Harlem Couple Branded 'Professional Agitators' in NYPD 'Wanted' Poster
HARLEM — The NYPD has created a "wanted" poster for a Harlem couple who film cops conducting stop-and-frisks and post the videos on YouTube — branding them "professional agitators" who portray cops in a bad light and listing their home address, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.
The flyer featured side-by-side mugshots of Matthew Swaye, 35, and his partner Christina Gonzalez, 25, and warned officers to be on guard against them. It was spotted by multiple people, including the couple, when it was taped to a podium outside a public hearing room in the 30th Precinct house last Thursday, where residents met for precinct council meeting.
"Be aware that above subjects are known professional agitators," read the flyer, which bears the NYPD shield and a seal of the NYPD's Intelligence Division. It also gave the home address of the couple.
"Above subjects MO is that they video tape officers performing routine stops and post on YouTube," the sign said. "Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too deter officers from conducting there [sic] responsibilities."
The flyer also listed the name and cellphone number of a Sgt. Nicholson in the 30th Precinct, and implored cops to "not feed into above subjects propaganda."
Nicholson did not respond to a request for comment. The NYPD also did not respond to repeated requests.
A person who was at the meeting, but asked not to be named, said the flyer looked like a "wanted poster."
"I thought: 'Why isn't anyone arresting them?'" the individual said. "When you see something like that, you think there's a reward out for the person on the flyer."
Gonzalez, who was stunned to see her and her partner's face on the poster, quickly shot a video of the poster and uploaded it to YouTube.
"Someone is going to look at that and see my face on what looks like a wanted poster," said Gonzalez. "Anyone who doesn't know about our videos and know us will look at those mugshots, read about us being so-called agitators who interfere with police activity, and see criminals."
Swaye said he spoke out about the flyer at the council meeting, but got no response from police.
"I stood up immediately and quietly said my face is on this," he said. "I tried to validate myself; talked about my degrees."
Swaye said he also reached out to the sergeant and offered to cook dinner for the precinct so they could discuss the police tactics. Nicholson declined, he said.
He called the precinct the following day and was told the flyer had been taken down, he said.
"I have nothing to hide, but for the officers to know where I live is scary. I feel scared to bring people over here now," said Gonzalez.
The couple have filmed officers stopping and frisking and arresting young people of color in Harlem and around city, which they post on Gonzalez's YouTube account, according to Swaye. They said their actions are legal.
"There have been times when it's gotten combative. There have been times when they [police officers] have videoed Christina," said Swaye. "But if we were breaking the law they would have arrested us."
The couple has been arrested several times for civil disobedience within the past year, according to court documents. Swaye was part of a group of advocates including Cornel West who were detained at the 28th Precinct in Harlem in October protesting the stop-and-frisk policy.
Gonzalez was held on Rikers Island for several days in May after she called controversial and conservative Brooklyn Judge John H. Wilson a "white racist pig," refused to apologize at a court hearing, and was hit with a contempt charge.
Gonzalez was also arrested at the Father's Day anti-stop-and-frisk march. She was charged with second degree assault, charges which she said were false and intended to fight.
The pair said they are considering legal options over the flyer, but will more likely use the incident to raise awareness about stop-and-frisk.
"We see ourselves as peace activists," Swaye said. "The mug shots were for civil disobedience. They have us here like we robbed a bank."
Stop-and-frisks have come under scrutiny lately as studies have shown that black and Latino men are largely targeted by the practice even in neighborhoods where they do not live. The number of shootings has also remained constant over the last decade as the number of stop-and-frisks has climbed steeply.
The 30th Precinct had 7,550 total stops in 2011, 3,987 which involved a frisk, ranking it 38th in total number of frisks city-wide, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended the practice and credited it as part of the reason New York City's crime rate has dropped to historic lows. Bloomberg has also called for changes in the training of officers that perform stop-and-frisk and in data collection of the practice, saying it should be "mended not ended."
But Gonzalez and Swaye see the flyer as an effort to "discredit" and "shame" them for protesting what they feel is a civil rights issue, while also potentially endangering them by putting their home address on the flyer.
"I saw it immediately and was kind of blown away," said Swaye, "It was designed to show us as people who are not trustworthy or safe."