Protesters in New York City are familiar with the NYPD camera teams that film protests by groups like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter and have done so for the last six years, but documents obtained by The Verge show the alarming frequency with which those cameras have been deployed.
These job reports, produced by a Freedom of Information Act request originally on the part of New York attorney David Thompson of Stecklow, Cohen & Thompson, document over 400 instances of the NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) attending and recording video of protestors since 2011.
The NYPD did not produce, as it allegedly could not find, any documents showing legal analysis of the recordings or even authorizing them to record ever took place, in violation of NYPD policies.
Thompson worries that the apparent lack of authorization for these protest recordings is allowing the NYPD to stockpile video of lawful demonstrations without ever having to justify why. His FOIA request came about as a result of personal concerns over the legality of their behavior toward protesters.
“This process is intended to be a control to ensure there’s an adult in the room, a legally trained adult in this case, who is able to understand whether or not the filming conforms to police guidelines or not,” Thompson told The Verge.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD Detective Sergeant and professor at John Jay College’s Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration Department, has a justification: liberal activists are radicals and more likely to be criminals.
“The same folks in Occupy Wall Street turned into Black Lives Matter and now into anti-Trump — they’re radicals, so we can make a pretty strong argument that something criminal may happen,” Giacalone said. “No one is videotaping old geezers on wheelchairs protesting about trees or Roe v. Wade activists standing outside a clinic.”
It should be noted that anti-abortion single-issue domestic terrorism has resulted in at least eleven murders in the United States since 1990, as well as 41 bombings and 173 arsons at clinics since 1977, including the murder of a police officer in 2015. These instances of violence are tracked by the National Abortion Federation. Meanwhile, while not supported by the mainstream of the Black Lives Matter movement, the instances of protest turning violent was defended in the Washington Post as part of its history of civil rights advocacy.
But only one of those two groups, according to Giacalone, needs to be monitored.
“People can’t go out and do whatever they want — otherwise we’d have anarchy, which is what I think a lot of these groups actually want,” he said.
And he speculates that the reason is to counter the narrative of liberal protest groups on social media, saying “They want to counter the social media narrative, because a lot of the clips you see on social media, may not show the whole story.”
Protestors and activist think the motive is something more direct.
“People are like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this,’” says Elsa Waithe, a New York comedian and Black Lives Matter activist. “Just the sight of them with their cameras is enough to scare people. This is a fear tactic.”