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        <h1 id="reader-title">The NYPD's Records of Its Own Misbehavior
          Have Mysteriously Vanished</h1>
        <div id="reader-credits" class="credits">Nick Pinto</div>
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                  <p class="pub-ago"> <span class="pubdate">Friday, May
                      20, 2016 <br>
                    </span></p>
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                <div class="the-story">
                  <p class="first-para">Just as lawyers for New York
                    City are preparing for a hearing in federal court to
                    close the books on lawsuits over the New York Police
                    Department's secret and illegal surveillance of
                    Muslims, a lesser-known lawsuit that concluded
                    Monday reveals that the police department's records
                    of its own ugly history of unconstitutional domestic
                    surveillance, which it was required to preserve for
                    posterity, have mysteriously gone missing.</p>
                  <p>Younger New Yorkers are probably familiar with the
                    NYPD's <a target="_blank"
                      href="http://www.ap.org/Index/AP-In-The-News/NYPD">Muslim
                      surveillance program</a>, its <a target="_blank"
href="http://gothamist.com/2013/10/10/occupys_undercover_shady_ubiquitous.php">infiltration
                      of Occupy Wall Street with undercover officers</a>,
                    and its <a target="_blank"
href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390444004704578031050540111858">unconstitutional
                      mass-arrests of protesters and bystanders</a> during
                    the 2004 Republican National Convention. But the
                    history of NYPD surveillance and harassment of
                    citizens based on their political, religious, or
                    ethnic identities stretches back considerably
                    farther. In the early years of the last century,
                    special NYPD squads targeted Italians, anarchists,
                    and communists. With the onset of the Great
                    Depression, the NYPD's "Radical Bureau" took up the
                    surveillance of communist New Yorkers. By the 1960s,
                    the Radical Bureau had been renamed Bureau of
                    Special Services, and it was going after groups that
                    included <a target="_blank"
                      href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of_Racial_Equality">CORE</a>,
                    the ACLU, the NAACP, and the Black Panthers.</p>
                  <p>Some of the people targeted for political
                    surveillance by the NYPD filed a class action suit
                    in 1971, alleging that the police behavior violated
                    constitutional rights to free speech and assembly,
                    their right to due process, and their protection
                    from unreasonable search and seizure. The suit
                    dragged on for more than a decade, ultimately
                    resulting in a consent decree named after the lead
                    plaintiff, Barbara Handschu. The Handschu decree,
                    which still governs NYPD behavior today, in modified
                    form, is best known for committing the police not to
                    investigate anyone's political, ideological, or
                    religious behavior unless they have reason to
                    believe that person is engaged in a crime. But
                    another section of the consent decree also required
                    the NYPD to follow the New York City Charter and
                    Freedom of Information Law with regard to its
                    archive of surveillance files.</p>
                  <p>Judge Charles S. Haight Jr., who presided over the
                    Handschu decree, specified that this meant that:<br>
                  </p>
                  <blockquote class="city-back-superlight">
                    <p>The upshot of the settlement is that no
                      intelligence or political files, pre-1955 or
                      post-1955, can be destroyed without the express
                      approval of the City's commissioner of records and
                      information services, who is specifically charged
                      by the Charter to base his determination 'on the
                      potential administrative, fiscal legal, research,
                      or historical value of the record'.... I will not
                      assume that the police commissioner would
                      disregard the law by disposing of police records
                      without seeking the requisite approval.</p>
                  </blockquote>
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                  <p> <br>
                    But as the lawsuit resolved Monday reveals, that
                    seems to be exactly what happened. That suit was
                    brought by Johanna Fernandez, a history professor at
                    Baruch College, who first approached the NYPD a
                    decade ago as she was researching a book about
                    another group of political activists from the 1960s
                    and '70s, the Young Lords. Radical Puerto Rican
                    nationalists, the Young Lords are a critical and
                    fascinating piece of New York history. Inspired by
                    the Black Panthers, the Lords combined militant
                    tactics with a knack for getting things done in
                    their community. Deeply embedded in Spanish Harlem,
                    the group knew the neighborhood was profoundly
                    underserved by the city. The Department of
                    Sanitation was largely ignoring the area, and the
                    streets were full of garbage. The Young Lords
                    collected the trash, put it in the middle of the
                    streets, and set it on fire. For weeks. Pretty soon,
                    trash collection in the barrio improved markedly.<br>
                  </p>
                  <p>Working with doctors, the Lords tested East Harlem
                    children and found lead-poisoning levels through the
                    roof. They hammered the issue in the press,
                    ultimately occupying the offices of the Department
                    of Health. In 1970, the city created a new bureau to
                    address lead poisoning. The Young Lords led the
                    campaign to improve conditions at Lincoln Hospital
                    in the South Bronx, a hospital so bad that rats were
                    sometimes seen in the emergency room. When hospital
                    officials ignored demands for change, the Lords
                    conspired with doctors and nurses to seize the
                    hospital.  On July 14 of 1970, they did just that,
                    running the hospital for 24 hours until they had
                    negotiated a series of reforms from the city.</p>
                  <p>Throughout, the NYPD was keeping close tabs on the
                    group. "[The police] were provocateurs," says
                    Fernandez. "They engaged in an enormous amount of
                    surveillance of the group. And they had members of
                    the NYPD who came to the office of the Young Lords
                    on Madison Avenue and asked to join the organization
                    for the purposes of undermining the work of the
                    group."</p>
                  <p>In researching her book, Fernandez recovered <a
                      target="_blank"
                      href="https://www.scribd.com/doc/236617977/Young-Lords-Surveillance">a
                      small treasury of documents</a> from the NYPD and
                    other law enforcement agencies related to the Young
                    Lords — some of it possibly brought to light by the
                    <a
href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/us/burglars-who-took-on-fbi-abandon-shadows.html"
                      target="_blank">1971 robbery of a Pennsylvania FBI
                      office</a> that exposed the FBI's <a
                      target="_blank"
                      href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO">COINTELPRO</a>
                    program. But rich documentation of the Young Lords
                    is hard to come by, not least of all because the
                    group, aware they were being spied on and
                    infiltrated by the NYPD, destroyed many of their own
                    records to protect themselves. Ironically, the
                    police surveillance that helped scuttle the Young
                    Lords probably generated the most complete record of
                    its activities.</p>
                  <p>So after her informal request to the NYPD went
                    nowhere, Fernandez filed a formal request for the
                    NYPD's records of the Young Lords through the
                    Freedom of Information Law, and when that request
                    turned up nothing, <a target="_blank"
                      href="http://gothamist.com/2014/08/12/nypd_spied_young_lords.php">she
                      sued for the records in 2014</a>. The records
                    Fernandez had already found from other sources
                    showed the NYPD had once had substantial records,
                    and so did reviews of the intelligence files
                    conducted during the Handschu agreement process. But
                    though Handschu precluded the department from
                    unlawfully destroying any of those records, the NYPD
                    and the City Law Department told Judge Alice
                    Schlesinger the records Fernandez wanted couldn't be
                    found. </p>
                  <p>Neither the Municipal Records Management Division
                    nor the NYPD could find any record that the Handschu
                    material had been destroyed. The last time anyone
                    outside the NYPD had scrutinized the records, in the
                    1980s, they were kept in Room 1206 at NYPD
                    headquarters in 1 Police Plaza. The NYPD claims they
                    were later transferred to a room in the Brooklyn
                    Army Terminal. But searches of both those rooms by
                    the NYPD came up empty.</p>
                  <p>In the course of the search, the police did come up
                    with an additional 590 documents relevant to
                    Fernandez's request — but they were mostly index
                    cards from a cataloging system that referred to the
                    <i>actual </i>documents Fernandez was looking for.
                    "The index cards point to a very complex and
                    thorough web of information-gathering on the part of
                    the NYPD," Fernandez says. "It's tantalizing, and
                    it's proof that other documents exist."</p>
                  <p>Fernandez argued that the city's nonchalant
                    attitude towards the missing records wasn't good
                    enough, and pressed for it to widen its search. The
                    city pushed back, saying Fernandez wanted them to
                    engage in a "fishing expedition." In her ruling
                    Monday, Judge Schlesinger reluctantly agreed.</p>
                  <blockquote class="city-back-superlight">
                    <p>No one can be identified today who has the
                      ability to determine where, if not the Handschu
                      room, were the Room 1206 documents transferred.
                      That is the problem. One I cannot solve, without,
                      I believe directing the Department to go to all
                      sorts of extremely burdensome lengths without any
                      real hope or expectation that these documents will
                      be found. I cannot and will not do that.<br>
                    </p>
                  </blockquote>
                  <p> Asked for comment, a City Law Department
                    spokesperson offered the following: "In response to
                    this request for NYPD documents from 1960s and
                    1970s, the NYPD produced 590 pages of documents. The
                    NYPD conducted a reasonable and good-faith search,
                    but was unable to locate additional documents. We
                    agree with the Court’s conclusion that NYPD should
                    not be required to search further, as additional
                    searching would not be likely to turn up the
                    requested material."</p>
                  <p>Martin Stolar, one of the class lawyers in the
                    Handschu case, says the failure to produce the
                    records is disturbing. "What's at stake here is an
                    extraordinarily important record of the uses and
                    abuses of police powers against political movements,
                    people's movements," he says. Stolar and the other
                    Handschu lawyers will be back in court before Judge
                    Haight on June 1 to discuss the settlement of the
                    Muslim-surveillance lawsuits. "Where the documents
                    are is not on the front burner for us at the
                    moment," he says. "Once the settlement is finalized,
                    I think we may want to take a look at this."</p>
                  <p>Fernandez says there's more at stake with her
                    lawsuit than a historian's research. In an age of
                    resurgent popular protest movements, from Occupy
                    Wall Street to Black Lives Matter, the policing of
                    popular movements is more relevant than ever. "Only
                    when we document the systematic ways in which the
                    police and government agencies have undermined
                    social movements will social movements that are
                    emerging today be able to voice their grievances and
                    articulate freely their highest aspirations for a
                    better society," she says. "This is about the
                    historical record, but it's also about the project
                    of democracy."</p>
                  <p>The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.</p>
                  <p>Fernandez says she intends to appeal the decision.</p>
                  <p>Here's Judge Schlesinger's decision:<br>
                    <font size="-2"><a class="moz-txt-link-freetext" href="http://www.villagevoice.com/news/the-nypds-records-of-its-own-misbehavior-have-mysteriously-vanished-8639201">http://www.villagevoice.com/news/the-nypds-records-of-its-own-misbehavior-have-mysteriously-vanished-8639201</a></font><br>
                  </p>
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