Meet The People Who Watch The Cops

(photo by Peter Dressel)

Cop Watch: an activity around legally observing and documenting police activity in one’s community.

The NYPD is currently on trial for civil rights abuses in the landmark case Floyd, et al. v City of New York. Their widespread policy, Stop and Frisk, has now faced sharp criticism from just about, well…everyone. And it’s been two months since the killing of a 16 year old kid by two undercover police officers that sparked protests in Brooklyn for over two weeks. Meet Bushwick Cop Watch: a group of individuals living in Bushwick, dedicated to working on the ground level to shine a light on police brutality and empower the community that they live in.

But actually…meet them on Saturday at their Bushwick Cop Watch party, happening from 5-9PM where you can enjoy a plate of barbecue food, performance art, film, interesting conversation, and of course, a DJ. They hope to raise funds for video cameras and equipment for the team – which they promise is the second priority (the first: to have a good time).

The Bushwick Cop Watch is one of many Cop Watch groups across the city filled with individuals who document police brutality in their communities. The movement as it is today began in 2007 through People’s Justice, a coalition of different grassroots organizing groups around the five boroughs. However, as Aidge, a Bushwick Cop Watcher explained, cop watching has been around for decades and the idea of documenting police brutality really started with the Black Panthers. Now in 2013, Bushwick Cop Watch “carries their cameras as weapons,” in the words of Aidge, just as the Black Panthers carried weapons in the ‘70s.

Police brutality in New York City has been under strict criticism by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). Two organizations dedicated to maintaining civil rights, they both show startling statistics and analysis on the stop and frisk practices in order to prove these practices are not only racist and predatory but also, unconstitutional. Since Bloomberg has been in office, 5 million people have been stopped and frisked, and 4.4 million of those people (86 percent) were black and latino. Stop and Frisk rarely has anything to do with committing crime since nearly ninety percent of the people stopped and frisked are completely innocent.

Specifically in Bushwick, Aidge says most of the police harassment occurs with young people of color in the neighborhood outside and around their school, as well as Latino and immigrant families. Aidge explains, “it’s not the gentrifiers who are being stopped…we regularly see situations where cops are not only brutal but just discriminatory in the way their doing things…lots of times it’s immigrant families.” It also occurs with high school aged kids in the neighborhood, “the police presence [outside of high schools] is remarkable. You know, it’s not teachers or administrators outside of schools anymore when kids get out, it’s cops.” Aidge often gets footage of the police harassing kids as their heading home from school on public transportation.

“It’s been going on for a long time but it’s kind of stepped up since gentrification in Bushwick has started taking root,” says Aidge, “Police presence grows as they want people to keep moving in.” However, newcomers do not have to be idle to the police brutality that negatively affects long timers and people of color in the neighborhood. Cop Watch shows a way in which literally anyone can get involved in fighting against police brutality. All you need is a camera and I’m pretty sure iPhones come with that. 

On Saturday, the priority is “to create a safe space” for the growing community in Bushwick to come together, interact and mingle with the Cop Watch group and honestly, just chill.

Bushwick Cop Watch & Community Gathering – Saturday, May 4, 2013  – 5 to 9 pm at 253 Schaefer Street, between Knickerbocker and Wilson, Bushwick, 11207.

$5-20 suggested donation

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