NYPD Documents Reveal:
New York Cops Infiltrated, Spied on Peaceful Protesters “As if they were al-Qaida”

Updated April 10, 2017, 9 pm | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Protesting NYPD spying on Muslims, 2013
As a result of a lawsuit, the NYPD has been forced to release documents revealing that their spying on protesters included infiltrating groups, taking photographs surreptitiously, and seeking out those that they thought were playing a leading role. Above: In 2013, people protested NYPD surveillance tactics that included labeling entire mosques terrorist without any specific evidence of wrongdoing. (AP photo)

In July 2014, video of a squad of New York cops choking Eric Garner to death on a Staten Island sidewalk went viral. Garner, unarmed and unthreatening, suspected of selling cigarettes without a license, called out “I can’t breathe” 11 times as his unrelenting murderers applied a banned chokehold until he lost consciousness. Then the cops stood around and joked as Eric lay dying on the sidewalk.

Coming on the heels of countless police murders of Black and Brown people, and along with the shooting of young Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Garner’s death sparked and spurred the movement against police brutality, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in cities around the U.S., and nightly marches, die-ins, and other protests in New York City for weeks. This movement included significant radical and revolutionary currents that called out the system as a whole for these murders.

The NYPD responded immediately—not by firing and arresting the killers (who to this day have gone completely unpunished) or examining the brutality and murder for which New York cops are notorious. No, they went to work punishing and spying on those who dared to speak up against all this. For starters, they arrested (on trumped-up charges) the man who took the video. They sent undercover cops into the protests that the cops themselves described as “peaceful” and “orderly.” They regularly filmed demonstrators and saved the film, in violation of an existing court order (the Handschu Agreement) meant to prohibit the NYPD from building up “dossiers” on activists.

Now as a result of a lawsuit, the NYPD has been forced to release documents revealing that their spying went even further. According to a recent article in the Guardian, undercover cops not only attended protests, they also photographed protesters surreptitiously, pretended to be activists themselves, and infiltrated smaller groups at protests, seeking out those they thought were playing a leading role. These undercover cops worked their way into those circles and got on private text message loops concerning plans. Besides the information about protests stolen in this manner, a key part of this is that the NYPD would be able to access the cell phone numbers of all the people on these text message loops, identify leaders by number if not by name, and develop an “organization chart” showing what role different people played and how they related to each other.

As one of the attorneys in the lawsuit said, “The documents uniformly show no crime occurring, but NYPD had undercovers inside the protests for months on end as if they were al-Qaida”—a dangerous threat to be surveilled and repressed.

Joseph Giacalone, a former cop and now a professor but still maintaining his piggish outlook, revealed one aspect of the strategy behind this. He told the Guardian that leadership identification was standard police practice at protests. “If you take out the biggest mouth, everybody just withers away, so you concentrate on the ones you believe are your organizers. Once you identify that person, you can run computer checks on them to see if they have a warrant out or any summons failures, then you can drag them in before they go out to speak or rile up the crowd....”

But even beyond suppressing legal protest, this is the kind of information that political police historically have used to target key activists, as they did with Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, and many others in the 1960s. Every city had its “red squad” (targeting communists and other radicals), and the FBI nationally had files on hundreds of thousands of people, which were used to guide extensive repression—dozens of revolutionaries were murdered, and thousands of activists were framed up on bogus charges in an attempt to crush the most radical organizations involved in the upheavals of the time.

Much of this police state activity was supposedly banned in the 1970s, but has been coming back strong since 9/11 (in 2001). These latest revelations are a chilling sign not just of what’s happening but also of what is to come.

That all of this went down in the Obama years, and on the watch of New York’s “progressive” mayor, Bill de Blasio, reveals that beneath the shimmer of U.S. democracy—even at its “best”—is a powerful apparatus of repression that views any significant protest as a threat, and any rules constraining their ability to spy and infiltrate as just something to “get around.”

But these measures are all the more dangerous now that the fascist Trump/Pence regime is in power, with its open antagonism towards Black and Brown people and protesters in general, and its known disregard for people’s constitutional rights. A regime that thinks it is right and necessary to lock down society and silence dissent can use this information for mass arrests, or worse. This gives us all the more reason to not only expose and oppose this spying, but to do that as part of driving out the Trump/Pence regime, and taking on the whole oppressive system that has built up, requires, and protects this machinery to repress people’s most basic rights.


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