Sunday, January 24, 2010

Police spy on protesters against school closings, in violation of our civil rights

See this video of the NY Police Department, taking photographs of parents, students and teachers, who were peacefully protesting on Jan. 21 on the mayor's block, against his proposals to force mass closings of public schools and their takeover by charter schools. We were exercising our constitutional right under the First Amendment to publicly demand that these destructive policies be stopped.

Meanwhile, a reporter from the Village Voice caught on videotape police taking photographs from the roof of and inside the Rudolph Steiner school, directly adjacent to the mayor's house.

In 1985, the federal court ruled that it is illegal for the New York City police to take photos of protesters, unless they have cause to believe that a crime may be committed.

The city signed a consent agreement that year, restricting police surveillance according to these rules, called the Handschu agreement. In the case of this peaceful protest, there was no such cause and this is clearly intimidation tactics, and/or a violation of civil rights.

The police responded to inquiries from the press yesterday, by claiming that they were taking pictures for "for crowd control planning purposes," which, on the face of it, sounds absurd.

The administration's surveillance of critics of its education policies does not occur in a vacuum. Remember how in 2007, it came out that the DOE had assigned an employee to tape Diane Ravitch, and was keeping a dossier on her?

And subsequently, it was revealed that Chris Cerf, then Deputy Chancellor, had assigned several of his staff to closely monitor our NYC education list serv, among others?

This is what Diane wrote at the time, after the DOE had gotten Kathy Wylde to publish an oped in the NY Post, attacking her:

"The public schools need involvement by parents and local communities. They need a lively and open public forum in which decisions can be debated before they are finalized. The public should have a voice in what happens to the children of the community. This I promise: I will continue to analyze the facts and the evidence to the best of my ability, without fear or favor. I will not be intimidated."

Neither will we.

See Group Claims NYPD Violated Protest Rights‎ (NY1); Civil rights lawyer Siegel snaps at NYPD for protest photos outside Mayor Bloomberg’s townhouse (Daily News); Voice Video Shows NYPD Snapping Photos of School Demonstrators at Mayor Bloomberg’s House (Village Voice); and video of our press conference (thanks to David Bellel).