Kunstler: "This is the way the system derails movements–by putting people on trial to distract from the work that we’re all doing."
[New York City]
About 100 people rallied at the Manhattan Criminal Court Building to support Joseph “Jazz” Hayden, an opponent of police brutality and racial profiling in New York City, during his recent court appearance on charges stemming from the New York Police Department’s (NYPD’s) alleged campaign of harassment against him.
The turnout was more than double the number of people who came out to support Hayden at his last hearing. They stood right in front of the entrance to the court building, July 31, and heard several speakers denounce police racism, stop-and-frisk and retaliatory charges.
Activists believe the New York Police Department (NYPD) is retaliating against Jazz for his years of videotaping unlawful police stops in Harlem, as part of his campaign to expose racism and misconduct. In December 2011, two police officers recognized Jazz, illegally searched his car, and arrested him–he was charged with two counts of felony possession of a dangerous weapon, as we’ve previously reported. The “dangerous weapons” were a penknife and a commemorative mini-replica baseball bat. Hayden faces two to seven years in prison for each charge. Jazz spelled out the situation clearly and simply:
If the NYPD was providing courtesy, professionalism and respect, as they claim is their mission, they would have no objection to Jazz Hayden filming them. However, because we’ve had nearly 700,000 stop-and-frisks last year, with only 6% of them resulting in anything resembling a crime, they need to be scrutinized. And that’s what Jazz Hayden does. Nearly 90% of those stopped-and-frisked are Blacks and Latinos.
At the protest rally, David Galarza of the Justice Committee explained the importance of videotaping police. He did this in mid-July and caught a police officer on tape abusing and then body-slamming–twice–a young man of color. Because of his video, more than 150,000 people have seen this instance of brutality.
This is what Hayden has been doing for four years, and this is what the NYPD wants to top. “This is the pushback,” Hayden said. “Retaliation–silence the people who stand up. Well, we want to send a message to the NYPD, to Kelly, and Bloomberg. We aren’t having it.” Raymond Kelly is the NYPD Police Commissioner and Michael Bloomberg is mayor.
More than half a dozen people delivered passionate speeches about the injustice of this bogus case against Jazz and other trumped-up allegations meant to silence freedom fighters like Brother Shep, Malik Ayala and Shaka Shakur.
Brother Shep’s case is still before the justice system, but the outcome of the charges against Malik Ayala and Shaka Shakur are prime examples of the power people have to win justice when united and organized. Both cases were dropped because of pressure from rallies and press conferences, and packing the courthouses with supporters.
People packed Hayden’s court hearing on July 31, too. To show solidarity, when the judge called Hayden’s name, his supporters all stood up. They sat down when asked; but the point was made: an injury to one is an injury to all. His supporters will not let the NYPD and District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., lock Jazz up for his work under any circumstances. The hearing ended quickly. The judge simply set another court date for October 11.
Hayden’s lawyer, Sarah Kunstler, updated the crowd on the legal proceedings. The DA intends to indict Jazz before the October 11 date and will most likely convene a grand jury in September to do so, his supporters were informed. Supporters were urged to come out in full force on both days. Then she added: “I talked about the legal, and now I want to talk about the extra-legal. They took notice of us there. The judge saw you, the DA saw you, everyone in that courtroom saw you, and it makes a difference. All the advocacy that everyone has done outside the courtroom for Jazz makes a difference.”
Hayden and his supporters are petitioning the courts not to prosecute, and it’s having an effect. Hayden’s supporters have collected over 1,600 signatures, sent dozens of personal letters to DA Vance, and garnered support and letters from elected officials. This has kept the DA’s office talking about Hayden’s case. It has also kept the DA’s office in the spotlight for its role in this injustice; if Hayden is indicted, it will completely disprove Vance’s claim that “when it comes to us, we are not making charges that are biased in any way.”
“This is the way the system derails movements–by putting people on trial to distract from the work that we’re all doing. So we have to spin this on its head, and make these prosecutions part of the work we’re all doing,” Sarah Kunstler explained, referring to the real motivation behind the charges.
That’s what Hayden’s defense campaign has done. Because it’s not just Hayden being targeted by the biased charges. It’s not even just Malik and Brother Shep and other activists. It’s a whole generation of people of color who the courts are labeling “criminals” and locking up in cages.
“Once again, I want to thank y’all,” Hayden said, in closing the rally.
“I’m telling you I’ve never felt so much love and so much warmth. It’s
just mind-boggling, for someone who was brought up in the streets of
Harlem and has gone through this system all my life, starting with
kindergarten, to be able to stand here and be surrounded by all this
love and support is a wonderful thing. I want you all to know that I do
not take any of it lightly. I will do this job as long as I have your
Even as he faces the charges, Hayden continues to organize.
The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, of which Hayden is a founding member, drafted a flyer to distribute to the people waiting in line at the court. The flyer, calling for a public meeting, read: “The lines going into every courthouse in America look exactly like this one you are standing in: black, brown and beige people being processed by this criminal in-justice system.”
The original version first appeared on socialistworker.org