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Tripods are not allowed on New York City property': Here's what happened when I tried to make a video in NYC


A few Sundays ago, on May 10, 2015, I went down to a public pier in New York City (Pier 11), not far from my apartment, to shoot a fun video about the interesting fleet of boats that daily ply the waters off our small island of Manhattan.

Making videos with just a small point and shoot camera, a tripod, my iPhone and free editing software is one way I relax on weekends. You can view samples of some of my other videos from around the city here, here and here. Generally my goal with these short films is to try to capture the beauty and the chaos that makes this complicated machine of a city work.

What happened on this particular Sunday, however, left me shaken and pondering what kind of First Amendment rights journalists, photographers, and members of the public actually have on their public property in New York City. 

WATCH: "Tripods are not allowed on New York City property"

As you can see in the video, I was shooting from a public park on public property. I was standing far from the loading and unloading of boats, and had been at it for about an hour before I was approached in consecutive order by a deckhand from the NY Waterway vessel, then what appeared to be the captain from that same ferry, then by a security guard. I was finally surrounded by a group of three or four security guards who quite literally tried to take my camera and detain me. They then chased me off pier and accused me of interfering with their operations.

There was also a rather amusing moment when the security guard who first ordered me to take-down my tripod (I complied) accidentally read me the rule from his book of rules for the pier that explicitly said anyone is allowed to take photos or videos "with or without a tripod" as long as they were using a handheld device and stayed out of the way. Baffling.

The story takes a darker twist

All of that was disturbing but what transpired next was simply scary.

I finally abandoned Pier 11 with my heart pounding and was walking several blocks away, strolling up an unpopulated section of New York City's iconic Wall Street, when a person who I am fairly confident was one of the security guards from the earlier altercation ran at me at a full sprint and attempted to snatch the small camera I was carrying which was still mounted on my folded tripod.

Years of running and playing sports have kept me reasonably nimble on my feet and believe it was only my own evasive action that prevented my camera from being stolen and injury to my person.

Because I was not expecting to be attacked from behind by a security guard working on New York City public property, and because I was far from the area where the earlier verbal altercation had occurred, I did not, unfortunately, have my camera rolling at the moment of crisis.

Its worth adding for the sake of accuracy that I do not know what would have happened if I had not evaded the tall man, who I believe was the same security guard from Pier 11.

It could be that he was only attempting give me the impression that he was going to rob or assault me. Either way it was frightening and it would be exceedingly difficult to justify this run at me as proper comportment for someone in whom the public are asked to place their trust.

I called the NYPD but they weren't too interested in my story

The only evidence that might exist from this frightening encounter would have to come from one of the many security cameras that blanket nearly every inch of lower Manhattan with 24-hour video surveillance.

In a later conversation with the New York City Police Department, I explained that I had been threatened, but the two polite officers declined to begin an investigation or attempt to extract that video for me since I had managed to avoid the theft and bodily harm.

"If someone tries to punch and me they miss what is that?" I asked.

"Its nothing," Officer Young replied. "Ha ha. I swear to God. They have to hit you. You have to get injured. You have to sustain an injury to have an assault."

"I'm sorry," continued Officer Young. "We're sorry. We're here, we listened. That's all."

WATCH: Video of guard returning to Pier 11, audio of talk with the NYPD

I did reach out to both New York City and NY Waterway. New York City did not return my phone calls. A spokesperson for NY Waterway declined to comment on the record.

I am not a free speech activist and had no intention of making a conflict video with authority figures. I simply went down to a public part of the city to do what thousands of New Yorkers and visitors do ever day.

I decided to publish this video and account because I think it raises important questions on free speech for photographers, videographers and journalists.

Follow Josiah Ryan (@JosiahRyan) on Twitter and YouTube

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