2007-12-07 / Community

NYCLU Cites 'Harassment Of Photographers'

The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a Columbia University graduate student of Indian descent who was unlawfully handcuffed and detained in July after a police officer saw him snapping photographs near a subway station in upper Manhattan.

"The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has a history of harassing photographers and violating their First Amendment rights, particularly those who fit certain ethnic profiles," said an organization spokesperson. "This is the second lawsuit the NYCLU has recently filed against the NYPD as part of an effort to force the Department to adopt policies and training so that officers will understand and respect the First Amendment rights of photographers and filmmakers."

"In our society, people have a clear right to document activity in public places without being hassled by the police," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. "Arun was taking photos, something protected by the Constitution, but the color of his skin made him a target of suspicion. The police should know better than to engage in this sort of ugly, unlawful behavior."

The plaintiff, Arun Wiita, a 26-yearold Columbia graduate student in the M.D./Ph.D. program, was arrested shortly after he embarked on a planned 10-day project of photographing all 468 subway stations and their surrounding streetscapes. He was standing on the sidewalk at 207 Street and 10 Avenue taking pictures with a point-and-shoot digital camera when an NYPD officer interrupted him.

"Though Wiita was entirely cooperative, explained his project to the officer and showed him his Columbia identification, the officer handcuffed Wiita had him stand on a busy street corner for a half an hour," the spokesperson said. "During that time, the officer reviewed Mr. Wiita's pictures and called in information over his radio. Two plainclothes police officers also

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