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'Go. Leave. You Can't Be Here': What Happened When I Tried to Investigate the Connection Between the NYPD and Brookfield Properties, Zuccotti's Owners

Why did a police officer declare my reporting "illegal" just days before the pre-dawn raid on the OWS encampment?

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“Yeah, you write it down,” he told me as I scrawled his name down in my notebook. “I will. I want to make sure I spell it right,” I replied, before restarting my questioning about the legality of my reporting.   

Cristiano changed the subject again, asking if I was part of the protest across the street. “No,” I said. “I told you. I’m a reporter.” That’s when he started in about credentials, a standard line among New York cops. If I was a member of the media, then where were my press credentials? So I set him straight. The NYPD doesn’t decree who is or isn’t a reporter. The NYPD grants credentials to some journalists allowing them cross police lines to do crime or other spot reporting. I, on the other hand, am a reporter by virtue of having worked as a reporter, in the U.S. and overseas, for years. And I was reporting in a public space, so I didn’t need any identification card, certainly not one from the police. 

I could tell he was getting angrier, so I wasn’t surprised when Cristiano shifted back to bully tactics.

Go. Leave. You can’t be here.

Is it illegal for me to be here?

Yeah, it’s illegal.

Threat Level

When I challenged him again, asking if it was really illegal, Cristiano pulled back and tried cajoling again.

He said I’d been reporting long enough and now my time was up: “You’ve been here for while, right?” I replied that it was all relative and asked how long he’d been standing in roughly the same area as me. He wasn’t amused.

Listen, you can leave. Leave. Okay, I’m asking you to leave.

Is there a statute I’m violating? I’m just asking. Will you just tell me the statute that I’m violating?

Officer Cristiano wouldn’t name a law and wanted to know, again, what it was that I was doing. I was getting so exasperated that my response came out as half-laugh and half-whine: “I told you, I’m a reporter.” I then proceeded to explain, again, that I was writing a series on the security response to the protests in the park. Officer Cristiano in turn replied, “It’s none of your business. Leave!”

I half thought about just walking away -- for about a split second -- but I just couldn’t let it drop. “Will you tell me why I’m not allowed to do this?” I inquired again.  “Security reasons. For our security reasons,” he responded.

For police security? I’m a threat? Do you think I’m a threat?

Are you?

I certainly don’t think so… writing isn’t much of a threat. I mean, you’ve got... a sidearm, pepper spray. I’ve got a pen and paper. I don’t know how I can threaten you.

Cristiano shifted gears again.

Alright, you got everything you need?

No, I keep telling you, I don’t.

Go somewhere else.

We were at an impasse, so I eventually I did move along. But when I crossed the street and looked back to see Officer Cristiano talking to the security official from One Liberty Plaza, it got me thinking. Were NYPD officers now taking orders from Brookfield Properties? For some free electricity and use of a toilet, could the NYPD be bought? 

Or, I wondered, could it be even simpler than that? Maybe New York’s finest would do the bidding of the representative of a big-money real estate firm without any kickbacks at all.