In the Face of Police Brutality, Community Organizations Launch Citywide Series to Teach New Yorkers to Monitor and Document Police Abuse

Tue, 09/30/2014
Aidge Patterson
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Today, Bronx community members joined police accountability advocates and organizers to learn how to effectively monitor and document the police – a practice known as “Cop Watch.”  The Bronx training is the first in a citywide series aimed at training New Yorkers in communities that suffer the most abuses at the hand of the NYPD to gather evidence of misconduct and deter abuse.

“We’re calling on all New Yorkers to monitor and document the police whenever they see them taking action against someone,” said Daniel Sanchez, a representative of the Justice Committee and one the trainers. “We’re organizing these trainings because we want Cop Watching to become part of our city’s culture and something habitual in our daily lives – like looking both ways before you cross the street or giving elderly people your seat on the subway.”

"Peacefully documenting police activity makes communities safer,” said Robin Steinberg, the Executive Director of The Bronx Defenders. “In recent incidents like Eric Garner's death in an NYPD chokehold, video footage has helped bring the truth to light.”

The workshop began with an explanation of the history of Cop Watch – which has its origins in the Black Panther Party – and an affirmation that videotaping the police is 100% legal. The trainers also shared Know Your Rights information, such as the right to not consent to a police search if there is no probable cause or other legal justification.

According to the organizations leading the training series, in the best cases, Cop Watching can de-escalate and deter police violence and harassment.

“We’ve seen this many times when we are Cop Watching in teams,” said Nadia Alexis, a representative of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which has been conducting Cop Watch since the 1990s.  “When we’re there with several cameras, looking organized, police think twice. But even if the violence or harassment continues, having the footage as evidence can help ensure there are consequences for officers.”

In a recent case in Sunset Park, an officer who was recording kicking a street vendor was suspended. 

CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, Justice Committee, and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement are organizing four more trainings over the course of the next four weeks, in Lower Manhattan, Jackson Heights, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn.  These groups also work together to coordinate the citywide Cop Watch Alliance.

“In immigrant communities of color, the police will arrest you for small ‘Broken Windows violations’ and disregard your rights,” said Ruben An, the Youth Organizer for CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. “Cop Watch is a powerful act of change because it can push officers to treat community members with more humanity. Most importantly, it inspires community members to realize they have tools to hold the police accountable."

“We just watched as an Ohio grand jury failed to indict the officers who killed John Crawford,” said Sanchez at the conclusion of the training. “In New York grand juries failed to indict the officers who killed Ramarley Graham, Mohamed Bah, Jayson Tirado, Noel Polanco and so many more.  The system is not working to hold the police responsible for killings and brutality.  It’s time to take police accountability into our own hands and commit to caring for one another.”