Joseph "Jazz" Hayden was arrested in December, 2011 by police officers after an illegal stop and search of his car. This stop was direct retaliation for Mr. Hayden's work in the Harlem community filming police officers conducting illegal car stops and stop-and-frisks. Several months before, Mr. Hayden filmed the very same officers who arrested him conducting an illegal car stop. For more information on Joseph "Jazz" Hayden, please visit http://freejazzhayden.wordpress.com/
- Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance
I am writing today about an urgent matter, the case of Joseph Hayden. Your office has chosen to seek an indictment against him for two counts of Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree. I believe that his arrest was a retaliatory act on the part of the police against one of their most outspoken critics, a long-time neighborhood cop watch activist and police reform advocate.
There is no doubt that Mr. Hayden has a criminal record. But he has put his past behind him and become an important community activist. He is a longtime member of The Riverside Church Prison Ministry and a founding member of the Ministry’s Campaign to End The New Jim Crow, a group dedicated to combating mass incarceration and building caring communities. And for the past four years, Mr. Hayden has videotaped police officers as they stop and frisk people in Harlem as part of a neighborhood copwatch program and posted these videos on his website, All Things Harlem.
Mr. Hayden was pulled over for a traffic stop in Harlem in December 2011. When the police approached his car, they made it plain that they recognized Mr. Hayden by statements such as “We know you.” The two officers who stopped him in December were the same officers filmed by Mr. Hayden several months earlier (view the video here: http://bit.ly/NjOZTN). After clearly acknowledging that they knew who he was, the officers unlawfully searched his car, finding a penknife and a small commemorative replica baseball bat. These items are the weapons for which he is now facing felony charges punishable by 2 to 7 years in prison.
During your campaign for District Attorney, you sat down with Mr. Hayden for an interview for his website. During that interview, Mr. Hayden asked you what you would do to stop racial bias and harassment of people of color by the NYPD. You told him that while you “can’t tell the police who to arrest or who not to arrest,” but as District Attorney you would like to assure that “when it comes to us, that we are not making charging decisions that are biased in any way.” You can view the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEu5yZ4Pwxc
In light of your commitment to make unbiased charging decisions, I urge you to drop the charges against Mr. Hayden. Given Mr. Hayden’s prominent role in filming the police, it is clear that his arrest was retaliation for his community activities. I also urge you to take seriously the dangers of police practices that effectively silence citizens who dissent. United States Attorney General Eric Holder has affirmed the right to record police officers in the public performance of their duties. By allowing Mr. Hayden’s indictment to proceed, the Manhattan District Attorney casts a chilling effect on this right.
Thank you for your kind attention to this letter.
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