Contact: Mandela Jones 646-214-1031

New Yorkers Support Federal Lawsuit Calling for Court to Make Clear Statement Upholding New Yorkers’ Rights to Record Public Police Activity without Interference, Retaliation

Coalition demands NYPD end pervasive practice of interfering with and retaliating against New Yorkers exercising First Amendment right

Communities United for Police Reform expressed strong support for its member and Cop Watcher Ruben An, who the Legal Aid Society and Proskauer Rose LLP filed a federal lawsuit against the city on behalf of today to reaffirm his First Amendment right to observe and record police activity and be free from police retaliation for exercising it. The lawsuit alleges that the NYPD has maintained a widespread practice and custom of permitting NYPD officers to interfere with the First Amendment rights of individuals who, without interfering, record or attempt to record public police activity.

“Observing and documenting police activity, known as Cop Watch, and expanding its use, are central features of our police accountability campaign,” said Mark Winston Griffith, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform and executive director of Brooklyn Movement Center. “Cop Watch is a critical tool of community safety and civic transparency, particularly given the systemic failures of the NYPD and other police departments to hold their officers accountable for abuse and misconduct in our communities. The courts should make clear that any attempts by the police to compromise the exercise of a civilian’s rights, including unfounded arrest, intimation or retaliation, is a violation of the First Amendment.  The NYPD’s failure to respect New Yorkers’ rights, despite internal administrative regulations ordering it, is yet another example of Commissioner Bratton and the NYPD’s bad faith in action.” 

Mr. An was arrested on July 28, 2014 in retaliation for filming officers on a sidewalk in Manhattan, and he was acquitted of all charges in criminal court after fighting them for an entire year. Surveillance video from a nearby building, along with Mr. An’s cellphone recording, clearly shows that he was arrested in retaliation for recording police officers, as so many other New Yorkers have been. This includes examples that occurred long after the NYPD distributed an administrative message warning officers that would violate the First Amendment.

Mr. An is seeking a clear affirmation from the court of his right to record public police activity under the First Amendment, and that the officers’ actions against him violated that right. He is also seeking an injunction against the NYPD from continuing to retaliate against New Yorkers for recording police conduct. In order to ensure the Court reaches the key First Amendment issue, Mr. An is not seeking damages from the suit.

“The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement stands firmly with Ruben An of CAAAV as well as all other persons invoking their right to document and observe policing in their community,” said Monifa Bandele of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. “Cop Watch is a human and civil right practiced in order to prevent continuous acts of police violence ranging from false imprisonment, police beatings, sexual assault and murder of people of color in New York City. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement has practiced Cop Watch for more than a decade with many of the organizations we see here today. We will continue to educate, empower and engage with our fellow community members in the struggle to create communities that are free from police occupation and violence.”

“In light of decades of police abuse of low-income communities of color and a systemic lack of police accountability, monitoring and documenting the police – a practice we call Cop Watch – is an important grassroots tool New Yorkers can use to help protect one another,” said Loyda Colon, Justice Committee Co-Director. “Too often, the NYPD Commissioner and officers criminalize Cop Watch and those engaged in it. This unjust targeting is unconstitutional and is destructive to community safety.”

“Ruben was in every right to document what he had observed as police misuse and abuse of power,” said Cathy Dang, executive director of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. “For that, he was arrested, harassed, and intimidated by the NYPD. This arrest affected his wellbeing and as a staff member of CAAAV, we stand behind Ruben and the peoples' first amendment right to document police activity. His actions and this first amendment right are what can help hold the police accountable, who have long gotten away with misconduct when no one was watching.”

Cop Watch is the practice of observing and documenting police activity in order to deter abusive policing, educate community members about their rights, and hold the police accountable. CPR members, the Justice Committee and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, coordinate an alliance of Cop Watch teams that patrol neighborhoods throughout New York City.  Additional CPR members participate in Cop Watch activities as part of neighborhood teams and as individuals.



About Communities United for Police Reform

Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment.

CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.

Learn more:
Follow CPR on Twitter: @Changethenypd
Like CPR on Facebook:

Topics: CopWatch