Photo of subway death criticized
NEW YORK — Police questioned a suspect Tuesday in the death of a subway rider pushed onto the tracks and photographed while he was still alive — an image of desperation that drew virulent criticism after it appeared on the front page of the New York Post.
New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said investigators recovered security video showing a man fitting the description of the assailant working with street vendors near Rockefeller Center. Witnesses told investigators that they saw the suspect talking to himself before approaching the victim, getting into an altercation with him and pushing him into the train’s path.
Police took the man into custody Tuesday, but he hasn’t yet been charged.
Ki-Suck Han, 58, of Queens, died shortly after being hit Monday. Police said he tried to climb a few feet to safety but got trapped between the train and the platform’s edge.
Emotional questions arose Tuesday over the photograph of the helpless man standing before an oncoming train at the Times Square station.
The moral issue among professional photojournalists in such situations is “to document or to assist,” said Kenny Irby, an expert in the ethics of visual journalism at the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based nonprofit journalism school.
He said that’s the choice professional photographers often face in the seconds before a fatality.
Irby spoke Tuesday, a day after the newspaper published the photo of Han desperately looking at the train, unable to climb off the tracks in time. It was shot for the Post by freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi.
Commentary posted on social media and in news broadcasts came down to one unanswered question: Why didn’t Abbasi help Han?
But Irby said it’s not that simple.
“What was done was not necessarily unethical,” Irby said. “It depends on the individual at the time of action.”
It depends, he said, on whether the photographer was strong enough to lift the man, or close enough. Abbasi said he got the shot while running to the scene and firing off his camera in hopes the flash would attract the attention of the train conductor, the Post reported.
“So there was an attempt to help,” said Irby, who blames Post editors “for the outcry” because they made the decision to publish the image.
The Post didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment and didn’t immediately make Abbasi available. His number isn’t listed in New York area telephone directories.
Another professional reluctant to reach conclusions was veteran photographer John Long of the National Press Photographers Association, where he is chairman of the ethics committee.
“I cannot judge the man,” he said. “I don’t know how far away he was; I don’t know if he could’ve done anything.”
However, both Long and Irby said that as a photographer, “you are morally obliged to help” — if possible, rather than take a picture.
Added Irby, “I would argue that you’re a human being before you’re a journalist.”
ByAdam Liptak WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that people whose property was damaged by intermittent flooding caused by the government may seek compensation. The decision, which was unanimous, reversed a lower court ruling that had barred claims for flood damage unless the flooding was “permanent or inevitably recurring.”
The case arose from the activities of the Army Corps of Engineers, which periodically flooded 23,000 acres along the banks of the Black River in northeastern Arkansas. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission managed the land, harvesting timber and operating a wildlife and hunting preserve.
From 1993 to 2000, in response to requests from farmers, the corps changed its pattern of releasing water from the Clearwater Dam, which is 115 miles upstream from the commission’s land. The flooding destroyed timber and altered the character of the terrain, requiring expensive reclamation efforts.
The commission sued the federal government under the Constitution’s takings clause, which says that property cannot “be taken for public use, without just compensation.” A lower court awarded the commission $5.7 million.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed that decision, saying that the takings clause did not cover damage from such intermittent flooding. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged that stray comments in earlier Supreme Court decisions provided some support for that view.
But she said that “no magic formula enables a court to judge, in every case, whether a given government interference with property is a taking.”
“No decision of this court,” she continued, “authorizes a blanket temporary-flooding exception to our takings clause jurisprudence, and we decline to create such an exception in this case.”
In general, she said, two things are clear: Permanent physical occupation of property by the government and regulations that forever make all valuable uses of land impossible are takings requiring compensation. In the context of flooding, she went on, a dam that permanently submerged a plaintiff’s land was a taking, and so was damage caused by seasonally recurring flooding.
Beyond that, Ginsburg wrote, things get murkier, requiring case-by-case judgment. The length of the government’s interference with private property matters, she said. So does “the degree to which the invasion is intended or is the foreseeable result of authorized government action.”
“So, too,” she went on, quoting from an earlier decision, “are the character of the land at issue and the owner’s ‘reasonable investment-backed expectation’ regarding the land’s use.” Finally, “severity of the interference figures in the calculus as well.”
Ginsburg said the court would not address a new distinction proposed by the federal government when the case was argued in October: that downstream flooding should never count as a taking, whether permanent or temporary. That question, along with whether Arkansas law has a role to play in the analysis, should be considered in further proceedings before the appeals court, she wrote.
Justice Elena Kagan was disqualified from the case, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission v. United States, presumably because she had worked on it as solicitor general.
Ginsburg wrote that courts should be judicious in allowing takings claims for flood damage: “To reject a categorical bar to temporary-flooding takings claims is scarcely to credit all, or even many, such claims.”
Police stand outside a New York subway station where KiSuck Han was killed after being pushed into the path of a train Monday. A photo of the Han on the tracks before being killed ran in the New York Post.