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Border Protectoin officers accost photojournalist at protest


MASSENA — In a tense moment during an otherwise peaceful protest Saturday, Customs and Border Protection officers tried to block two photographers, including a Times photojournalist, from covering the Mohawk march across the Massena-Cornwall International Bridge.

Jason Hunter, the Times staff member, was approaching the bridge alongside the marchers and ignored a demand from a Border Protection inspector to stop. He then was grabbed by a male officer who tried to separate him from the marchers.

A female officer also tried to prevent him from getting near the protest. Defying her, Mr. Hunter lifted his camera and she became incensed, calling out to other officers that her photo was being taken.

“I wasn’t expecting any resistance, and I was shocked to be physically grabbed by a Border agent when I was just trying to do my job,” Mr. Hunter said afterward.

A third officer then told Mr. Hunter not to photograph Border Protection personnel.

The incident riled some marchers, who began shouting at the officers, demanding that the photographers be allowed to follow them. Mr. Hunter then managed to immerse himself in the crowd.

The encounter, which lasted only about 30 seconds, occurred south of the checkpoint where drivers entering the United States are required to stop for immigration and customs inspection. Border Protectoin had parked two vans on the approach to the bridge, which was closed to motor vehicle traffic, and the marchers were being funneled through a narrow pass.

The incident appeared to be the only time that Border Protection hindered the media. No marchers were seen being interrupted by the officers, and the Border Protection later said that the protest, which lasted several hours, went off without incident.

Border Protection officers on the scene would not discuss their actions, referring inquiries to their supervisor in Buffalo.

Reached later Saturday, Chief Customs and Border Protection Officer Thomas J. Rusert in Buffalo said the officers were following protocol.

“Normally when a photographer would come up, we wouldn’t allow them to take photos,” he said. “Any time media photographers or other photographers are on our property, they need to be escorted.”

This is done to prevent photography of law-enforcement equipment, personnel and techniques, he said.

It eventually was decided that photographers would be allowed to accompany the marchers because of the newsworthiness of the protest, Mr. Rusert said.

Mr. Hunter and a Times reporter walked across the bridge to cover the event, and upon returning had their driver’s licenses checked by Border Protection.

The other photographer whom Border Protection initially tried to block was Jenna Pope, a New York City activist.

The event was covered heavily by Canadian media on Cornwall Island and on mainland Canada. There was no sign that Canadian authorities restricted them.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the officers at the scene as Border Patrol Agents, instead of their correct title, Customs and Border Protection Officers.

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