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Greg Palast: Our Photographer – and His Lens – Busted at Occupy

(Photo: Zach D. Roberts)

“So this bishop, three priests and a comedian are locked up together in this paddy wagon and … “

Zach! This is NOT funny, and I do NOT want to hear the punch line.”

Actually, I appreciate the fact that our team's photojournalist has a sense of humor about getting busted and jailed at Occupy Wall Street.

But it's not a joke.

On Saturday, December 17, our man, Zach D. Roberts, along with a bishop of the Episcopalian Church and three ministers of various faiths, plus a stand-up comic, were pushed face-first into the dirt at Duarte Park, handcuffed and hauled off in a police van to the lockup in Lower Manhattan.

I did NOT appreciate that this follows his previous bust at Occupy Wall Street (OWS), the busting of our $600 Tokina 11-16 f2.8 lens by a cop slamming his nightstick down on Zach (reparable) and hitting the lens (not reparable). (Heck of a photo, though, just as the stick is coming down.)

Zach, who is working with the Palast investigations team via a Gil Palast Memorial Fund journalism fellowship, has been covering Occupy since day one. His astonishing in-the-action photographs from OWS have been featured in Portfolio Magazine and on the front page of The Guardian. However, credits and press credentials did not impress New York's finest.

But hey, they weren't impressed by Bishop George Packard's red robes. His excellency was handcuffed and charged along with Zach and another newsman for trespassing on the property owned by the bishop's own church, Trinity.

In the holding tank, our man Zach was put in with an OWS protester who wore a green cap with red blood oozing out from it, the Christmas color scheme caused by an excess of NYPD holiday zeal.

Zach was there to cover the Occupation's attempt to re-establish their encampment. OWS asked to use a parcel of empty land owned by Trinity, the oldest and arguably the wealthiest church in America, landlord for much of the real estate called Wall Street.

According to the Bishop (in an interview recorded, I kid you not, while cuffed in the wagon), his Church plans to lease the property to a developer for a skyscraper and is afraid that allowing protesters to move in would devalue their holdings – bring down the neighborhood, so to speak.

Despite the pleas of Bishop Packard, several priests and even fellow Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Trinity's administrators refused Occupy's request, choosing, in Tutu's thinking, Mammon over the church's moral mission.

The ecclesiastical issues of this schism, while not exactly on the same order as Luther's split from the Vatican, were serious enough to be decided by the cops, who moved in after Occupy activists (clerics included) used ladders to breach the construction fences.

What concerns me is that the 1 percent are clearly using their blue enforcers not just to stop protesters, but also to stop coverage of the protest.

Not every cop went along. One policeman, told to arrest Zach, resisted the command: “This guy's a journalist! What are we doing!?

That cut no ice with his bosses. I guess if you can bust a bishop, a journalist is kind of small stuff.

The shots you see of Zach under arrest were taken by C.S. Muncy, a top-rank freelancer whose work appears in The Wall Street Journal. Frighteningly, while trying to cover Wall Street, a cop grabbed his press credential necklace but, in the mayhem, Muncy was able to yank it back. While I'm concerned about Muncy's neck, I'm more concerned about this new – and increasingly violent – attack on press freedom.

Note: Funeral services will be held for our Tokina 11-16 f2.8 lens this week at our New York offices.

Zach, who was released early Sunday morning, has a court date set for February. We will keep readers informed via our Facebook page, which will include more of Zach's photos and his own diary of events.

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