Clayton Patterson being arrested for taking photographs on the Lower East Side

Photo by Elsaa Rensaa

Clayton Patterson, artist, photographer, writer, and community activist, and friend of mine, sent me the following email:

"On Ludlow- between Stanton and Rivington was arrested for taking photographs. The problem has more to do with police procedure on the street. On this day the street was not a frozen zone. People were allowed to walk through. Kids were hanging out. There was not a police-line. There was not even a fire, just a little smoke." Is New York City becoming a police state?




Volume 78 / Number 8 - July 23 - 29, 2008

West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel


Clayton Patterson being arrested by Seventh Precinct officers on July 17.


Documentarian is detained on street he’s shot for years


By Lincoln Anderson


After doggedly trying to document firefighters responding to an alarm on Ludlow St. last Thursday afternoon, Lower East Side documentarian Clayton Patterson found himself handcuffed and spending a couple of hours in a Seventh Precinct cell after having repeatedly refused orders to keep his distance.


Patterson said he was only trying to get a good shot, and that it turned out to be nothing major, anyway, “just smoke in someone’s kitchen.” The arresting police officer, an Officer Lugo, told him he needed a press pass.


“I documented that block for 30 years and never had a problem,” Patterson said speaking days after his release. “It’s important that people document what’s going on,” he said, adding that Ludlow St. recently has been plagued by serious traffic problems due to all the ongoing construction.


Patterson, who filmed one of only two major videotape accounts of the first Tompkins Square Park riots, went to jail for 10 days in 1988 for refusing to give police the original copy of that tape.


“It’s ironic,” he said. “Here it is 20 years later, and I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing for more than 20 years — and I get thrown in jail for it.” Patterson said he’s been arrested a total of 14 times for videoing or photographing in defiance of police orders to back away, though it hadn’t happened for several years before last week.


“For a few years after the riots, it was quite common to get arrested,” he said. “That tape got a lot of cops criminally indicted and fired.” Patterson said he’s not about to change his approach now. “You have a right to be out there photographing and taping what’s going on in your community,” he stated.


Patterson’s Lower East Side archive now stands, by his estimate, at “probably over 1 million photographs and over several thousand hours of video.” He is also completing editing his third book on the Lower East Side, this one on the subject of the neighborhood’s leading Jewish figures.


“It’ll probably be called ‘Jews: A People’s History of the Lower East Side,’” Patterson said. The three-volume tome will clock in at 2,500 pages and 150 articles.


“The archive is real, the books are real, what I’m doing is real,” Patterson said. “It’s not just some jerk on the street taking pictures and getting in people’s way. This archive on the Lower East Side is the largest archive on the Lower East Side ever assembled by one person,” he said, likening the impact of his work to that of Jacob Riis.


Patterson noted that Susan Stetzer, Community Board 3’s district manager, has used his photos of Ludlow St. traffic to show city officials the situation’s seriousness.


“We have been having problems on Ludlow because of the multiple construction sites,” Stetzer said. She confirmed that she sent Patterson’s Ludlow St. photos to the Department of Transportation’s and Department of Buildings’ borough commissioners “to show the severity of the problem — and it helped tremendously. I give Clayton’s photos of these accidents a great deal of credit in helping me make agencies aware of the problem and I have told this to Clayton and thanked him for his help,” she said.


“This is a very painful situation,” Stetzer said. “Clayton and I are often at sites in the district together — while I am working on problems and he is documenting. We share a great love for our community — and I think his work is valuable. I also work very, very closely with the Seventh Precinct. This is a very upsetting situation.”



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  • Gerry Visco 7y

    See The Villager article (posted above). I asked him again about what happened and he said the police asked him to stop taking photographs but since he wasn't in the way of any firefighting activity and the street wasn't closed off at all, he continued to take photographs. There's no law against taking photographs of activities occurring during a fire anyway. People DO get arrested all the time for doing things that are NOT illegal. Perhaps the charges will be dropped eventually but meanwhile Patterson was arrested for something that is our right as citizens. He's not the type to withhold any information. I know Clayton well. He can be a bit grouchy but he's not a liar.
  • Brian Ramnath 7y

    People do get arrested for taking pictures. You must not look at the news. Try being aware of the current events in your nation before making silly statements like that.
  • iowapix 7y


    From the looks of the photo, those cops need to lay offf of the donuts and pizza and spent more time at the gym.
  • Gerry Visco 7y

    You have a good point, Iowapix, but then again, I think Clayton needs to lay off the donuts and pizza, too (and he'd be the first to admit it).

    As for v1rotate's comment, I strongly agree with And as a matter of fact, check out this piece in The Gothamist where they cite other examples of photographers being arrested by the government. As fellow photographers, we must protest this violation of civil liberty. It could happen to YOU.
  • canes816 7y

    Stand your ground and fight the fight for all photographers.

    And v1rotate, are you serious? No one gets arrested for taking pictures? I'm sure no one gets harassed for it either. Do you read the articles or the websites documenting the dozens (probably hundreds) of cases where photographers are harassed or arrested? For PHOTOGRAPHY??
  • Liam Daley 7y

    Look I just think the title is misleading I mean he could have avoided being arrested simply not that I'm saying he should. Its not like he was just walking and snapping and he got hauled in. He was standing taking pixs of the fire scene. It depends though If he was really in the way or if this is just some ridiculous rule. Either way though this shouldn't be such a heated argument.
  • Liam Daley 7y

    I just read some of the article and its true that he wasn't in the way so in the words of sharpshoota "sue those pigs!" even though I stand by my first comment about the title
  • storqmplus 7y

    Well the police are never known for being the smartest card in the deck. Most of the cops I have seen in the USA are poorly trained, fat, and seem more keen on eating. But then again if you pay peanuts you get...
  • Teague C 7y

    Hi, I'm an admin for a group called Mondo New York, and we'd love to have this added to the group!
  • vernacula 7y

    This has nothing to do with cops being smart or dumb, this is their training in practice. Crush free speech, confiscate street book sellers merchandise, rip the film out of a citizen's camera, then if you sue say oops and pay out your lawsuit with public funds.
  • scott w. h. young 6y

    what strange case this is
  • derekpiotr 6y

    that's not right. freedom of press yes?
  • vernacula 6y

    Freedom for the Press that lies in your face, handcuffs for Clayton.
  • derekpiotr 6y

    people need to respect the penners and snappers
  • discarted 6y

    Hi, I'm an admin for a group called NPRO - National Photographers' Rights Organization, and we'd love to have this added to the group!
  • lucky_dog 6y

    fuck the police. they are STILL pissed off at Clayton resisting the police (by shooting video of rioting cops) 20 years ago during the infamous Tompkins Square Park Police Riot of August 2008.
  • Gerry Visco 6y

    Yeah, could be. Clayton is a fighter. How could they still hold the video against him? He's recording what happened and those guys back then are a lot older now!
  • Astralis Lux 6y

    Sue for official oppression. Official oppression happens when you're arrested for no legal reason except to influence you to stop doing some behavior someone doesn't like. I have a friend who is a private detective who was arrested when he was on legal surveillance and the officer told him "you might beat the rap, but you won't beat the ride". He sued for official oppression and won.
  • David Foster 5y

    Excellent photo and we’d love to have it added to: “Global Photojournalism; Politics, News, Protest, and Society” and any additional photos that fit the description of our group.


  • pigneguy*michael 4y

12 faves
Taken on July 16, 2008
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