A Love Letter to CopWatchers: You deserve thanks not slander
Updated: Mar 8
Dear NYC CopWatchers,
Last week, Mayor Adams used one of his press conferences to grossly mischaracterize and criminalize New Yorkers who observe and document NYPD abuse (a practice known as CopWatch). He did this while announcing his rebranding of the NYPD's notoriously brutal “anti-crime” units that killed Amadou Diallo, Kimani Gray, Eric Garner, Saheed Vassell, Antonio Williams and too many others.
This is a love letter to all New Yorkers who bravely exercise their first amendment right to document police violence.
We love you and thank you for risking violence, disrespect and humiliation every time you CopWatch.
NYPD officers routinely use their bodies, their flashlights, and threats to block us from documenting them. They’ve broken and seized our cameras, thrown us to the ground, and falsely arrested CopWatchers, journalists and others just because we were exercising our legal right to record police violence.
Whether you’re part of a neighborhood CopWatch team, you CopWatch in shelters and on the subways, or you film the police when you see them harassing young people or vendors on the block, you still CopWatch - in spite of the abuse you risk at the hands of police - because you care about your fellow New Yorkers.
The Justice Committee has trained thousands of New Yorkers of different ages, nationalities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and economic statuses to CopWatch. Our trainings, our work, and your CopWatching are part of a lineage of community self-defense tactics that goes back to the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Party, and others.
Despite Mayor Adams' slander, we know your actions have prevented, deescalated and/or exposed police violence. The world knows Eric Garner's name and a global movement was catalyzed in 2014 because someone CopWatched. National racial justice protests swept the country because someone CopWatched George Floyd being murdered by police. The reason most New Yorkers know about some of the widespread police brutality at the 2020 racial justice protests, and the reason some have been able to defend themselves in court from the lies of police, is because everyday people like you CopWatched.
You deserve thanks, not criminalization by the Mayor. We see you and salute you.
Mayor Adams is gaslighting New Yorkers. He’s trying to spin the fiction that if we follow some imaginary rules while CopWatching, officers won’t harass, intimidate or obstruct us. We know that’s a lie. The mayor should be acting to end police violence and fire abusive officers. Instead, he’s trying to blame us while flooding more police into our neighborhoods and absolving them of responsibility for the daily violence they inflict on our people.
Justice Committee trains CopWatchers to support police violence survivors, deter and prevent police violence, and maintain safety. We train New Yorkers to film without obstructing officers and to limit any narration or commenting to saying the location and identifiable markers about the police so that valuable audio of the incident isn't lost or obstructed.
We can “follow the rules”, but we don’t control how cops act – and, as you know all too well, they often act out against CopWatchers, yet Mayor Adams remains silent about this.
Don't let the Mayor's slander stop you from continuing to CopWatch. Given the Mayor’s return to failed and violent policing tactics, his expansion and rebranding of hyper-aggressive and deadly plainclothes units, his slandering of New Yorkers like you, and his lack of action to ensure abusive officers are fired, CopWatching is needed now more than ever.
You’re doing a public service every time you CopWatch. We send you love, call on you to continue, and call on all New Yorkers to #WatchTheCops.
Need to be trained, or want a refresher? Our next CopWatch training will be on Tuesday March 29th, at 6:30pm
With love and respect,
P.S. You can find tips to conduct CopWatch as safely and effectively as possible here. To schedule a virtual or in-person CopWatch training for your community, please email email@example.com. Have CopWatch footage? Please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp it to 347.752.8070.