Criminal Justice

NYPD Flyer Warns Cops About 'Professional Agitators' Armed With Cameras

|

DNAinfo.com reports that two Harlem activists were the focus of an NYPD flyer resembling a wanted poster that identified them as "known professional agitators" because of their work documenting stop-and-frisk encounters. The flyer, which carried the NYPD shield and the logo of the department's intelligence division, featured photographs of Matthew Swaye and Christina Gonzalez, who have a YouTube channel where they post video of police stops. The flyer alerted officers to the public-relations threat posed by the couple (sic):

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 creating unnecessary distractions. Do not feed into above subjects propaganda.

Although Swaye and Gonzalez understandably viewed the flyer, which included their home address, as an attempt to intimidate them, that last recommendation could be interpreted to mean that officers should ignore the "agitators" rather than try to stop them. "There have been times when it's gotten combative," Swaye told DNAinfo.com, a local news site. "There have been times when they [police officers] have videoed Christina. But if we were breaking the law they would have arrested us."

If recording officers as they go about their routine work in public makes them look bad, maybe there is something wrong with standard police practices. Obviously Swaye and Gonzalez think so, and they are not alone. The eveyday harassment of supposedly suspicious black and Hispanic men—who nine times out of 10 are not doing anything to justify an arrest or summons and who are frequently subjected to pat-downs that almost never discover weapons, even though that possibility is the rationale for these searches—is not "propaganda"; it's reality. If that reality looks ugly on YouTube, perhaps it is time for the NYPD to reconsider its constitutionally questionable tactics.

Predictably, the flyer that urged officers not to help Swaye and Gonzalez make their case against the NYPD proved to be self-defeating:

Go here for more on camera-shy cops, including Radley Balko's 2011 Reason cover story on the subject.