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Tim Wilson: NYPD arrests my cameraman

opinion Tim Wilson

By Tim Wilson

Published: 2:37PM Wednesday November 16, 2011 Source: ONE News

"That's a nice jacket," I muttered to my cameraman Doug Higginbotham as he climbed into the cab at the intersection of the FDR Drive highway, and 23rd Street.

"Ralph Lauren," he said, "Tweed."

Any fool could see that. But then, I'm not any fool. I'm everyone's fool. Doug, btw, is no one's fool. A very singular character. He's intelligent, but never lets that get in the way of a good time.

He's pugnacious, dedicated, and hilarious. He shoots like a pro and thinks like a producer. He has this beard, so that when he drinks and talks, becoming animated, it looks and sounds like a hedgehog is breaking wind.

"How much?"

"Four hundred dollars." The jacket looked every cent of it.

We were racing to get down to the Occupy Wall Street protests, which had been cleared out of Zucotti Park hours before in a stealth raid by the NYPD. Was this the end of Occupy Wall Street?

What next? A court had given them an injunction allowing them to return to the park. Would the police let them in?

The driver hit the gas. Soon we were bobbing and feinting amongst the traffic on the FDR.

I eyed the jacket. It really was something. "No recession for shooters, eh?"

"The last time I bought clothes was in 2008."

And so it probably was. The last substantial purchase I remember Doug making was a pair of Nike trainers that he customised on the net.

On the rear-left foot flash, he had inscribed the word 'Fak', on the right, "awf". Now are you getting a picture of Doug?

Little seemed to be happening when we arrived at Zucotti Park. It's a paved area that looks more like a gigantic patio. And it was empty. "Looks all over," I said.

We tried to make the best we could. NYPD riot squad cops stood on one side of the barricades around the park, a few protesters offered some feeble chants.

While I was doing a piece to camera, a protestor got in the way, waving a flag.

That's good. A little actuality always helps. I guessed we were done, but then everyone - it seems at the same time - heard the same clanking sound..

People started running towards it. In news, you generally run to what people are running from, but I followed them.

I followed Doug too. Another of his skills is that in the case of trouble, if he can't make it himself, he'll find it.

The protesters were coming back. A huge thick knot of them unraveling up the barricaded alley the police had prepared. Shouting.

A giant shaft filling the avenue, with a prow of camera operators at the front. Doug and I ran to the top of it and waited for them to come to us. The noise got louder. Drums sounded.

And then, as they say, it was on. People everywhere. Pushing. Shouting. "Every day! All week! Occupy Wall Street!" They filled the alleyway, then started to pull at the barricades.

Crowds are curious animals. Energised and complacent one moment, they can turn unexpectedly and become violent. When they do, you feel it in slow motion. Your adrenalin surges. Your shoulders push back.

Without noticing quite how the transformation happened, you're no longer acting like a normal person. You're one of the mass.

Protesters were surging around me. To get a better shot, Doug leapt up on top of a telephone booth. You'll see the footage he got on the news tonight, it's great.

Riot squad police are trying to hold the crowd at bay as people try and push their way, by sheer force of numbers, and by what they will say is the force of their moral arguments, into the place they call 'home'

A riot cop spied Doug up there and asked him to come down. Other cops started shouting.

"He's getting down," I said, "He's getting down."

The police started to ascend somehow, rising up, getting closer to him. You have to remember that pandemonium was breaking out around us.

Watch the footage here

Not anarchy, quite, but a desperate battle between tired protesters and tired cops who had been doing this dance for almost two months. But the physical power was there. Everyone knew their steps by now. No one knew quite how to stop.

As the Thin Blue Line grew closer, Doug made to hand me his camera. This is a $40,000 implement. His lifeblood. It's like another limb. I tried to hold it. A cop reached out and took hold. The camera swayed his way. Doug pulled back. One of the riot police was trying to pull him off the telephone booth roof.

That's when all hell broke loose. They pulled him down, and to the footpath. Everyone was shouting. He didn't fall, but his phone skittered out of his pocket. A protester stood on it. I retrieved the thing; bloody iPhone; and followed Doug and the camera. Of course I was worried about Doug and the footage.

The moment seemed unreal. We were frog marched up Broadway. Typically, the NYPD doesn't usually arrest journalists. It's not business as usual. I expected they'd shout at us a bit, and give us the camera back, and we'd have a war story. I remember Doug saying, "I'm just trying to do my job," to which they replied, implacable, "we're just trying to do ours".

When they applied the plastic handcuffs, I realised the NYPD's job definition now included arresting journalists. In case you think this is just a case of one rogue camera guy, the AP is reporting that at least half a dozen journalists were arrested covering the demonstrations.

They cut Doug loose several hours later. During the melee, part of his camera got smashed up. He had bruising, abrasions on his wrists where the cuffs were, and was brandishing a summons. He had a summons to appear in court. He ended his day at the parents evening for his son Sean's kindergarten.

Sean, who got an A+ for the semester, told everyone that "Daddy was a loser because he didn't listen to the police."

When I last saw him, Doug was still wearing that jacket, possibly the first and last person at the Occupy Wall Street protests to be arrested in a very elegant $400 Ralph Lauren tweed number.

To read more Tim Wilson opinion click here