Harassed by police for selling Socialist Worker
July 18, 2003 | Page 4
Dear Socialist Worker,
Living in New York City after September 11 means dealing with cops who feel they have a special new right to harass people. I'm white, but I spend most of my time in a Black neighborhood in the city.
In addition to seeing the police abuse people frequently, I have been pulled over in my car seven times this year--simply because I've been in the "wrong place." The supposed "budget crisis" in New York means that cops are also looking for any excuse to give working class people expensive tickets.
When my branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) sells Socialist Worker in Harlem, which we've been doing without hassle for years, we are now getting cops in our face at every turn. Recently, a cop came up to our sale and gave me a criminal summons--forcing me to appear in court and miss a day of work to answer charges of selling a newspaper without a tax stamp.
Of course, the cop didn't care that it is our right as a political group to sell our newspaper and to distribute literature. Apparently, the Constitution doesn't apply if the NYPD is in the mood to make up their own laws.
My day in court started with a three-hour line, since billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg just can't find the money to pay city workers like court clerks. No surprise, most of the angry people waiting with me were Black and Latino. When I finally went in front of the judge for my arraignment, I found that I had a city-appointed attorney who wouldn't even let me talk.
Since my lawyer didn't know the case or the laws involved, he just told the judge that I had the right to free speech. The judge disagreed and wanted the case to go to trial. Luckily, I had gone online and researched the law that I was charged under. I asked the judge if I could speak on my own behalf.
I cited the law and told him that paper sales were explicitly exempted under the "definitions" clause of the statute, and I cited a Supreme Court case that ISO members know about. The judge actually said that I'd represented myself very well (he looked at "my" lawyer like he was an arrogant jerk) and told me that he would dismiss the case.
This time, standing up for myself and knowing the law worked to get me off. But as socialists in a climate of right-wing hysteria and city budget cuts, we will have to be prepared to keep fighting tooth and nail for our right to free speech.
David Rapkin, New York City