NYPD must stop arrests of journalists covering protests

Seth Stern

Director of Advocacy

Journalist Reed Dunlea was arrested while recording for his podcast, Scene Report, at a pro-Palestinian protest in New York City on Feb. 10, 2024. We sent a letter with the Committee to Protect Journalists urging authorities to drop the baseless charges against him. Stephanie Keith

Earlier this month, New York Police Department officers arrested journalist Reed Dunlea while he attempted to cover a pro-Palestenian protest for his podcast, “Scene Report.” Ultimately, Dunlea was only charged with resisting arrest, seemingly confirming that authorities could find nothing criminal about the newsgathering that led to his arrest in the first place.

Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez raising alarm about the arrest — during which officers violently tackled Dunlea, breaking his equipment.

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“Detaining and charging a reporter in this manner is a direct assault on journalists’ First Amendment rights to gather the news,” the letter explains, adding that “arresting reporters is a crude form of censorship: it stops journalists from documenting current events, and protracted legal proceedings to dismiss baseless charges create financial and time pressures for reporters.”

As the letter notes, the NYPD recently agreed as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by five photojournalists that it would reform its treatment of journalists covering protests and ensure they’re not unnecessarily arrested or harassed for doing their jobs.

Although the settlement had not yet taken legal effect when Dunlea was arrested due to obstruction by a police union, Dunlea’s arrest certainly violates the spirit of the NYPD’s commitments.

We’ve previously written about the NYPD’s history of abysmal treatment of journalists covering protests. The number of incidents may have peaked during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, but that’s only because of the increase in civil unrest then, not because the department has changed its practices since.

Just over a month before Dunlea’s arrest, for instance, NYPD officers baselessly arrested another journalist attempting to cover a pro-Palestine protest – Roni Jacobson of the New York Daily News. Last year, they arrested prominent photojournalist Stephanie Keith while covering a vigil for Jordan Neely, who was killed on a New York subway.

Keith did nothing wrong, yet prosecutors only “deferred” the changes against her, rather than dismissing them outright — reserving the right to proceed with the case if Keith were arrested again during the six months that followed. As Keith told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, “I shouldn’t have to worry for the next six months if I’m going to be arrested again when I shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.”

The letter to Gonzalez demands an outright dismissal of the charges against Dunlea because deferred prosecutions are themselves a threat to press freedom.

You can read the full letter objecting to Dunlea’s arrest below.

Editor’s note: The original version of the letter discussed in this article was erroneously addressed to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg rather than Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. The letter and the references to Bragg in the original article have been corrected.

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