Sending a message for Jazz

Yoni Golijov reports from New York City on a rally for an anti-NYPD activist.

Supporters of anti-police brutality activist Jazz Hayden listen to a speaker outside the 32nd Precinct (Yoni Golijov | SW)Supporters of anti-police brutality activist Jazz Hayden listen to a speaker outside the 32nd Precinct (Yoni Golijov | SW)

"WE KNOW who you are." That's what two New York City police officers from the 32nd Precinct told Joseph "Jazz" Hayden as he videotaped them conducting a racially-motivated car search.

"We know who you are." This is what the same two officers said a few months later when they stopped Jazz in his car, supposedly for a broken tail light, though they never issued a ticket for it. Instead, the cops illegally searched his car and charged Jazz with two felony counts of possession of a dangerous weapon--for having a penknife and a commemorative mini-baseball bat.

And this is how Jazz's supporters responded, rallying outside the 32nd precinct last week: "We know who you are."

The conversations and speeches at the protest were rife with stories of brutality, injustice and police terrorism. Shaka Shakur, one of the organizers of the Keep Jazz Free committee and a member of the People's Survival Program, said during the speak-out: "The reason we chose the 32nd precinct is because all of the terrorists that terrorize this neighborhood live here."

More than 50 people, representing over 14 organizations, gathered to defend Jazz and denounce the crimes committed by the 32nd Precinct and the NYPD as a whole. In a police department notorious for racism and corruption, the 32nd Precinct has the disgusting "honor" of being one of the four most violent precincts of the 70-plus throughout New York City.

A mother of seven who lives near the precinct heard of the rally a few days before and came with her 7 year-old son, saying she wanted him to not only see protests on TV, but participate in them himself. During the speak-out, she shared a few of many personal stories about the 32nd Precinct.

For example, one of her older sons was sitting on the roof of their apartment building, a private building with roof access and wireless Internet. That didn't stop police, however, from waiting for someone to exit the building so they could enter and arrest her son, parading him out in cuffs in front of his younger siblings and making him pay a fine.

The woman said another son felt so violated and in danger because of the NYPD's racist and often physically violent stop-and-frisks that he told her he had to go to college outside the city, even though that would make him ineligible for certain grants and loans. His choice is one made by hundreds, and possibly thousands, motivated by racist policing that has contributed to gentrification in Harlem.

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THIS IS why Jazz Hayden videotapes the police. We need more people like Jazz--because the NYPD terrorizes hundreds of African Americans in New York City every day; because the NYPD stops children as young as 11 and inappropriately gropes women and men; because the NYPD slams heads into walls and body-slams youth to the ground.

We need to defend Jazz Hayden for his years of hard work and commitment--and to show others that if they videotape the police, they will have a movement behind them, ready to stand with them.

When he spoke, Shaka Shakur said, "So today, I decided to bring a weapon. A real weapon." He held up a small camcorder over his head to cheers, and continued:

This is the weapon right now. Everybody hold up your weapon. This is what they're scared of the most. This is why my brother is in the position he's in right now--because he found a new weapon, and he used that weapon effectively. See, this is a war we're in, and all they're doing is trying to force you and I to be scared to stand up for our rights.

See, I'm from Harlem. When I was a little dude I respected Jazz for another reason. Then when I got older, I respected him because he flipped his life. I didn't see Malcolm, but I met Jazz. I didn't know Malcolm, how he went from Detroit Red to Malcolm, but I know Jazz.

For anyone who knows Jazz or knows his story, the case is clear: Jazz is innocent, and the cops are the criminals.

Tens of thousands of people know of Jazz's without even realizing they do, because whenever news media use footage or a still of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk, chances are it's footage Jazz shot and uploaded to his grassroots media site, AllThingsHarlem.com.

Jazz has inspired, taught and collaborated with many justice-seekers--that's why the NYPD is targeting him for extra intimidation and up to 14 years in prison. On September 13, when the Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance convenes a grand jury hearing for Jazz's case, we need to stand with Jazz and for everyone's right to stand up to police terror--and one day live to free from it.