New York cops retaliate against an activist

July 18, 2012

Yoni Golijov reports on the solidarity campaign being organized for a leading anti-police brutality activist who is being victimized by the NYPD.

THE NYPD and New York City courts are trying to silence you--and everyone who stands up for justice and against racism--by going after a leading anti-police-brutality and anti-racial-profiling activist, Joseph "Jazz" Hayden.

Jazz has been fighting police abuse and violence for years and is a founding member of the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow. Long before the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy started to become notorious nationwide and tens of thousands marched to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's house in protest, Jazz was one of the dozens of activists dedicated to organizing against it and documenting police racism. His website has four years of his videos showing New York police as they target and search young Blacks and Latinos.

Now the NYPD is striking back. Two police officers conducted an illegal search of Jazz's car in December of last year--the same police who Jazz videotaped a few months earlier conducting another illegal car search involving two other African American men. In the video, police can be heard trying to intimidate Jazz, saying, "We know your background. I know who you are."

Jazz Hayden
Jazz Hayden

The cops let those two men go without any charges or tickets, having had no legal reason to stop them in the first place and being unable to charge them for the real reason they picked out: being Black.

But the police didn't forget Jazz, and in December, when the same two officers stopped him, they said, "We know you." Jazz was detained and held for nearly two days before a prosecutor tried to force him to post a $16,000 bond.

Jazz is facing two felony counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, which could put him behind bars for two to seven years if he is convicted.

The weapons? A penknife and a commemorative mini-replica of a baseball bat. Both are absurdly harmless and completely legal to carry, unlike the car search the police conducted to "discover" them.

JAZZ'S CASE is scheduled for a grand jury hearing in the fall, where he could be indicted. In response, Jazz's lawyers and fellow activists are organizing to put an end to this persecution. They have formed a committee to coordinate a letter-writing campaign, organize press conferences, court support and outreach, and do whatever else it will take to win justice for Jazz.

What you can do

Anyone in New York City on July 31 should come to the courthouse at 100 Centre St. in Manhattan at 8 a.m. and raise your fist and your voice with Jazz at his next court appearance. We need as many people there that day as possible.

Spread the word about Jazz's case, using the Free Jazz Hayden website and the Facebook event for his upcoming hearing on July 31.

Sign a petition demanding that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. drop the charges against Jazz. Then e-mail the petition to your friends and family and post it on your social media networks.

Write a letter to Cyrus Vance and let him know how you feel about Jazz's retaliatory arrest and prosecution. You can find a sample letter at the Free Jazz Hayden website.

One important date will come at the end of the month. Jazz's next court appearance is on July 31, and activists are hoping to bring as many people as possible to the courthouse at 100 Centre St. in Manhattan.

It's clear that the NYPD is retaliating against Jazz for his unrelenting citizen journalism and community organizing. The cops want to lock him up because they know that solidarity and video evidence are two powerful weapons for combating their violence and lies.

The videos of past incidence of police brutality, like the beating of Rodney King, and current ones, like the assault against Jateik Reed, have had the power to move large numbers of people to action. In another New York City case, surveillance camera footage shows police running up to Ramarley Graham's house from the opposite direction Ramarley had calmly walked from--refuting the cops' narrative of a chase that has been used to justify Ramarley's murder in the bathroom of his own home, while his grandmother and younger brother stood nearby.

The outrage sparked by these incidents of police violence exposed isn't because beatings and murders are out of the ordinary. It is precisely because such examples are so common and so familiar that they resonate across the country.

Every day, Blacks and Latinos are subjected to state violence and police humiliation for no other reason than the color of their skin. Last year, the NYPD used stopped and frisked New Yorkers almost 700,000 times--and in seven out of eight cases, the victims were Black or Latino.

As a method for crime-prevention, stop-and-frisk is an undeniable failure--88 percent of those detained were let go without any action by the cops. However, as a method of social control, stop-and-frisk is a success. When a police cruiser drives by in New York City, some men of color will preemptively put their hands on the wall and spread their legs--because it hurts less to do this willingly than to be forced into a search and position.

The racism of the policy is also undeniable. Black and Latino males aged 14 to 24 account for 4.7 percent of New York City's population, but they made up 41.6 percent of stops in 2011. When the cops are around, Black and Latino men can't feel safe.

The everyday police abuse of people of color is regularly punctuated by extrajudicial executions. According to a report prepared by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a small number of security guards and self-appointed vigilantes and a much larger number of police murdered 110 Black women, men and children. That's one Black person killed every 40 hours.

To put that statistic into context, 1892 was the year with the most reported lynchings of Black people, mainly in the U.S. South. There were 162 lynchings of Blacks, or one every 54 hours. This year, more police murders of African Americans are taking place than lynchings at their height.

This is why Jazz is under attack--not because of a bogus weapons charge that police are using to justify his imprisonment, but because he has stood up to the police, videotaping their abuses--a right that Attorney General Eric Holder recently affirmed--and organizing against them. As Jazz said:

If I'm successful in exposing these racist practices, these fascistic tendencies, in the police department, then people will begin to look at them differently, begin to see them for what they really are. Nothing but bullies in uniforms...The only real beneficiaries of this are the ones in power...This is their way of dealing with surplus labor and surplus populations...This is social dynamite, so what do they do? They warehouse them, put them in prisons, in jails, put them on leashes, probation, parole. This is mass incarceration.

Activists are circulating an online petition calling on District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to drop the charges against Jazz. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, has called on people to sign and share the petition: "Jazz is a courageous advocate who has been working tirelessly to expose the NYPD's discriminatory stop-and-frisk practices."

When Vance was running for the position of Manhattan DA, he sat down with Jazz for a video interview. When Jazz asked Vance what he would do to stop racial bias and harassment of people of color by the NYPD. Vance responded that prosecutors couldn't "tell the police who to arrest or who not to arrest," but as DA, "when it comes us, we are not making charges that are biased in any way."

Now is Vance's chance to prove he meant what he said by dropping the retaliatory charges against Jazz.

We all need to stand with Jazz. If he is put on trial, found guilty and imprisoned, it will be a message to all of us--if you protest, we will crack down; if you exercise your right to monitor the police, we will persecute you; if you organize against state violence and racism, we will lock you up. As Jazz said:

The significance of these cases of retaliation for covering "our servants" extends beyond my case alone. These actions by NYPD raise the larger issue of their role in communities of color, the rights of citizens to monitor law enforcement, and the rights and role of new media in covering the news. What is happening to me has happened to hundreds of thousands of citizens in New York City. Enough is enough!

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