NYCLU Calls NYPD 'Wanted' Poster of 'Professional Agitators' 'Disgusting'
HARLEM — The head of the New York Civil Liberties Union decried a wanted poster taped to a podium in the 30th Precinct stationhouse listing the names, mugshots and home address of two Harlem activists who film police as they perform stop-and-frisks — calling the poster "disgusting."
"To put up something that looks like a wanted poster with the individual's home address and brand them as agitators is an invitation for police to target them," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman told DNAinfo.com New York, which first reported the story.
"At best, it's a horrific example of unethical behavior and bad judgment. At worst, it's an invitation to target these individuals as if they were on the 10 most wanted list," Lieberman added.
Matthew Swaye, 35, and Christina Gonzalez, 25, discovered the poster when they attended a meeting of the 30th Precinct's community council on June 28. Others described seeing the flier posted to a lectern and said that it reminded them of a "wanted poster."
"Be aware that above subjects are known professional agitators," read the flier, which contained the NYPD shield and a seal of the NYPD's Intelligence Division. It also gave the home address of the couple and featured a side-by-side mugshot from previous civil disobedience arrests.
"Above subjects MO is that they video tape officers performing routine stops and post on YouTube," the sign reads. "Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too [sic] deter officers from conducting there [sic] responsibilities."
Lieberman said the couple may have a civil claim but that police should conduct an investigation to determine who created and posted the flier and discipline them accordingly.
Police, including the sergeant who listed his cellphone number on the flier, did not respond to requests for comment.
The pair say they confronted police at the meeting and were told it was not the time and place to discuss the issue. Police later told them that they would take the flier down, the couple say, but they have no way of knowing whether it was removed.
One person who attended the meeting said the flier remained in place after the couple left the meeting.
Lieberman said what angers her most about the situation is that the couple was engaged in constitutionally protected activity, since filming cops in action is completely legal.
In the 1970s, the NYCLU filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of a group of journalists and citizens called Black v. Codd that determined that filming or photographing officers was not a cause for arrest. Neither was calling officers names, as the case determined that the police must have thick skin.
"The rights of a bystander to observe and film what police are doing as long as they don't interfere is established," said Lieberman. But that doesn't stop officers from making arrests in what she feels are "acts of intimidation."
Both Swaye and Gonzalez say they refuse to be intimidated by the flier and are currently full-time activists dedicated to ending the controversial police tactic of stop-and-frisk
Swaye, a former seventh-grade writing teacher, grew up in Pennsylvania and is a graduate of Brown University and also has a Master's in Fine Arts from Columbia University. He said he became more active in protests after the execution of convicted police killer Troy Davis in Georgia in September, which many anti-death penalty advocates saw as the murder of an innocent man.
Swaye says he has been very active in protests and acts of civil disobedience. He has been arrested four times, including at Harlem's 28th Precinct station house with Princeton and Harvard Professor Cornel West for protesting stop-and-frisk.
He also tried to present Police Commissioner Ray Kelly with the "Bull Connor" award after Kelly spoke at Columbia University in December.
Gonzalez, who grew up in Far Rockaway, described her self as a "party girl" who dropped out of high school before deciding to go to college. A graduate of John Jay, Gonzalez said it was her experience with the court system while trying to get protection from an abusive boyfriend that set her on her activist path.
"I heard about Occupy Wall Street and went down there right away," said Gonzalez, who was arrested during a Union Square march shortly after joining the movement.
That's where she learned about stop-and-frisk. Gonzalez has been arrested at least seven times since during protests, including in May when she was held in Rikers for several days for calling controversial and conservative Brooklyn Judge John H. Wilson a "white racist pig," and refusing to apologize.
Gonzalez was also charged with second-degree assault at a Father's Day anti-stop-and-frisk march, charges she intends to fight. In between, she regularly films police stops and posts them to her YouTube account.
"I was always rebellious but for bad reasons. Now I'm being rebellious because I have to," said Gonzalez.
"This makes me wonder how many other people are being intimidated. How many other fliers are up in precincts around the city that we don't know about."
The pair say they don't want the officer punished but want to use the case to discuss police community relations.
"This cop didn't create this on his own," Swaye said.