Police on playback — copwatch in New York City

by The New York Video League | October 22, 2012

Stories of police brutality are often told in a way that casts victims as helpless bystanders of cops run amok. We met with Sean Pagan, a recent victim of police violence, and found that his story changes how we think about policing in New York. Sean’s story shows that communities are finding new and innovative tactics for dealing with discriminatory policing, beyond waiting for legislative reform. One such tactic is copwatch, in which individuals or teams film police officers in action. But what’s the history of the tactic? What are the risks, limitations and impact of filming the police? And how do these videos change the way we understand narratives of police violence?

NYPD Posts ‘Wanted’ Flyer Targeting Couple That Legally Videotapes Stop-And-Frisks

By Aviva ShenThinkProgress, July 3, 2012

The New York Police Department has put out a “police advisory” flyer warning cops and residents to look out for two “professional agitators,” a Harlem couple who film officers stopping and frisking young New Yorkers of color.

DNAinfo reports that Matthew Swaye, 35, and his partner Christina Gonzalez, 25, came across the poster, complete with mugshots and the official seal of the NYPD’s intelligence division, taped to a podium in the 30th precinct’s public hearing room while attending a precinct council meeting. The flyer listed the home address of the couple and warned:

Be aware that the subjects are known professional agitators that live at [home address]. Above subjects mo is that they video tape officers performing routine stops and post on youtube. Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too deter officers from conducting there responsibilities. Above subjects also deter officers from being safe and tactical by causing unnecessary distractions. Do not feed into subjects propaganda.

Swaye and Gonzalez have been arrested several times in the past year for civil disobedience. Swaye was detained at a stop-and-frisk protest in Harlem, along with a a group of advocates including Cornel West. Gonzalez was arrested at a Father’s Day stop-and-frisk march and, on a separate occasion, spent a few days at Rikers on a contempt charge after refusing to apologize for calling conservative Brooklyn Judge John H. Wilson a “white racist pig.”

The couple post videos on a YouTube channel showing NYPD officers conducting stop-and-frisks and assaulting demonstrators. Swaye explained, “We see ourselves as peace activists. The mug shots were for civil disobedience. They have us here like we robbed a bank.”

Another person attending the meeting told DNAinfo, “I thought: ‘Why isn’t anyone arresting them? When you see something like that, you think there’s a reward out for the person on the flyer.”

According to DNAinfo, the New York Civil Liberties Union recorded 7,550 total stops in the 30th precinct last year, 3,987 which involved a frisk, ranking it 38th in total number of frisks city-wide. On June 20, the NYPD invited reporters to a press conference and demo of an updated stop-and-frisk program after coming under fire for the racially-skewed practice.

France court orders block on ‘copwatch’ website

October 17, 2011
Jennie Ryan

The Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris  on Friday ordered  French Internet service providers to block access to Copwatch Nord Paris I-D-F, a website designed to allow civilians to post videos of alleged police misconduct. The decision was applauded by the police union, Alliance Police Nationale (APN), which argued that the website incited violence against police. Jean-Claude Delage, secretary general of the APN, said that “[t]he judges have analyzed the situation perfectly—this site being a threat to the integrity of the police — and made the right decision.” Opponents of Internet censorship were also quick to comment on the judgment. Jeremie Zimmermann, spokesman for La Quadrature du Net, a Paris-based net neutrality organization, called the order “an obvious will by the French government to control and censor citizens’ new online public sphere.” The site was ordered to be blocked immediately.France does not have an equivalent to the US First Amendment [text], which prohibits the government from making any law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” In August, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit  ruled that there is a clearly-established First Amendment right  to film police officers performing their duties in a public space. The Center for Constitutional Rights  filed an amicus brief  in the case arguing that concerned individuals and cop-watch groups have a right to record the activity of police in the public. The case stems from a 2007 incident when police officers arrested Simon Gilk after he openly recorded three police officers arresting a suspect on the Boston Common.

Cops who beat Martin Cotton to death to face family members in Oakland, California courtroom

http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/12/09/18666183.php    12/14/10

by Redwood Curtain CopWatch

Cops Who Beat Martin Cotton to Death in Humboldt Face Trial in Oakland

Martin Cotton and his daughter Siehna

Martin Cotton II was living houseless and unarmed on August 9th, 2007, when he was severely abused by police, and brought to the Humboldt County Correctional Facility. At the jail, he was further attacked by guards, and left to die on the floor of a cell.

Eureka police brutally beat Martin in front of many people, mostly men staying at the Eureka Rescue Mission. The last part of the fatal beating occurred behind locked doors in the jail, with some of it caught on video.

On Monday, January 10th, a federal civil rights trial, brought on behalf of Martin Cotton’s baby daughter, Siehna Cotton, and by Martin’s father, Marty Cotton, will begin in Oakland: Siehna Cotton et al. v. Eureka Police Dept. and Humboldt County Sheriff’s Dept.

Members of Redwood Curtain CopWatch say, “While we can have little to no faith in the court system to be an arbiter of justice, we want to fill the courtroom throughout the trial. The presence of people opposed to state violence and murder is important for a jury to see, is critical support for the Cotton family and vulnerable witnesses, and in many ways can teach us more about the system we are up against.”