[Marxism] A Watcher of the Police Says He Is Now a Target
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Mon Sep 10 07:44:25 MDT 2012
NY Times September 9, 2012
A Watcher of the Police Says He Is Now a Target
By KIA GREGORY
In the streets of his native Harlem, Joseph Hayden is a familiar
presence, patrolling the neighborhood with his video camera, ready to
document interactions between the police and the residents they stop —
and doing so at an age when most people have retired.
“Like I tell them,” Mr. Hayden, 71, said recently of the police, “I’m on
your side to make sure there is courtesy, professionalism and respect.
Isn’t that what you advertise on the side of your car?”
“Seems like you’d want me to do it,” he added, “unless what you’re
providing is not courtesy, professionalism and respect.”
Mr. Hayden found himself on the receiving end of police scrutiny one
evening last December, when he was arrested on charges of weapons
possession after a traffic stop.
Mr. Hayden, known as Jazz, said that his arrest was the product of a
“bogus stop and frisk,” and that it stemmed from his visible activism:
he posts his videos on a Web site, All Things Harlem.
“Our work galvanized them to push back, which resulted in my arrest,”
Mr. Hayden said as he drove his old Jeep through his neighborhood one
As he fights to have the charges dropped, Mr. Hayden’s efforts have
gathered support. There is an online petition with more than 2,000
names, as well as a letter-writing campaign to the Manhattan district
attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., whom Mr. Hayden interviewed for his Web
site when Mr. Vance was running for election. There have also been
rallies, the most recent held last week outside Mr. Vance’s office.
His supporters characterize him as a leader in the growing field of a
certain brand of citizen journalism, whose practitioners post videos or
offer live streaming of encounters involving the police.
“What Jazz is doing, it sparked this cop-watch thing,” said Christina
Gonzalez, 25, a Harlem resident who, along with her partner, Matthew
Swaye, has posted videos of police actions on YouTube. Their work led to
their being characterized as “professional agitators” on a Police
Department flier posted at the 30th Precinct station house in Harlem.
“Even if my card is full or my camera is dead,” Ms. Gonzalez said, “I
want officers to know they’re being watched.”
Mr. Hayden is a short, gray-bearded man with faint tattoos on his brawny
He had a criminal history long before his current legal troubles. He was
first convicted at 16 for heroin possession, and his other convictions
include ones for manslaughter and laundering money for organized crime.
But he said he believed that the pending charges stemmed from a video
that he recorded one night outside the Seville Lounge in July 2011.
The video displays his usual journalistic style, which he concedes tends
to be aggressive. In it, he peppers officers with questions as they
search a car, with the two occupants standing by the curb: What had the
occupants done to prompt the search? Had they been violent, or displayed
Several times, Mr. Hayden lets the officers know, “Yeah, I got you,”
aiming his camera into the glare of a police flashlight.
Mr. Hayden advises the driver not to give permission for the search,
then resumes his commentary. “This is what Harlem has turned into,” he
says, “an open-air prison. You can get stopped for anything.”
At some point, a man — Mr. Hayden said it was one of the officers — asks
him: “You done selling drugs yet or what? I know your rap sheet.”
“You done abusing your authority?” Mr. Hayden spits back. The two trade
Months later, Mr. Hayden said, the same officers pulled him over at West
132nd Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. He said he was
driving from Riverside Church, headed to his daughter’s home after a
prison ministry meeting, when he saw flashing police lights.
“Hey, we know you,” Mr. Hayden said one of the officers told him. “Do
you still sell drugs?”
Mr. Hayden said the officers eventually told him that a taillight was
broken on his old Jeep, which Mr. Hayden disputes. The criminal
complaint does not give a reason for the stop.
Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman,
said the police interest in Mr. Hayden “was far more pedestrian” than drugs.
“He was pulled over for a broken taillight,” Mr. Browne said in an
e-mail. “Officers saw in plain view a wooden club in the rear of the
auto and a switchblade knife in the center console where Hayden began to
reach. He was removed from the auto and placed under arrest.”
Mr. Browne added that Mr. Hayden had 22 previous arrests, dating to
November 1957, and noted his 12 years spent in prison for manslaughter
in the death of a sanitation worker.
Mr. Hayden, who now lives in Yonkers, acknowledges his arrest record.
“I’m not ashamed of anything in my life — nothing, absolutely nothing,”
He also said his past bore no relevance to the man he is now. “I think
Malcolm X said, there’s nothing wrong with being a criminal — it’s
staying a criminal,” Mr. Hayden said.
He was charged was two counts of criminal possession of a weapon, a
third-degree felony. He spent the weekend in jail before his
arraignment. Prosecutors proposed bail, but the judge released him on
his own recognizance. The case goes before a grand jury on Thursday. If
he is ultimately convicted, Mr. Hayden could spend two to seven years in
The weapons in question, according to Mr. Hayden and his lawyer, Sarah
Kunstler, were a souvenir small-scale baseball bat from a Yankees game,
and a switchblade that Mr. Hayden said was the sort “you can buy at any
99-cent store in the country.”
In any case, Ms. Kunstler said, she is pressing for the case to be
dismissed, “given Jazz’s prior history with this officer, and how this
case arose.” She added that she now believed that the switchblade was no
longer usable as evidence.
At a recent meeting in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, “the
assistant spent five minutes fumbling with the knife,” Ms. Kunstler
said, “and it became apparent that she couldn’t get it open.”
“There’s a mechanism that’s bent that prevents it from opening fluidly,”
“The screw in the knife fell out,” she said, “and we couldn’t open it
anymore. It was broken, and it’s certainly more broken now.”
When asked about the knife, Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for the district
attorney, said, “We will decline comment.”
Mr. Hayden said he had already turned down a plea deal, in which he
would have performed community service in exchange for admitting guilt
to a lesser charge.
“I didn’t do anything wrong, man,” he said. “That’s what wrong with the
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