By Bill Parry
More than 50 Queens community members took part in a Cop Watch workshop in Jackson Heights to learn how to effectively monitor and document the police.
The training session, in a packed office at 72-18 Roosevelt Ave., was the third in a citywide series aimed at training New Yorkers to gather evidence of misconduct and deter abuse in communities that suffer the most abuses at the hand of the NYPD, according to organizers.
Jackson Heights was chosen because the 115th Precinct had the third highest rate of stop-and-frisk in 2012, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. The watchdog group Justice Committee is behind the training effort.
“New Yorkers are coming back from Ferguson in October with energy to address police violence in their own neighborhoods,” trainer Danny Sanchez said. “Cop Watch is one way they can do this on a daily basis. It’s something we should all be doing to care for one another, like recycling or giving the elderly your seat on the subway.”
Cop Watch was started by the Black Panther Party during the 1960s, according to Justice Committee member Karina Hurtado-Ocampo, a 26-year-old lifelong resident of Jackson Heights. “We want to develop a culture where New Yorkers know that other New Yorkers have their backs and that people are trained properly in how to do Cop Watch and knowing their rights in holding police accountable,” she said.
The workshop began with a history of Cop Watch and an affirmation that videotaping the police is 100 percent legal. “Peaceful documenting police activity makes communities safer,” trainer Roksana Mun said. “In recent incidents like Eric Garner’s death in an NYPD choke hold, as well as countless others, video footage has helped bring the truth to light.”
Organizers of the training series contend that in the best cases Cop Watching can de-escalate and deter violence and harassment. “We’ve seen this many times when we are Cop Watching in teams,” Sanchez said. “When we’re there with several cameras, looking organized, police think twice. But even if violence or harassment continues, having the footage as evidence can help ensure there are consequences for officers.”
Workshop attendees are warned not to engage police officers but to keep their distance and remain calm. They are taught not to run, to speak in calm tones, never touch, maintain eye contact at all times and never to make sudden movements.
“The most important thing is to never interfere with an arrest,” Hurtado-Ocampo said. “Here in Jackson Heights and Corona, the Roosevelt Avenue Task Force calls for an increased police presence and that creates a greater chance of violations of people’s rights.”
She added that she had personally witnessed numerous incidents of police harassment during the World Cup games in June and July. “Everytime Colombia, won the police got aggressive. I saw one man get tackled for crossing the street, I saw a woman dragged by her hair. The type of abuse was crazy,” Hurtado-Campo said.
Deputy Inspector Michael Cody of the 115th Precinct in Jackson Heights declined to comment on the workshop, but City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) did.
“It’s unfortunate that people have to be trained in that, I would rather see the Police Department take the initiative on that,” he said. “But I understand. We all see the videos,. Just the other day we saw the subway musicians being arrested and it’s really scary to see it happen. I think in the long run, workshops like that are beneficial to the community.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.