The NYPD continues to target cop-watchers
reports on the NYPD's outrageous arrest and assault of two leading criminal justice activists in front of a crowd of sympathetic witnesses.
TWO PROMINENT New York City activists were assaulted and arrested by the NYPD on March 15 for the "crime" of filming the police.
Joseph "Jazz" Hayden and Five Mualimm-ak were taken into custody outside the non-profit Open Society Foundations following a book-launch event for Hell Is a Very Small Place, an anthology on solitary confinement.
Hayden is the founder of All Things Harlem and the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow. Mualimm-ak is a leader of the community-based Incarcerated Nation and a member of Mayor Bill de Blasio's Task Force on Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice.
Mualimm-ak is a contributor to Hell Is a Very Small Place and had just finished a reading on his five-year experience in solitary. He and Hayden left the Open Society's midtown Manhattan offices, and saw police and EMS workers attempting to move a homeless man into an ambulance.
When the man became agitated, Hayden encouraged him to stay calm and let him know that he was videotaping the incident on his cell phone. As he boarded the ambulance, the homeless man asked Jazz to continue filming.
Mualimm-ak later explained to Democracy Now! the roles he and Hayden took on: "I work on emotional disturbances. And being with the behavioral health task force, we have set up certain protocols that were to happen. So, speaking to the EMS drivers, I understood that they were fully knowledgeable, while Jazz was observing."
BUT THE relative calm of the moment was interrupted when a second NYPD contingent arrived and began to aggressively confront the two activists and other bystanders. Captured on video aired on Democracy Now!, a cop can be clearly heard demanding of Hayden and Mualimm-ak, "Why are you next to my gun, dude? You're next to my gun, dude!"
As Hayden described in an interview:
They came out like gangbusters, telling people to back up, but the situation had already been resolved. That would've been the end of it. But then that second group came out yelling and screaming. That's the kind of policing that we're out here protesting. They're out of control.
Mualimm-ak described how completely unfounded the cops' reaction was: "We were not even close to where the ambulance was. The ambulance was pulling away."
One of the cops recognized Mualimm-ak, a well-known advocate in the city, and proceeded to heap abuse on him, saying, "You're one of those Harlem activist n----s."
Both men were jabbed in the ribs and on the legs. The 74-year-old Hayden was pushed and nearly fell to the ground. Both were arrested, charged with obstructing governmental administration and two counts each of disorderly conduct. Handcuffed very tightly, Hayden later told Democracy Now! that he thought they were going to break his arms.
Hayden and Mualimm-ak were taken to Bellevue Hospital for their injuries before proceeding to the precinct, where they were held and handcuffed until the next afternoon. But the nightmare didn't end there.
Concerned for Hayden and Mualimm-ak's well-being, five people who had attended the book launch followed the arrestees to the precinct to check on them and file a complaint about what they had witnessed. Unbelievably, the five supporters found themselves handcuffed, detained for over two hours and each given a failure to disperse summons.
As one of the five, Incarcerated Nation CEO Terrence Slater, recounted to Democracy Now!, "I asked [the cops], 'Why you're not reading us our Miranda rights? We're standing here in handcuffs.' [The police] said, 'Well, we don't really have to do that,' and being sarcastic, 'You have the right to remain silent. I suggest you exercise that now.'"
After nearly 24 hours behind bars, Hayden and Mualimm-ak were finally arraigned late the next afternoon in a courtroom packed with supporters. Represented by movement lawyers Bob Boyle and Gideon Oliver, the defendants were ordered to appear again on April 20.
THIS INCIDENT is by no means an exceptional occurrence for cop-watchers. The NYPD continues to act belligerently toward people who film police encounters on the street, attorney Boyle commented in a media interview. Cop-watching "takes away their power," Boyle said. "It takes away their power to do things and not be held accountable."
In 2014, the NYPD issued an internal memo reminding officers that "members of the public are legally allowed to record (by video, audio or photography) police interactions." Despite the memo, police regularly arrest people who film police violence, including activists, film students, journalists and anyone else trying to document their interactions.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, this isn't veteran cop-watcher Hayden's first experience being on the receiving end from the NYPD for his activities.
In December 2011, he was pulled over for a routine traffic stop in Harlem, but when police recognized him, they proceeded to illegally search his car and take him into custody. Facing several years behind bars, an ad-hoc coalition swung into action. Through their grassroots campaign, Hayden was cleared of the charges almost a year later.
This made clear the campaign's message: Jazz's arrest and prosecution is part and parcel of the assault on communities of color by the NYPD and the wider legal system--and thus the fight for Jazz is part and parcel of the fight against stop-and-frisk, racism in the courts, and the whole criminal justice system.
More than a dozen organizations came together to collaborate in the campaign, involving veteran activists and people new to protest alike. Building these connections will make collaboration easier and more effective in the battles ahead.
The victory itself comes at a critical time, with police killings taking place at almost twice the rate of last year, but the department also coming under increasing criticism for stop-and-frisk policies and facing a wider movement of families fighting for justice for their loved ones.
These conclusions are no less true today, in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and a new struggle against racist police violence.
SEVERAL DAYS after Hayden and Mualimm-ak were released, the New York Daily News reported that the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau is investigating police conduct surrounding the arrests. This is welcome, but still a very small start in the struggle for justice for the two activists and the broader fight against criminal injustice.
A necessary first step is building the kind of solidarity campaign that won Jazz's freedom over three years ago. Beyond that, activists must continue to draw the links between policing, race and class to challenge the violence meted out by police on a daily basis in communities of color and against the poor.
In one of the world's wealthiest cities, the crisis conditions faced by the poor couldn't be more urgent. "We're stuck with perpetual punishment," Mualimm-ak says. "If we had health care for the people, we wouldn't have situations like this. There's no other system that we most need to be in place."
Homeless New Yorkers have been on the receiving end of a vicious campaign by the NYPD--officers have forcibly removed homeless people from the streets, destroyed personal property, including medications, and subjected individuals to ongoing harassment.
Advocacy groups such as Picture the Homeless and the New York Civil Liberties Union recently announced a lawsuit against the NYPD over an October 2015 raid on two groups of homeless men and women.
As Hayden put it after last week's arrest, "We were in one of the richest neighborhoods in the city. We were right next to the Soros Foundation. And the fact that we had this poverty right next door, it's like a tale of two cities: extreme wealth alongside extreme poverty, lack of resources and opportunity."
Despite police violence and abuse, both Hayden and Mualimm-ak are determined to fight, both their own charges and for justice overall. As Hayden said:
We all need to be out there and standing for the right thing to be done. We need to stand against all oppression. This is a perpetual war. This is not going away, it's a continuous process. It's not going away until people of color take control of the politics of their community--not just the police, but every area of community life. We will let them know that we will hold them accountable. Surrender is not an option. I will fight this until the day I die."