Cops and protesters alike should be ready for their close-up -- 24/7.
When police rounded up scores of demonstrators near Union Square two weekends ago, videos of cops allegedly pepper-spraying protesters popped up online. Days later, a deputy inspector identified in the videos was under investigation by the NYPD.
So when more than 700 protesters were surrounded and hauled in a week later for stopping traffic on one side of the Brooklyn Bridge and claimed they were never told it was illegal, the NYPD countered with a video of its own showing an officer ordering the chanting protesters to retreat.
As the protest against social and economic policies that benefit the upper class continues for a third week, both sides have been relying on videos for evidence that condemns the other side. And while it’s not a new practice for cops to videotape demonstrators, their lawyers and civil liberties groups are questioning its legality.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said she feared that police could use facial recognition software to track the city’s demonstrators.
“It raises concerns about a surveillance society where people can be subject to government retaliation for engaging in constitutionally-protected expressive activities,” she said. “When the police maintain dossiers on lawful protesters, political expression is always in jeopardy.”
The NYPD did not return calls and emails for comment.
Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay and a former cop, said although police probably have video recordings of “tens of thousands” of interactions between cops and protesters, the NYPD is also using footage to make sure it’s not being edited to misrepresent officers’ actions.
“Everybody’s got a cell phone. Anytime the cops move in any direction, they’re being taped,” O’Donnell said. “[The NYPD is] trying to have a record so they can respond to assertions that there’s been improper handling of the demonstrators.”
Mark Taylor, a civil rights lawyer from the National Lawyer’s Guild — which has been representing arrested protesters — said there is “some concern” that cops can review video recordings taken every day at Zuccotti Park and other rallies and make arrests later.
“The NYPD does not consider itself at all constrained in its ability to spy on New Yorkers regardless of whether or not there’s any suspicion of criminal activity,” he said.
Over the weekend:
-- On Saturday, protesters marched from Zuccotti Park to Washington Square Park as throngs of cops looked on.
-- An 24-hour art exhibit inspired by the protesters opened Saturday night at JP Morgan’s former headquarters on Wall Street — right across from the New York Stock Exchange.
-- There were no arrests as of press time Sunday, according to the NYPD.
-- As similar protests popped up around the country, Washington's National Air and Space Museum was shut down Saturday and several people were pepper-sprayed as approximately 200 tried to enter with signs.
-- Catholic groups visited the demonstrators Sunday and held religious services, and protesters had new signs reading, “Jesus is with the 99%.”