Magazine article The New Yorker

Cop Watch

Magazine article The New Yorker

Cop Watch

Article excerpt


Among the chants and Twitter hash-tags radiating from Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York--"Hands Up, Don't Shoot," "I Can't Breathe"--an improvisation on N.W.A.'s anti-cop rap lyric has been one of the most contemporary. "Film the police," protesters declared after a smartphone caught police locking Eric Garner, a Staten Island man, in a lethal chokehold. In Ferguson, there is no question that a police officer's bullets ended Michael Brown's life, but the lack of video documentation of the shooting has left the details in dispute. And so, as protests raged, a group of New Yorkers met at a library in Flatbush, Brooklyn, to learn the best practices for capturing police encounters on camera. The workshop was being held by Peoples' Justice, a police-accountability group that hopes to "spread the culture of cop-watching," a tactic they trace to the Black Panthers. "Huey Newton would hit the streets with a law book and a shotgun," Aidge Patterson, a Peoples' Justice coordinator who was leading the seminar, said. "We're shooting with a camera."

Patterson wore a turquoise cap flipped backward and a T-shirt adorned with an assault rifle discharging a rose. A poster behind him showed an officer beating a man with a nightstick while a well-equipped camera crew documented the incident. The aspiring filmmakers in attendance included two fourteen-year-old boys, who'd been dragged to the meeting by a mentor from a program for at-risk youths; Keeshan Harley, a nineteen-year-old in a Shepard Fairey "OBEY" T-shirt, who wants to start a cop watch in Crown Heights; and an older man in Capri pants. "I'm here because I've realized electronics cannot be invalidated," Kendra Brewster, a social psychologist, said. It had become clear, she added, that human beings could be.

Patterson began the workshop with a civics quiz. "True or false," he said. "If you are stopped or arrested, it's best to answer all the cop's questions."

"When I watch 'Law & Order,' they say don't talk to the cops unless you got a lawyer," Derek, one of the teens, said.

"Right!" Patterson said. "I'm glad they're dropping some actual knowledge there." Derek recalled a recent encounter with the police. "I came from a party with my friends, and some cops--they was D.'s, detectives--hopped out on us and were, like, 'Get on the wall,' " he said. He wondered if the police could legally look through his pockets.

"That's a search," Patterson said, drawing a distinction between the city's stop-and-frisk practice and a search, which requires probable cause. …

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