NYPD surveillance of political activism questioned

May 27, 2014

Several groups plan to file a formal complaint on Tuesday seeking an audit of the New York Police Department’s intelligence gathering operations, after recent revelations that the department had been monitoring political activists, sending undercover officers to their meetings and filing reports on their plans.

The groups said the complaint would be the first over surveillance to be filed with the department’s new office of inspector general; it is likely be a closely watched test for the office, whose duty is to oversee the tactics and the policies of the police.

The City Council, despite opposition from former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, created the office last year after complaints about the overuse of stop-and-frisk tactics and surveillance of Muslim communities.

The complaint being filed on Tuesday follows the release of documents by The Associated Press this spring revealing that undercover police officers had attended meetings of liberal political organizations and kept intelligence files on activists.

“We’re cautiously hopeful that the inspector general will pursue his mandate in favor of civil liberties,” said Robert Jereski, a coordinator of a group called Friends of Brad Will.

In a statement, the Department of Investigation confirmed the paperwork was received. It said Eure will review it and “determine appropriate investigative action once the office is staffed.”

NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis said the police department would cooperate with any inquiry.

The complaint was filed by a coalition that includes environmental, human rights, housing rights and animal rights activists. It accuses NYPD of targeting “First Amendment protected activities like political advocacy” that provide “vital nourishment to our democratic system of government and prevents its corruption and atrophy.”

In 2012, the AP disclosed documents detailing how an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans in 2008 to attend the People’s Summit, a gathering of liberal groups. The officer reported overhearing participants discuss how the Friends of Brad Will was planning demonstrations in Mexico and across the United States to demand the removal of the governor of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Friends of Brad Will — formed after the murder of Will in 2006 while he was working as a journalist in Mexico — has a stated mission of increasing “public awareness about the human rights abuses linked to the ‘war on drugs.’” Since the disclosure about the NYPD’s surveillance, it and other groups have seen a decline in donations and participation, Jereski said.

“It’s chilled the landscape to have the lawless behavior of the NYPD held over us,” he said.

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