Carlos Miller
The ongoing battle between photographers and Metropolitan Transportation Authority police officers in New York City has reached a boiling point after the latest incident in which a San Francisco videographer was harassed.

A protest has been planned for this Sunday (tomorrow). Here are the details:

Photographers and videographers and anyone else who gets pissed off about this kind of bs will meet Sunday February 10th at 3pm at the Brooklyn Bears Community Garden, Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue, entrance on Pacific. If there’s *heavy* rain or snow, we’ll change the meeting place to Freddy’s Bar, 485 Dean St, corner of Sixth Avenue.

If it’s anything like the last New York City photographer protest, where more than 100 photographers gathered on the subway and started taking photos after a proposed ban by the MTA, it should be a blast.

The incident that sparked the upcoming protest occurred last Sunday when an MTA police officer tried to confiscate the video camera of Katherin McInnis, a video artist/teacher who was standing on a sidewalk, shooting video of the controversial Atlantic Yards project site.

The officer also demanded to know if she belonged to an anti-Atlantic Yards group and informed her repeatedly that the project will be completed. Even if McInnis was part of an anti-Atlantic Yards group, it did not give the officer the right to try and confiscate her camera.

McInnis filed a complaint against the officer, according to the Atlantic Yards Report, a watchdog blog that has been monitoring the progress of the planned $4 billion development.

“I feel a certain amount of responsibility,” (McInnis) 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 Atlantic Yards project will include 16 buildings and a basketball arena, which would be home to the New Jersey Nets. (And the New York Giants and New York Jets play in New Jersey, so go figure). The project has spurned several legal battles because of its environmental effects.

The MTA cop who harassed McInnis was apparently acting on behalf of Forest City Ratner, the corporation behind the development. Keep in mind that one of the elements of fascism is when police are hired solely to protect the interest of the corporations.

In a separate incident last December, a Columbia University grad student sued the New York Police Department after he was handcuffed, detained and questioned for 30 minutes for photographing the entrance to a subway station.

Arun Wiita, who was working on a photography project, is alleging that he was detained because he looked Middle Eastern. The New York Civil Liberties Union is backing Wiita. The following is from an interview in the Gothamist:

What did the police say when they approached you?
At first an uniformed officer approached me on the SW corner of 207th St. and 10th Ave. in Manhattan; he basically said, “Hey, what are you doing?”. I explained I was a grad student at Columbia and my motivation for the photo project.

He subsequently asked to see the photos and to see my ID, which I cooperated with. I gave him my NJ driver’s license and my Columbia ID.

He said that since I didn’t have a NY State ID he couldn’t run my information over the radio, and he would have to take me into the station at 145th St to check it out “in front of his peers”. He then asked me to turn around and put my hands behind my back and then he handcuffed me.

Four years ago, when the nation was still gripped under the “9/11 changed everything” mantra, the MTA attempted to pass a photo ban on New York City subways.

But there was a huge outcry from the New York Press Photographers Association, the National Press Club, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the National Photographers Press Association as well as the New York Civil Liberties Union. More than 100 photographers took to the subways and started snapping away, daring the MTA to arrest them.

The MTA quickly dropped its plans to ban photography, but not surprisingly, some officers and security guards did not receive the memo. So a year later, they sent out another memo.

But after last Sunday’s incident in which McInnis was standing on a public sidewalk, it looks like we’re back to square one. So even if you’re not a professional photographer, even if you don’t even own a camera, if you live in the area, it is crucial you attend the protest.

Because they might come for you next.

(And if you do attend this protest, please send me a photo or two with details so I can do an update. My email is carlosmiller at magiccitymedia dot com.)