Journalist assaulted, camera lost while documenting New York City protests

May 29, 2020

NYPD officers injured freelance journalist Sue Brisk and allegedly seized her camera while she was covering protests in New York City on May 29, 2020.

Protests that began in Minnesota on May 26 have spread across the country, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest the day before. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Brisk told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she was photographing demonstrations at 42nd Street in Times Square in the evening of May 29 with her NYPD-issued press pass clearly displayed.

“I watched the police beat people with billy clubs and then they threw a woman up against a pole right in front of me,” Brisk said. “After that it’s a blur, kind of.”

Brisk said that, before she knew what was happening, her head was slammed to the ground and she found herself pinned under at least three NYPD officers, and said her camera strap had wrapped around a bicycle handle and was choking her.

“Protesters were pleading with the police to please let go of me because they said I was an old lady and that I guess it looked very violent, what had happened,” Brisk said. She noted that she is short, lightweight and has silver-gray hair. Protesters pleaded with the NYPD riot officers to let her up and out of the way, Brisk told the Tracker.

She said a protester intervened and pulled her to the opposite sidewalk. Brisk then realized that one of her cameras was missing.

Brisk said she believes police took possession of the camera, and said everyone who had been in the vicinity was soon arrested.

“I’ve lost camera equipment which is essential to the job that I do,” she added. “I did nothing wrong.”

Brisk told the Tracker that she did not go to a hospital out of concern over potential exposure to the coronavirus. Instead, she said she worked through the night documenting the protests in order to stay awake in case she had a concussion.

When asked for comment, an NYPD spokesperson directed the Tracker to the “30 minute mark” of a press briefing held by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea on June 3.

Around that point in the recording, Shea says: “The only thing that I might add on the point of the press: We’re doing the best we can, the difficult situation. We 100 percent respect the rights of the press. Unfortunately we’ve had some people purporting to be press that are actually lying, if you can believe that. So sometimes these things take a second — maybe too long — to sort out.”

Brisk told the Tracker that she is still trying to figure out how to retrieve her camera.

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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