interview. “They just decided to be as aggressive as possible.”
Police charged Stolarik with obstructing government administration and with resisting arrest. His court appearance is scheduled for November. The NYPD could not be reached for comment.
Stolarik, a freelance photographer with The Times for over a decade, said he is uncertain about his future as a journalist. “They’ve taken away my cameras and my press credentials,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a very long time and this is not the first time an officer has blocked my camera. It’s not the first time I’ve been arrested for taking pictures.”
Last year, Stolarik was allegedly pushed down some stairs by an officer while photographing Occupy Wall Street protesters.
"We're all there to do a job," he said. "It's just that certain officers don't believe journalists have a role, have importance."
According to Freeman, The Times has been working with the New York Police Department since the Occupy Wall Street protests last fall to find ways “to allow the press to do its job” without police interference. New York police officers violated the rights of a number of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests and arrested at least 18 of them, according to a nearly 200-page independent oversight report released by a group of human rights lawyers in July.
“It seems distressingly obvious, even though [Commissioner Raymond] Kelly announced it, the message has not gotten to police on the streets," he said. “Police are acting in direct violation of orders and agreements we’ve made with police.”
News organizations submitted a letter last year to the NYPD expressing concern over “numerous inappropriate, if not unconstitutional, actions and abuses” by the police against both “credentialed and noncredentialed journalists” during the Occupy protests.
The letter, written by Freeman, was signed by representatives for The Associated Press, The New York Post, The Daily News, Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones & Company, three local television stations (WABC, WCBS and WNBC), The National Press Photographers Association, New York Press Photographers Association, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the New York Press Club also signed the letter.
Freeman said the newspaper also plans to write a letter to Browne expressing its discontent over the arrest.
The Committee to Protect Journalists and National Press Photographers Association have called for police officials to look into the incident.
Related Reporters Committee resources: