Privacy SOS

NYPD intimidation of #OWS and the architecture of NYC surveillance

A number of Occupy Wall Street protesters are planning to sue the NYPD for what they are calling pre-emptive arrests based on "thought crimes." The activists say that the NYPD has placed them under surveillance at their homes and work spaces, and that the police have arrested them without cause and asked inappropriate questions about their political activity. From the NYTimes:

[One] organizer, Sandy Nurse, said she arrived at her apartment building in Bushwick, Brooklyn, on Dec. 16 and found uniformed officers outside who told her they were there to conduct a “security check” for a condition they would not identify.
Although she told them they could not enter, Ms. Nurse said, an officer used his foot to prevent the front door from closing behind her, followed her into the building’s entryway vestibule, and threatened to arrest her for obstruction of government administration. Ms. Nurse said the visit did not feel like a coincidence.
“It means that they are watching us,” she said. “They know who we are, where we live and where we are organizing.”

The NYPD has apparently also worked with the FBI to interrogate #OWS arrestees in at least one case. The NYTimes spoke to Mark Adams, a 32 year old engineer of Pakistani decent, who told the newspaper that 

he was arrested in November at an Occupy Wall Street protest in Midtown and was questioned by a police detective and an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who asked about his involvement with Occupy Wall Street, requested his e-mail address and inquired whether he had ever been to Yemen or met anyone connected to Al Qaeda.

The architecture of surveillance: the NYPD and the banks

The eruption of political protest in lower Manhattan in mid-September 2011 ushered in a wave of social media reports about JP Morgan Chase's $4.6 million gift to the NYPD for the purchase of cruiser laptops. The gift was the largest ever single donation to the NYPD's non-profit Police Foundation, which accepts tax deductible donations for NYPD equipment and programs. While the bank-police partnership was but one example in a much larger story about lower Manhattan and the private-public "security" nexus, the $4.6 million gift story broke big-time when #OWS suddenly directed all eyes towards the banks. 

Well, all eyes except for the digital eyes that the banks and the police use to monitor the financial district and the #OWS demonstrators in and around Zucotti Park.

JP Morgan Chase's gift, while the largest ever, just scratches the surface of bank-police cooperation in NYC. The crown jewel is the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative's Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center, operated jointly by the banks and the police.

A $150 million spy center in the heart of the financial district, at 55 Broadway, the "Security Coordination Center" is a spy center built for and staffed by the police and representatives from the biggest finance and banking firms in the nation. (Click here to see rare images of the inside of the space, replete with fancy plaques marking the desks for Goldman Sachs' and JP Morgan Chase's representative spooks.)

From CounterPunch:

[The spy center] operates round-the-clock with 2,000 private spy cameras owned by Wall Street firms and other corporations, together with approximately 1,000 more owned by the NYPD.  At least 700 additional cameras scour the midtown area and also relay their live feeds into the downtown center where all film is integrated for analysis. The $150 million of taxpayer money that’s funding this corporate/police spying operation comes from both city and Federal sources, with the cost rising daily as more technology is added.

The surveillance system boasts high-tech video analytics, enabling officers and bank employees to search for someone in a crowd of people based on the color of their shirt or other physical characteristics.

Towards what end?

Why is the NYPD expending so many resources going after people based on their religion, ethnicity, or political views? Couldn't the NYPD find something better to do besides use police and surveillance resources to go after Muslims, young people of color and non-violent political activists? 

Given that the NYPD stops and frisks young Black and Latino men at astronomical rates; spies on Muslims by virtue of their religion; and impedes the legal organizing of a political movement which aims to challenge the power of financial institutions, we are left with two fundamental questions about the secretive army police organization:

Who do they protect? Who do they serve?

Judging from the news this year, it looks like activists, Muslims and young men of color don't get priority treatment. But the banks? Well…

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© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.