Independent filmmaker arrested while covering anti-ICE protest in New York City

September 19, 2020

Ronald Weaver II, an independent filmmaker, was arrested while covering a protest against immigration policy and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New York City on Sept. 19, 2020.

The protest, which began in Times Square, was prompted by a whistleblower’s allegation that immigrant women held at a privately run detention center in Georgia were forced to undergo hysterectomies. Weaver, a New York-based filmmaker, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker the protest was part of a broad protest movement against racial injustice that swept across the country over the summer.

Weaver said he began documenting racial justice protests in New York City in June. He said he initially attended protests as a participant with his camera, but by late June he said he was primarily attending to photograph and video the protests with the goal of making a documentary project. He has worked in the past as a commercial videographer and photographer, and has been documenting protests in New York and in other parts of the country on Instagram. He said he has sold his footage to outlets including the Daily Mail and NBC News.

Weaver said there was a heavy police presence as the protesters gathered midday in Times Square. When protesters on bicycles started to lead a march, Weaver said police began stopping and arresting them. In response, he said, other protesters moved off the sidewalk and sat in the middle of Seventh Avenue, prompting police to make more arrests.

Weaver said he left Times Square for police headquarters in Lower Manhattan to film the release of arrested protesters from One Police Plaza. However, he said, as more protesters started showing up, police started to restrict movement. Weaver said it appeared police were preparing to block the street, a tactic known as “kettling,” to restrict protesters’ movements.

Around 3:30 p.m., Weaver said he was filming police as they physically restrained a young woman, when a New York Police Department officer in riot gear suddenly shoved him in the back. Weaver said he kept his balance, despite holding his heavy equipment at the time. He said he then noticed a second officer, who was about 10 feet away from him, had started to run toward him.

“It was obvious that they were targeting me because of what I was filming,” Weaver said.

Weaver said he believed he was about to be tackled, so he ran away. As he ran, he said he shouted, asking what he did wrong. A group of about five other police officers came around a corner in front of him, he said, and stopped him. Weaver said the officers allowed him to put down his camera, and then arrested him.

Weaver said the officers asked if he had press credentials, which he didn’t. He said he explained to his arresting officer that he was there to observe, not participate, and had been documenting and filming protests through the summer.

New York Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Weaver said police took his camera equipment when he was arrested and returned it to him, undamaged, when he was released after 8 p.m.

Weaver was charged with disorderly conduct. He said his original court hearing scheduled for Dec. 18 was postponed because of court closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a new date hasn't been scheduled.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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

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