Amr Alfiky, an Egyptian photojournalist based in New York City, was arrested this Tuesday, February 11 in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood while filming NYPD officers. Alfiky was recording two police officers who were arresting another man when he was apprehended by NYPD. In video footage captured by his friend, Mostafa Bassim, Alfiky loudly and clearly repeats that he is a journalist and offers to show his press credentials while a group of police push him against a car and handcuff him.
He was held at Manhattan’s seventh precinct station and was released a few hours later and issued a disorderly conduct summons. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent nonprofit, Alfiky’s press pass was also confiscated.
The video Alfiky managed to capture before his arrest, which he shared on his Instagram story, shows two police officers holding down a shirtless man on the sidewalk. The apprehended man cries “I can’t breathe” and “I have a bad heart” several times, and insists that Alfiky stay while an officer asks the journalist to step back.
An NYPD spokesperson told Gothamist that Alfiky had failed to comply with their order to move away from the scene. They also said Alfiky did not identify himself as a journalist until he was in custody, an assertion contradicted by Bassim’s recording of the incident.
This is video from the arrest from @alfiky_amr’s Instagram story.
Amr got arrested for taking a picture/video of this arrest as a photojournalist, in NYC! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/qB0pTKK5BO
— Mohamed Soltan | محمد سلطان (@soltanlife) February 12, 2020
The First Amendment protects our right to videotape or photograph anything in plain view in public spaces, including police activity. According to an article on protesters’ rights published by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “police cannot detain you without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so.” Officers can legally order citizens to cease activities only when they are interfering with law enforcement operations, an exception that is sometimes misinterpreted or abused.
In recent years, videos taken mostly on cellphone cameras have been instrumental in bringing light to instances of unwarranted police violence, especially against unarmed Black victims.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent nonprofit, has asked NYPD to provide a public explanation for his arrest. In a statement on CPJ’s website, Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna said, “The New York Police Department should drop the charges against Amr Alfiky and return his press credential immediately.”
In an e-mail to Hyperallergic, CPJ confirmed that the organization has not yet received any further communication from the NYPD.
According to his website, Alfiky moved to the US from Egypt in 2014 “due to the ongoing crackdown on activists and journalists,” and began documenting the lives of fellow Egyptian immigrants. He is a frequent contributor to Reuters and the New York Times, and his photographs have also been featured in TIME, The Guardian, The Atlantic, and Huffington Post, among other publications.