Bronx NYPD settles with Copwatch

May 2019 Jose 1 (Marty)

Jose Lasalle displays his walkie-talkie to April 3 press conference. Cops had charged that the device was an illegal police scanner. (Marty Goodman / Socialist Action)

By MARTY GOODMAN

— NEW YORK — Jose Lasalle of the Bronx’s Copwatch Patrol Unit (CPU) was awarded a $925,000 settlement with the NYPD on two lawsuits he filed. Cops were caught with their pants down because Lasalle had audio and video to prove his case against the Bronx’s PSA 7 police station. Lasalle had recorded cops discussing how to frame him with a felony charge.

Jose was awarded $860,000 for the case against PSA 7 and $65,000 for a second case involving an arrest by 46th Precinct officers.

The award was “unprecedented” for this kind of police misconduct, Lasalle said in an interview with Socialist Action. Lasalle founded the CPU in 2011 in response to rampant police racism, false arrest and bullying.

Lasalle told Socialist Action, “I’m still in shock that I was able to beat them like that. [We’ll] keep on pushing forward. This is traumatizing for them.” Jose added that the evidence was so overwhelming that the NYPD settled rather than put the arresting cops and the top NYPD brass on the witness stand.

“When you’re filming police and documenting police activity in communities of color and putting it out there so other people can see, they see that as a threat, and they want to eliminate that threat,” LaSalle said at an April 3 press conference. “This is a dark stain on the NYPD and it reaches to very high levels up the chain,” LaSalle’s lawyer Jeffrey Emdin told the press.

It started on Aug. 5, 2016, when Lasalle was falsely arrested twice in one day. His crime? Legally videoing and audio recording cops who were harassing a Bronx resident.

He was arrested himself after refusing to leave the scene while observing an arrest, which is legal to do as long as it is done without interfering with a police action. Later, at the local police station, PSA 7, about 30 officers whooped, “It’s a party, it’s a party” when they saw the well-known Lasalle enter in cuffs. Another voice asked in his audio, “Now for him, filming is a crime, right?”

Cops discussed framing him on possession of a scanner that could transmit and receive on police frequencies. “You’re a felon. You’re going down tonight, my man,” snickered one of the cops—but all caught on Jose’s recorder. He answered, “No, it’s my walkie-talkie.” Finally, they backed down by lowering the charge to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.

After being released, Jose went to a diner with activist friends, but, as a Copwatch video revealed, he was re-arrested by several cops after refusing to surrender his phone information.

Key to the case was Jose’s possession of a cell phone that must be activated by a password. When activated with the wrong password, it makes an audio recording, takes a photo of the user, and employs GPS to track the phone’s location. Cops tried to activate it to get at Jose’s information, a violation of his rights without a warrant. Somehow cops had gotten wind of the password activation, but did not have the correct password. The GPS revealed that the attempted access was at the police station. Instead of “going down,” as one obnoxious cop threatened, Lasalle gave the NYPD a well-deserved whipping.

Lasalle formed the CPU in response to an encounter in Harlem his stepson Alvin had with racist cops in 2011, which he recorded, taking his cue from his activist dad. While walking in Harlem the stepson was approached by cops, who called him “a fucking mutt” and “Dude, I’m going to break your fucking arm.”

“Progressive” Mayor Bill de Blasio

Throughout his administration, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio let killer cops, past and present, off the hook.

After the racist murder of African American Eric Gardner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island in 2014, which ignited nationwide fury, the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Mayor Bill de Blasio has refused to condemn the cops, caught on video for the world to see. Other racist murders under de Blasio’s watch included Akai Gurley, killed in the stairwell of a Brooklyn NYCHA building in 2014.  In 2018, a mentally ill man in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, named Saheed Vassell, was threatening residents with a metal pipe. Officers shot and killed him, provoking protest.

In 2013, de Blasio campaigned to reform (but not end) Stop and Frisk (S&F), labeling it as racist. Upon winning the election with large support from the Black community, De Blasio immediately appointed Bill Bratton as the city’s top cop. Bratton was considered the architect of S&F policy and served under former Mayors Rudy Giuliani’s and Michael Bloomberg’s “law and order” administrations.

A major part of the policy is “broken windows,” which targets minor “offences,” a policy de Blasio continues to support, but condemned as essentially racist by activists.  According to a 2011 New York ACLU report, 685,724 NYPD stops by police were recorded. Of these, 88% of the detainees were found innocent; 53% were Black, 34% Latino. Long the object of mobilization by anti-racist police brutality activists, in 2013, a federal judge determined that stop-and-frisk was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Although pot busts, a large component of street arrests, have been relaxed in the city, 86 percent of those arrested in 2017 were Black or Latino—about the same percentage as before de Blasio took office—despite the fact that whites and nonwhites use marijuana at roughly equal rates. “The culture of the NYPD is really intractable,” said Johanna Miller, the New York Civil Liberties Union’s advocacy director.

Though the Copwatch settlement was an important victory, it can be only temporary. The police are the armed guard of a racist and unequal capitalist society. There cannot be a “just” police department until capitalism is replaced by socialism.