The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 16      April 23, 2012

NYC police spy unit targets
Black, other political groups
(front page)
NEW YORK—A March 23 Associated Press story, based on recently released documents from the New York Police Department Intelligence Unit, exposes how the city’s cops use spies and informants to follow and target groups protesting police brutality, Black rights organizations, immigrant rights groups, anti-war coalitions and other political activists.

The documents have also raised a longstanding debate among opponents of police spying on how to effectively defend political rights and push back the unrelenting encroachments on them by the government.

The NYPD defends spying and infiltration operations on the pretext of fighting “terrorism.”

Among the targets of the NYPD were the family of Sean Bell and organizations that supported its campaign to prosecute the cop who killed him. On Nov. 25, 2006, Bell, who was unarmed, was gunned down by five undercover cops while sitting in his car. Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman were wounded.

One report from the NYPD Intelligence Division read: “Members from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement NYC Chapter along with Critical Resistance and members of the Sean Bell family will attend the outcome of the Sean Bell case as well as a demonstration scheduled for Friday, April 25, 2008.” That day the killer cops were acquitted by a Queens Supreme Court judge in a nonjury trial.

The police department’s documents show it was concerned about community reaction to the verdict. One report advised cop spies to be “alert to any rhetoric re: the Sean Bell verdict,” and shows they were spying on the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the New Black Panther Party and other groups.

In a March 28 statement, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement “condemns the targeting and harassment of community organizations by the New York Police Department.” It also points out that “the political prisoners we work to free were targeted by these same tactics over 30 years ago under COINTELPRO.”

The police report lists a number of other political groups it kept tabs on, including the War Resisters League, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition NYC, May 1st Coalition and the International Action Center.

Many of these organizations held a press conference here March 28 where they condemned the program and called for “greater NYPD oversight, transparency and accountability.”

Many political and civil libertarian groups point to modifications of the so-called Handschu guidelines established in 1985 as the root of the problem and call for their reinstatement as a solution.

Handschu guidelines

After exposure of widespread spying and disruption against labor and political organizations in the 1960s and ’70s, a suit was brought against the NYPD in May 1971 for infiltration, surveillance and harassment directed against political organizations and individuals.

It was known as the Handschu case, after Barbara Handschu, a civil rights lawyer who was one of the political activists who filed the suit. The case was settled with a consent decree in 1985 that set down some procedural guidelines the cops were to follow when targeting and infiltrating political groups.

It established a special three-member panel to authorize political spying, composed of the First Deputy Commissioner of the Police Department, the Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters of the Police Department, and a civilian member appointed by the mayor upon consultation with the Police Commissioner.

The Socialist Workers Party was one of a number of political groups and activists that fought to overturn the settlement. Others included the National Lawyers Guild, Communist Party, Puerto Rican Socialist Party, National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, National Conference of Black Lawyers and jailed Black Panther Party member Richard Dhoruba Moore.

An article in the Militant from May 8, 1981, explains the SWP’s position:

“The result of the settlement would be to legitimize previously illegal police activity. Under its guidelines, police can investigate any political group it thinks is ‘engaged in, about to engage in or has threatened to engage in conduct which constitutes a crime.’”

The major backer of the settlement was the New York Civil Liberties Union. It agreed with the cops that political investigations should be permitted whenever the cops could make a case that it might help stopping “criminal acts.”

A year after Sept. 11, 2001, the NYPD went to court to have the guidelines “modified” in order to “combat terrorism.” Such modifications have been made since, but the Handschu guidelines retain their use as political cover for the cops.
Related articles:
Prosecute vigilante for lynching of Trayvon!
Newburgh, NY family vows: ‘cops will answer for murder’
New Orleans cops to serve time for Katrina slayings
Protest called against Chicago cop killing
Keep marching, keep pressure on!
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