Police Surveillance and our State of America   


Police Surveillance and subsequent police violence towards protesters:
.  "...not because they are breaking any laws, but just because they're there."

    click here >   see short video showing how the police use surveillance
against U.S. citizens who participate in Anti-War protests,
courtesy of videoresistance@riseup.net

    ...and we* have 16 years of video that document the widespread Police Tactics of Violence used against AIDS Activists and the citizen expression of civil disobedience... protesting societal and governmental malfeasances that worsen this Plague of HIV/AIDS, and fuel the misery and cultural sicknesses of our Age, and our Lives.

  * DIVA TV and all AIDS Video Activists –May 2006        

 – more aids activist videos are currently being preserved and archived at the New York Public Library
  – online resources coming soon –                                              

    Feel a Chill?
  NYPD on filming protests

     by Jarrett Murphy   village voice   April 3rd, 2006

   A camera cop videotapes a protest at the RNC
   photo: Timothy Fadek/Polaris

   So there's this protest march heading up Seventh Avenue, and it's typical. There are witty signs about President Bush and bitter slogans about the war, the Patriot Act, Gitmo, and so on. Someone's got the obligatory Mumia Abu-Jamal sign, the drums and whistles, the flag-draped prop coffins. A few of the marchers take up chants ("They say, 'Get back.' We say, 'Blah blah' "), but most of them just kind of shuffle along. Folks shilling the Workers Vanguard or Workers World circulate through the marching proletariat.

And on the sidewalk there are two guys with video cameras recording all the action. One is Larry, a tourist from Idaho. The other is a New York City police officer—call him "Detective Doe." Larry's wearing an Idaho State sweatshirt and a fanny pack. Detective Doe sports an NYPD-issue windbreaker and a handgun. But when it comes to the cameras, the differences end. They're both simply filming a public protest. They can zoom in on the marchers' faces, record the speeches, and play it all back months or years later if they want.

The detective even has written permission to be there—from the federal court that in 2003 OK'd the NYPD's "Guidelines for Investigations Involving Political Activity."

Cops, the guidelines say, are "authorized to visit any place and attend any event that is open to the public on the same terms and conditions as members of the public generally." So if Larry from Idaho can be on Seventh Avenue with his Sony Hi8 camcorder rolling, so can the detective.

Of course, Detective Doe is only supposed to be there "for the purpose of detecting or preventing terrorist activities." But that's exactly what he's on the lookout for! Political events are the ideal venue for terrorists, whether it's to kill people, monitor civilians, or even study police tactics.

That's why the latest NYPD policy on videotaping protests allows the cops to film not just when they suspect terrorist or criminal activity but also whenever "such accurate documentation is deemed potentially beneficial or useful." You see, since terrorists could attack or attend any protest, the cops must be able to film every one. And just to make sure they don't miss anything, the NYPD policy says the cops must keep those videos for a year, after which officers "may" destroy the tapes—although there's nothing saying they have to.

Now, it's true that the court-approved guidelines say that the cops aren't supposed to keep a recording of political events "unless it relates to potential unlawful or terrorist activity." But the guidelines are just guidelines—they aren't meant to trigger civil rights lawsuits every five minutes. Unless cops violate the Constitution (and merely filming someone at a protest doesn't breach the First Amendment), the NYPD is supposed to have a free hand. And besides, is videotaping really hurting these protesters?

Such was the argument the city of New York made in federal court last week, in the latest installment of the 34-year-long Handschu saga.

In 1971, several political activists sued an NYPD intelligence unit for spying on them and violating their right to free expression. The cops and civil liberties lawyers settled the case in 1985, erecting a set of guidelines (named after a plaintiff, Barbara Handschu) for monitoring political activities. A year after 9-11 the NYPD said it needed more flexibility to deal with terrorism, and the judge allowed the department to adopt a much looser set of rules.

Now, the same lawyers who have pushed the case since the outset are asking U.S. District Judge Charles Haight—who has overseen the case for 30 years—to stop the NYPD's new videotaping policy. The lawyers argue that for a cop to film a protest is very different from a private citizen's doing so because it could "chill" free expression of political views. They protest the NYPD's policy of retaining these tapes, citing fears that the images could be used to make dossiers on protesters. And they take issue with the NYPD's argument that the potential for terrorism at political protests justifies widespread videography. "Orwellian" is what lawyer Jethro Eisenstein called that notion at a hearing last week, "because it is effectively saying peace is war and using terrorist threats to block critical thinking."

In one sense, the case hinges on the nuances of the judge's language: what he meant by what he wrote three years ago. The NYPD argues that Haight's ruling doesn't allow the court to intervene every time cops depart from the guidelines. "I think that has to be left to the police department's awareness of what it has to do to protect the public from terrorism," said Gail Donoghue, a city lawyer, at last week's hearing. In addition, she contended, the NYPD's hands are tied when it comes to destroying the videotapes, because when cops are sued for their conduct at protests, the videos might be needed as evidence.

Most importantly, the city argues that the Handschu lawyers have no case because no one has actually been injured by the videotaping policy. The NYPD isn't creating dossiers, Donoghue asserts, so protesters have no valid reason to be chilled. "No one is coming forward," she said.

Indeed, there are protesters who aren't at all bothered by the presence of police cameras. One of those, a woman who attended last week's hearing bedecked in anti-war buttons, smiles when asked if the cop camcorders chilled her, saying, "Well, they warm me up." Joey Steel, a recent college grad who's involved with the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade and has been arrested six times in the past six months, does not seem overly concerned about having his picture taken. If nothing else, the fact that the NYPD is filming can be a badge of honor, indicating that at least you're making someone nervous.

But then there are the people who e-mail NYU professor Paul Chevigny, one of the Handschu lawyers, complaining about police filming; a recent message was headlined "Scary Shit." Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, says recent immigrants who might want to march are discouraged by the cameras. "I think those communities feel this kind of Big Brother approach is kind of intimidating," she says.

But the NYPD need look no further than its own ranks to find people upset about being videotaped. A lawsuit filed against the city by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (as well as other police and fire unions) alleges that the NYPD violated union members' rights during protests in 2004, when they were seeking better contract terms. "The NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau conducted highly conspicuous filming of the protesters at these sites as an obvious intimidation tactic and without any basis for suspecting unlawful activity," their complaint, which specifically mentions Handschu, reads. "[The city's] restrictions on, and filming of, plaintiffs' leafleting and informational picketing . . . violated plaintiffs' rights to free speech, petition, and assembly," it continues, adding later on, "This has had a chilling effect on plaintiffs' speech."

But these complaints are beside the point, the Handschu lawyers say: They feel they don't have to produce new allegations because the police are bound by a settlement arising out of previous bad behavior. The NYPD's videotaping policy violates the remaining Handschu rules, and that alone is enough to warrant an order from the judge, they argue. "The reason that the court incorporated [the guidelines] was the police department cannot be trusted," says Eisenstein. "Why, given the history of what we know the police department has done, do we want to leave tapes of legitimate political expression in the hands of the police department?"

That track record makes the lawyers skeptical of Donoghue's contention that the NYPD is not creating dossiers on protest leaders. "I'm not willing to accept that, because she doesn't back it up with anything like an affidavit from someone at the intelligence division," says Martin Stollar, one of the team pushing Haight to rein in the NYPD. "She doesn't back it up with any specific notion that she has gone over and looked to see if that's true." A separate lawsuit concerning NYPD tactics at a 2002 animal rights protest uncovered a police spreadsheet with the names and addresses of people busted there—a police document that, while it may have had a benign purpose, does link individual people with a political belief.

Remarkably, the city's lawyers suggested at last week's hearing that Judge Haight hold an evidentiary hearing on the Handschu dispute. The civil liberties lawyers were pleasantly surprised at the move. "They offered one and we'll gladly take it," says Stollar. "Anytime we can get David Cohen on the stand, we'll take it," he adds, referring to the NYPD's head of intelligence, a former CIA official.

Judge Haight could call such a hearing or simply rule now. Whichever he does, it's unlikely to be the final word in a case that has already outlived the first judge assigned to it and, Haight quipped, will live on after he too passes into "that ultimate senior status." As long as there's a city and a police department, he says, "there will always be a Handschu judge."

Meanwhile, Donoghue says the NYPD is working on a new interim order. And the Handschu lawyers have complained to the NYPD about yet another surveillance tactic: the infiltration of protest groups.

    Watching the Detectives
  The NYPD wants to take your picture—but beware
  of turning your lens on the cops

    by Sarah Ferguson    village voice  April 10th, 2006

Talk to the hand: An undercover detective lunges for
    Jan Lee's camera.
 photo: Jan Lee

   Since 2003, the NYPD has been filming protesters at political demonstrations, regardless of whether anything illegal's going on. City lawyers were in court last month defending the practice, arguing that what happens in public view is fair game.

But police evidently aren't so keen on surveillance when the cameras are turned on them—particularly when those cameras show them abusing free-street-parking privileges.

On March 27, two volunteers from the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives were detained for taking pictures of police officers' private cars, which were parked on the sidewalk outside the Fifth Precinct in Chinatown. The volunteers say they were held and questioned at the precinct for about 20 minutes and instructed to erase the pictures.

"It was intimidating. I was afraid they were going to arrest me," says Brian Hoberman, 37, who works as a researcher for the city's Rent Guidelines Board.

Hoberman and a college student had been dispatched by Transportation Alternatives to document the scourge of sidewalk parking around City Hall and Chinatown. "We were told to photograph all the cars on the sidewalk with their license plates, and if they had any parking permits in the windows," Hoberman explains.

They started outside the Fifth Precinct on Elizabeth Street between Canal and Bayard streets, a narrow block where it's customary to find police and others parking with two wheels on the curb. Hoberman says he snapped a shot of an SUV straddling the sidewalk, and was quickly confronted by its owner, a cop in plain clothes.

"He said, 'Do you know this is my car? What are you doing?' " Hoberman recalls. "I told him we weren't targeting police or any particular people's cars, and that it was just a general survey, but he kept haranguing me, so I walked away." Hoberman says he resumed taking pictures, then turned back when he noticed his fellow volunteer being held up by a different officer.

They were asked to come inside the precinct, Hoberman says, where they were grilled by at least three officers. "They asked if we had anything to do with Critical Mass—twice," he says. "They took our driver's licenses and asked us if we had any outstanding warrants."

Hoberman says the officers listed several reasons they could not photograph cops' personal vehicles—including concerns that if the license plate numbers were published online, gang members could track police to their homes. "One officer asked if we were familiar with the gang situation in Chinatown," Hoberman recalls. "He said his tires had been slashed outside the precinct. He said, 'This is not the West Village.' And he mentioned the Patriot Act.

"Then he asked me to delete the photographs on my camera—just the ones that showed private police vehicles. The ones of marked police cars and a taxicab didn't bother him." Worried about getting his ID back and already told by the cops that they had the right to hold him, Hoberman agreed.

His account was confirmed by David Snetman, the Transportation Alternatives staffer coordinating the survey, who came to the precinct to intervene. "They said the Patriot Act is somehow involved. The commanding officer, an Asian man, chimed in and said to me, 'Are you familiar with the Patriot Act?' " Snetman says. "They said if we wanted to continue our survey, Brian would have to delete the photos he'd taken. They didn't go so far as to say it was illegal; they just said they didn't want us to do it. I didn't really want to press the issue, so we just agreed and left. They were pretty upset."

Officers at the Fifth Precinct referred all calls to the NYPD's public information office. A spokesperson there, Deputy Chief Michael Collins, told the Voice he was "unable to find anyone familiar with the incident." However, Chief Collins said he did not see anything wrong with questioning the volunteers. "I would find it unusual if officers did not conduct a preliminary investigation if they observed unidentified people photographing department vehicles, officers' private vehicles, department buildings, etc.," Collins wrote in an e-mail.

But Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union says the incident is troubling. "There are no prohibitions against photographing in public spaces," Dunn notes. "They can't mandate anyone to destroy photographs. If they said [the volunteers] could be held, that sounds like coercion to me."

It's not the first time New Yorkers have been detained for taking pictures of law enforcement vehicles parked illegally. On January27, Jan Lee, a Chinatown antique dealer, says he was stopped after photographing two cars—one bearing an NYPD placard and another belonging to a court officer—that were blocking a fire hydrant on Mott Street.

Lee says he was leaning in to capture the court officer's placard on the dash when an undercover detective shouted at him: "Who are you? What are you doing?" Unaware the officer was a cop, Lee kept shooting and snapped a photo of the detective, who he claims brushed the camera away, telling him, "You cannot take pictures!"

"I told him it was a public street and I can take pictures of whatever I want, and he said, 'No, you can't,' and hit my arm again. So I said, 'That's it, I'm calling the cops,' and flipped open my cell phone," Lee recalls. "Then he said, 'I am a cop' and flashed his badge."

According to Lee, the detective pushed him against a roll-down gate, then dragged him by the collar to the NYPD kiosk on Park Row. Lee, a prominent community advocate and business owner, says he was handcuffed and forced to kneel on the street for about 15 minutes while the detective and another uniformed officer radioed for backup.

The police took his camera and ran a check on his ID, then released him, telling him he needed a permit from the NYPD to photograph cars belonging to law enforcement personnel. "The officer said, 'There's a right way and wrong way to take photographs, and you're doing it the wrong way,' " Lee recalls.

The NYPD told the Voice the department has no record of this incident, either, though Lee says the commander of the Fifth Precinct visited his antique store on Mott Street to speak with him about it a few days later, after Lee called civil rights attorney Norman Siegel and Community Board 3.

Lee says he felt humiliated and doesn't buy the officers' claim: that they were concerned he could illegally copy the placards. He views his detention as an effort to intimidate him and other Chinatown activists, who have been raising a stink about what they see as the abuse of street-parking privileges by cops, court officers, and municipal workers in their neighborhood. They've made a short documentary about it called Clogged Arteries, in partnership with Community Board 3. Lee and fellow business owners say the all-day parking by police and other government workers (who are supposed to use their placards only on "official business") impedes emergency responders and drives away shoppers.

Police officers' seeming paranoia over street photography goes beyond disputes over parking placards. The MTA nixed its proposed ban on subway photos, but cops have been hassling people for filming at commuter rail stations. A NY1 reporter was briefly detained in Penn Station last month—while doing a story about this very issue.

"We are constantly getting complaints of people being approached by NYPD cops for independent photography and filming," says Dunn. The NYCLU recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a well-known Indian documentary filmmaker who was stopped by police last May while filming taxis in midtown and then detained for several hours. Dunn also points to an incident on January 20, when police stopped a man taking pictures near the George Washington Bridge. According to Dunn, the officers brought him back to his home and went through his personal photo albums. The NYPD then sent two members of the intelligence divison to interview the man—a white massage therapist from Washington Heights who takes pictures of flowers as his hobby.

No doubt cops have reason to be on alert after 9-11. But at issue, says Dunn, are the degrees of interrogation to which people are being subjected—and to what end? In the case of the Chinatown incidents, Dunn offers a simple solution: "If police officers don't want their private vehicles photographed, then they should not park them on public streets."

F.B.I. Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show

By ERIC LICHTBLAU    New York Times    December 20, 2005

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 - Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.

F.B.I. officials said Monday that their investigators had no interest in monitoring political or social activities and that any investigations that touched on advocacy groups were driven by evidence of criminal or violent activity at public protests and in other settings.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, John Ashcroft, who was then attorney general, loosened restrictions on the F.B.I.'s investigative powers, giving the bureau greater ability to visit and monitor Web sites, mosques and other public entities in developing terrorism leads. The bureau has used that authority to investigate not only groups with suspected ties to foreign terrorists, but also protest groups suspected of having links to violent or disruptive activities.

But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.

One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The documents, provided to The New York Times over the past week, came as part of a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. For more than a year, the A.C.L.U. has been seeking access to information in F.B.I. files on about 150 protest and social groups that it says may have been improperly monitored.

The F.B.I. had previously turned over a small number of documents on antiwar groups, showing the agency's interest in investigating possible anarchist or violent links in connection with antiwar protests and demonstrations in advance of the 2004 political conventions. And earlier this month, the A.C.L.U.'s Colorado chapter released similar documents involving, among other things, people protesting logging practices at a lumber industry gathering in 2002.

The latest batch of documents, parts of which the A.C.L.U. plans to release publicly on Tuesday, totals more than 2,300 pages and centers on references in internal files to a handful of groups, including PETA, the environmental group Greenpeace and the Catholic Workers group, which promotes antipoverty efforts and social causes.

Many of the investigative documents turned over by the bureau are heavily edited, making it difficult or impossible to determine the full context of the references and why the F.B.I. may have been discussing events like a PETA protest. F.B.I. officials say many of the references may be much more benign than they seem to civil rights advocates, adding that the documents offer an incomplete and sometimes misleading snapshot of the bureau's activities.

"Just being referenced in an F.B.I. file is not tantamount to being the subject of an investigation," said John Miller, a spokesman for the bureau.

"The F.B.I. does not target individuals or organizations for investigation based on their political beliefs," Mr. Miller said. "Everything we do is carefully promulgated by federal law, Justice Department guidelines and the F.B.I.'s own rules."

A.C.L.U officials said the latest batch of documents released by the F.B.I. indicated the agency's interest in a broader array of activist and protest groups than they had previously thought. In light of other recent disclosures about domestic surveillance activities by the National Security Agency and military intelligence units, the A.C.L.U. said the documents reflected a pattern of overreaching by the Bush administration.

"It's clear that this administration has engaged every possible agency, from the Pentagon to N.S.A. to the F.B.I., to engage in spying on Americans," said Ann Beeson, associate legal director for the A.C.L.U.

"You look at these documents," Ms. Beeson said, "and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in F.B.I. files that they're talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology."

The documents indicate that in some cases, the F.B.I. has used employees, interns and other confidential informants within groups like PETA and Greenpeace to develop leads on potential criminal activity and has downloaded material from the groups' Web sites, in addition to monitoring their protests.

In the case of Greenpeace, which is known for highly publicized acts of civil disobedience like the boarding of cargo ships to unfurl protest banners, the files indicate that the F.B.I. investigated possible financial ties between its members and militant groups like the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front.

These networks, which have no declared leaders and are only loosely organized, have been described by the F.B.I. in Congressional testimony as "extremist special interest groups" whose cells engage in violent or other illegal acts, making them "a serious domestic terrorist threat."

In testimony last year, John E. Lewis, deputy assistant director of the counterterrorism division, said the F.B.I. estimated that in the past 10 years such groups had engaged in more than 1,000 criminal acts causing more than $100 million in damage.

When the F.B.I. investigates evidence of possible violence or criminal disruptions at protests and other events, those investigations are routinely handled by agents within the bureau's counterterrorism division.

But the groups mentioned in the newly disclosed F.B.I. files questioned both the propriety of characterizing such investigations as related to "terrorism" and the necessity of diverting counterterrorism personnel from more pressing investigations.

"The fact that we're even mentioned in the F.B.I. files in connection with terrorism is really troubling," said Tom Wetterer, general counsel for Greenpeace. "There's no property damage or physical injury caused in our activities, and under any definition of terrorism, we'd take issue with that."

Jeff Kerr, general counsel for PETA, rejected the suggestion in some F.B.I. files that the animal rights group had financial ties to militant groups, and said he, too, was troubled by his group's inclusion in the files.

"It's shocking and it's outrageous," Mr. Kerr said. "And to me, it's an abuse of power by the F.B.I. when groups like Greenpeace are basically being punished for their social activism."

F.B.I. monitoring Activist Groups...
the New York Times report from 2005 is nothing particularly new ... 

From near-countless ACT UP Demonstrations in Washington, D.C. for National Healthcare and political accountablility; massive protest in Kennebunkport; marches and protests (and subsequent police violence) at the '92 Republican National Convention in Houston; throwing Ashes of cremated remains on the White House lawn; Political Funerals – like carrying Mark Lowe Fisher's open coffin to the Republican Headquarters in New York City on election night...    such non-violent civil disobedience actions deluded the F.B.I. into monitoring ACT UP.   Since 1995, the FBI still refuses to release 177 pages of ACT UP's over-200 page file, claiming "ongoing law enforcement activity." There's only one media message: "Why is the federal government spending so much time fighting AIDS activists when they should be fighting AIDS."

And now of course we know the Bush Regime has tapped millions
of American Citizens' phonecalls without warrant



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