NYC Pols Must Rein In Police: A Letter

Here’s a letter I’ve just sent to my city councilmember, Stephen Levin, and Mayor Bloomberg:

Dear Councilmember Levin,

I am a voter in your district and I am writing to express my deep and utter outrage at the NYPD’s documented mistreatment of peaceful protesters. This is already a long-established and shameful part of NYPD’s legacy, but I am writing in particular to address incidents surrounding the protests during the past week.

The first and most egregious appeared on the Times’ City Room blog, at:

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/video-appears-to-show-protesters-being-pepper-sprayed/

I assume this is already on your radar and that, in light of it, you were already intending on demanding an investigation, including the public naming and criminal prosecution of the officer who pepper-sprayed these already-detained women in the face. If this officer is not indicted and tried for this action, I will not be alone in deciding that the NYPD is officially above the law.

As a professor of media studies, I am also particularly disturbed by the apparent willingness of police to treat journalists as protesters and to harass and even arrest them. See photographs showing as much here:

http://davidscameracraft.blogspot.com/2011/09/occupy-wall-street-march-violence.html

In at least two of the photos, the photographer identifies people who were arrested for reporting on the protests—including one who is a reporter for PBS.

We live in a country where the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, of the press, and to assemble peaceably are supposed to be inviolable. These actions leave me deeply concerned that the city is willing to allow (or even, dare I suggest as much, encourage–at least in some quarters) the NYPD to trample on these sacred constitutional rights. No protest of any size could do as much to bring shame upon this city as the NYPD have done in the last week.

If the Constitution means anything to you, sir, I urge you to demand a systemic investigation and, where appropriate, criminal prosecutions–especially when an officer will sadistically injure helpless citizens.

Sincerely,
Bill D. Herman
Assistant Professor
Department of Film & Media Studies
Hunter College, City University of New York