New York City’s Police State

The NYPD is wantonly violating the 1st Amendment.

Michael Powell‘s NYT city section essay “Reporters Meet the Fists of the Law” deserves national attention.

Over several days, New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers.

Reporters with The Associated Press and The Daily News were arrested while taking notes. A radio reporter was arrested as she recorded several blocks from the park.

All of this behavior “allegedly” occurred “on the streets of New York.”


At least since the Republican National Convention of 2004, our police have grown accustomed to forcibly penning, arresting, and sometimes spraying and whacking protesters and reporters. On Monday, The New York Times and 12 other organizations sent a letter of protest to the Police Department. “The police actions of last week,” the authors said, “have been more hostile to the press than any other event in recent memory.”

Their letter offered five examples. I’ll mention one: As the police carried off a young protester whose head was covered in a crown of blood, a photographer stood behind a metal barricade and raised his camera. Two officers ran at him, grabbed the barrier and struck him in the chest, knees and shins. You are not permitted, the police yelled, to photograph on the sidewalk.


Last week, Mr. Loeser [the NYPD’s press secretary] instructed his staff to compare the names of those arrested against the roster of reporters with police press passes. His resulting e-mail suggested Captain Renault discovering gambling in Casablanca.

“Imagine my surprise,” he wrote, “when we found that only five of the 26 arrested reporters actually have valid NYPD-issued press credentials.”

Here’s the rub. A majority of the city’s working reporters do not possess police passes. Leonard Levitt is a veteran reporter who writes the prodigiously well-sourced NYPD Confidential. “The police want to accredit as few reporters as possible, and they make it exceedingly hard for nonmainstream reporters to get press passes,” he said.

Mr. Levitt has tried to renew his pass for a year. “Needless to say,” he noted, “they are resisting.”

There is another problem: a police pass has become a ticket for a quick removal. My Times colleague Colin Moynihan stood on that darkened square last Tuesday morning when a police spokesman shouted, “Who has press credentials?”

Many reporters and photographers dutifully raised their hands. With that, the police removed the “credentialed” reporters, under threat of arrest, to a press pen, out of sight of the square. Only shouts and yells could be heard.

This is a gross and consistent pattern of violating the most fundamental protections of our society from its founding. Rather clearly, the city government is not interested in dealing with it. This is, therefore, a matter for the US Department of Justice.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Policing, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Of course, the NYPD has had problems in the past as has every major police department, but it’s worth noting that, in the years since 9/11 the New York City Police Department has become even more militarized than other forces around the country.

    I noted back in August, for example, the fact that the NYPD and CIA had been working together on what amounts to a domestic surveillance program of NY area Muslims that seemed to stretch far beyond the bounds of normal police work.

    And in September, Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly both said that the Department has its own capability to “shoot down” a threatening aircraft. Although they didn’t go into specifics.

    Because of it’s sheer size, the NYPD is always going to be different from other police forces around the country, but it seems that they’ve undergone an evolution in recent years into a force that is potentially more hostile to the public than police ought to be.

  2. John Burgess says:

    I’m having a hard time figuring out when the police ‘ought to be hostile’ to the public. Their job descriptions, I’m sure, do not include ‘hostility toward the public’ in any regard.

    Maybe some of those unemployed law graduates can offer cut-rate courses in constitutional law for the folks in blue. It sure couldn’t hurt things. Just start with the 1st Amendment, then work the way down.

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    These tactics are amazingly effective and they should be replicated in all big cities. They’re real bad for liberals and criminals but they’re helluva good for law-abiding citizens. As someone who lived in NYC during the crime-infested disaster of the 1970’s and the 1980’s I can say with all sincerity that if the NYPD had not been directed to take off the gloves and to start cracking skulls even wealthy liberals on Park Ave. at present would be fearing for their very lives. Seriously. Then when you compare and contrast the crown jewel that NYC has become over the past 18 or so years with the ongoing and intractable urban cesspools out there in left-wing Democrat land, such as Philly, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago and Oakland, CA, the dichotomies quite literally are surreal. That’s not a coincidence, Chief.

  4. doubter4444 says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:
    You are a lier and an idiot.

    I lived in New York for 30 years, during the same period, and the gentrification that happened during the 90’s and into the beginning of the 2000’s is remarkable.
    However the “tactics” you claim to think happened were not “amazingly effective”, in fact, they did not even exist.
    The real fact is that we had over a decade of massive growth in the financial sector with gave the city billions of, guess what? with which to operate, improve and reign in the city.
    I was/an a big fan of Rudy (as a mayor, not a president) and he made good solid choices – going after “quality of life” infractions which gave the average person the feeling that the city was governable, was controllable and not anarchic.
    These small changes moved the needle tremendously, and are the EXACT opposite of what you are claiming happened.
    By looking after the small things, improving services via a massive influx of public funds and giving a feeling that the city could get better, it did.
    For you to say the police was given “permission to crack heads” is false and idiotic.
    To state that this false reason is the only reason that the city had a renaissance is even dumber and makes me wonder if you really even lived there or if you are just spouting twaddle.

  5. doubter4444 says:

    That was weird, I thought I hit preview, not post , any way it also left out this:

    The real fact is that we had over a decade of massive growth in the financial sector with gave the city billions of, guess what?TAXREVENUES with which to operate, improve and reign in the city.

  6. de stijl says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    You are a fascist.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    He’s not just a fascist. He’s a fascist dumb enough to take the name of an incompetent, pussy-whipped anti-semite and religious fanatic who managed to lose a war, an empire and his family. One of history’s greatest losers.

  8. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    “These tactics are amazingly effective and they should be replicated in all big cities. They’re real bad for liberals and criminals but they’re helluva good for law-abiding citizens.”

    – facepalmslap –

    You know… I grew up in a home where my grandmother spoke well of this Hitler fellow. How well he ran the country, made the trains run on time, and other nice uplifting ideas

    As you can imagine, it had a severe impact on our world view, likely the reason why we are all unrepentant liberals.

    I might understand why a woman born in 1902 might have an incorrect perspective on history.

    But YOU? You’re just an ass.

  9. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Well, at least the real Tsar Nicholas II got his anti-Bolshevism for a reason.

    Not that I’m saying current day liberals are Bolshevists 😉

  10. Jeremy says:

    @de stijl: Some of them are.

  11. anjin-san says:

    Should the police ever be “hostile to the public”??

  12. Liberty60 says:

    If they are, then I wonder just who they are “protecting and serving”.

  13. jpe says:

    Their job descriptions, I’m sure, do not include ‘hostility toward the public’ in any regard.

    They should be hostile to lawbreakers. For example, people that block streets and sidewalks.

  14. Liberty60 says:


    But only them.

    Those that defraud millions of people and swindle homes, well, thats different.

  15. anjin-san says:

    They should be hostile to lawbreakers

    No, they should be professional and dispassionate.

  16. anjin-san says:

    A friend who grew up in NYC just got back from a week visiting home. He spent an afternoon at the 9.11 memorial. His comment after getting back to CA was “lower Manhattan is a police state”.

  17. The bigger problem is, “As New York goes, so goes the nation.” I predicted this back in 2003. And re-emphasized it in 2009. In this case, I hate being right.