CNN political commentator arrested by NYPD after identifying himself as press

May 26, 2020

Keith Boykin, a freelance journalist and CNN political commentator, was arrested while covering a protest in Manhattan on May 30, 2020, despite identifying himself as a member of the press.

The protest was one of many demonstrations sparked by the May 26 release of a video showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest the prior day. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Boykin, who was an aide to Bill Clinton during his presidency, was documenting the protest for his own Twitter feed, as he has done for past protests. On this afternoon, Black Lives Matter demonstrators had gathered at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in Harlem and marched west, eventually making their way up an exit ramp and onto the West Side Highway. Boykin, who was on his bike, had moved ahead of the protesters in order to photograph them when he encountered a phalanx of New York Police Department officers heading toward the group. They said something to the effect of “Get out of the way,” Boykin told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. He identified himself as a member of the media, and the officers walked by him, then turned around and arrested him.

“I said, ‘Why? I’m with the press.’ They said it doesn’t matter,” Boykin said, adding that he had a press ID with him but never got the chance to show it to the officers.

According to Boykin, officers placed zip ties tightly around his wrists and dropped his phone on the ground, cracking its screen. He was carried back to a police van, where they removed his face mask to photograph him, then placed him in the back of the vehicle, which was so hot that Boykin said he worried he would pass out, something he has a history of doing in high temperatures.

“Even being in the back of the van was traumatizing, because I thought of Freddie Gray and how he died,” said Boykin, who is black, referencing a black man who died in Baltimore police custody in 2015. “The whole experience was totally outrageous.”

After an hour in the van, Boykin said he was placed on a prisoner transport bus with other arrestees and brought to NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan, where he was processed and placed in a cell with 34 other prisoners for several hours. Very few of them had face masks, Boykin said, and he worried that these conditions risked exposing them to the coronavirus.

“I was in that cell for four hours, never told what was going on, never given an opportunity to make a phone call,” Boykin told the Tracker, adding that he also wasn’t read his Miranda rights during the arrest. He was released at 9:30 p.m., six hours after his arrest, and given a summons to appear in court in September on misdemeanour charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing traffic.

“Mind you, I wasn’t blocking the highway—the police and the protesters were blocking the highway,” Boykin later told CNN’s Don Lemon. “I was in between the two of them, documenting what was happening.”

After that CNN appearance, Boykin told the Tracker that he was contacted by the New York City mayor’s office, which apologized to him for his treatment. He has also filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. But to date, the charges have not been dropped, and he is prepared to fight them in court. He said the NYPD also failed to give him his ID back with the rest of his possessions following his release, and he needs to figure out a way to retrieve that.

The NYPD did not immediately return a request for comment.

“I thought it was completely unbelievable and unacceptable,” said Boykin of the experience. “This was a clear violation of my First Amendment rights.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country related to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Find all of these cases here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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