According to legal papers filed by the New York Police Department, the NYPD sent, and is probably still sending, undercover officers to Black Lives Matter protests after the death of Eric Garner.
As reported by The Guardian, NYPD was asked to disclose these undercover operations when requested to do so by a “group of New York attorneys requesting records under the state freedom of information law.” The new papers filed explain why the NYPD has been, and is continuing to, refuse to release the information being collected:
- The first set contains “multimedia records” relating to the petitioners’ request for “pictures, videos, audio recordings, data, and metadata” collected or received by the NYPD at the Grand Central Station protests, which Black Lives Matter groups are still leading, according to the NYPD response.
- The second “consists entirely of communications between and among NYPD undercover officers and their handlers”, pertaining to the protests. According to a 22 August NYPD Memorandum of Law, these undercover communications “consist primarily of immediate impressions concerning ongoing events”.
- The third “consists of a single record, which is a communication from an NYPD officer working in an undercover capacity and his base”, pertaining to the protests, the response indicates.
The records request is the same one that led The Intercept to release documents a year ago detailing the MTA and Metro-North transit police sending their own undercover officers to spy on Black Lives Matter protesters in and around Grand Central. Officers in plainclothes monitored the protestors and took photos of the activists. The outcome of their observations determined that the protests were “peaceful” and “orderly.”
The attorneys involved in the request for the records say that the NYPD’s undercover operations are potential constitutional violations. MJ Williams, one of these attorneys, stated:
“The fear and disarming effect caused by undercovers being assigned to what were and continue to be extraordinarily peaceful protests is disturbing. To the extent that it would influence individuals not to participate and get individuals to censor what they say because of a fear of undercovers – that’s a basis for a first amendment violation.”
“As someone who was present at the protests, it’s disturbing to know the NYPD may have a file on me, ready to be used or to prevent me from getting a job simply because I’ve been active in some political capacity. That’s potentially a fourth amendment violation for unlawful seizure, but on the other hand, we’ve seen law enforcement agencies have all sorts of justifications for data collection for public safety that the courts have allowed.”
The NYPD states that the release of the records could help “would-be criminals” learn “the circumstances in which the NYPD does not, or cannot, deploy undercover officers”, and the release of the “multimedia” records of the protest could reveal “the kinds of optical technology NYPD uses, both in its undercover and general surveillance operations” and “any areas NYPD does not have under surveillance, thereby exposing gaps in coverage.”
Tell the NYPD: Release Records of Undercover Operations at Black Lives Matter Protests
If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.