Update, June 26, 2015: This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 5-4 decision in favor of same-sex marriage (read the full ruling and early reactions here). In a statement, New York mayor Bill de Blasio credited the Stonewall Inn for starting the LGBT rights movement:
“Today, this country is richer — filled with more equality, more acceptance, and more love than yesterday,” de Blasio said. “And for the people of this city, where the movement for LGBT rights began in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, we can be proud that we helped blaze the trail to this great victory.”
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper also announced today that his show, AC 360, would broadcast at 8 p.m. tonight outside the Stonewall.
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Update, June 23, 2015:
Today, the Stonewall Inn was granted landmark status after a unanimous vote by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
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Original story, June 27, 2014:
Saturday, June 28, 2014, marks the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. To mark the occasion, we’ve excavated “Full Moon Over the Stonewall,” Voice columnist Howard Smith’s account of the night he spent on “the wrong side of the blue line,” barricaded inside the Stonewall Inn with police.
Smith, who dutifully cataloged the city’s cultural flotsam in his “Scenes” column starting in 1966 and continuing through 1983, passed away on May 1 of this year at the age of 77.
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During the “gay power” riots at the Stonewall last Friday night I found myself on what seemed to me the wrong side of the blue line. Very scary. Very enlightening.
I had struck up a spontaneous relationship with Deputy Inspector Pine, who had marshalled the raid, and was following him closely, listening to all the little dialogues and plans and police inflections. Things were already pretty tense: the gay customers freshly ejected from their hangout, prancing high and jubilant in the street, had been joined by quantities of Friday night tourists hawking around for Village-type excitement. The cops had considerable trouble arresting the few people they wanted to take in for further questioning. A strange mood was in the crowd — I noticed the full moon. Loud defiances mixed with skittish hilarity made for a more dangerous stage of protest; they were feeling their impunity. This kind of crowd freaks easily.
The turning point came when the police had difficulty keeping a dyke in a patrol car. Three times she slid out and tried to walk away. The last time a cop bodily heaved her in. The crowd shrieked, “Police brutality!” “Pigs!” A few coins sailed through the air. I covered my face. Pine ordered the three cars and paddy wagon to leave with the prisoners before the crowd became more of a mob. “Hurry back,” he added, realizing he and his force of eight detectives, two of them women, would be easily overwhelmed if the temper broker. “Just drop them at the Sixth Precinct and hurry back.”
The sirened caravan pushed through the gauntlet, pummeled and buffeted until it managed to escape. “Pigs!” “Gaggot cops!” Pennies and dimes flew. I stood against the door. The detectives held at most a 10-foot clearing. Escalate to nickels and quarters. A bottle. Another bottle. Pine says, “Let’s get inside. Lock ourselves inside, it’s safer.”
“You want to come in?” he asks me. “You’re probably safer,” with a paternal tone. Two flashes: if they go in and I stay out, will the mob know that the blue plastic thing hanging from my shirt is a press card, or by now will they assume I’m a cop too? On the other hand, it might be interesting to be locked in with a few cops, just rapping and reviewing how they work.
In goes me. We bolt the heavy door. The front of the Stonewall is mostly brick except for the windows, which are boarded within by plywood. Inside we hear the shattering of windows, followed by what we imagine to be bricks pounding on the door, voices yelling. The floor shudders at each blow. “Aren’t you guys scared?” I say.
“No.” But they look at least uneasy.
The door crashes open, beer cans and bottles hurl in. Pine and his troop rush to shut it. At that point the only uniformed cop among them gets hit with something under his eye. He hollers, and his hand comes away scarlet. It looks a lot more serious than it really is. They are all suddenly furious. Three run out in front to see if they can scare the mob from the door. A hail of coins. A beer can glances off Deputy Inspector Smyth’s head.
Pine, a man of about 40 and smallish build, gathers himself, leaps out into the melee, and grabs someone around the waist, pulling him downward and back into the doorway. They fall. Pine regains hold and drags the elected protester inside by the hair. The door slams again. Angry cops converge on the guy, releasing their anger on this sample from the mob. Pine is saying, “I saw him throwing somethin,” and the guy unfortunately is giving some sass, snidely admits to throwing “only a few coins.” The cop who was cut is incensed, yells something like, “So you’re the one who hit me!” And while the other cops help, he slaps the prisoner five or six times very hard and finishes with a punch to the mouth. They handcuff the guy as he almost passes out. “All right,” Pine announces, “we book him for assault.” The door is smashed open again. More objects are thrown in. The detectives locate a fire hose, the idea being to ward off the madding crowd until reinforcements arrive. They can’t see where to aim it, wedging the hose in a crack in the door. It sends out a weak stream. We all start to slip on water and Pine says to stop.
By now the mind’s eye has forgotten the character of the mob; the sound filtering in doesn’t suggest dancing faggots any more. It sounds like a powerful rage bent on vendetta. That way why Pine’s singling out the guy I knew later to be Dan Van Ronk was important. The little force of detectives was beginning to feel fear, and Pine’s action clinched their morale again.
A door over to the side almost gives. One cop shouts, “Get away from there or I’ll shoot!” It stops shaking. The front door is completely open. One of the big plywood windows gives, and it seems inevitable that the mob will pour in. A kind of tribal adrenaline rush bolsters all of us; they all take out and check pistols. I see both policewomen busy doing the same, and the danger becomes even more real. I find a big wrench behind the bar, jam it into my belt like a scimitar. Hindsight: my fear on the verge of being trampled by a mob fills the same dimension as my fear on the verge of being clubbed by the TPF.
Pine places a few men on each side of the corridor leading away from the entrance. They aim unwavering at the door. One detective arms himself in addition with a sawed-off baseball bat he has found. I hear, “We’ll shoot the first motherfucker that comes through the door.”
Pine glances over toward me. “Are you all right, Howard?” I can’t believe what I’m saying: “I’d feel a lot better with a gun.”
I can only see the arm at the window. It squirts a liquid into the room, and a flaring match follows. Pine is not more than 10 feet away. He aims his gun at the figures.
He doesn’t fire. The sound of sirens coincides with the whoosh of flames where the lighter fluid was thrown. Later, Pine tells me he didn’t shoot because he had heard the sirens in time and felt no need to kill someone if help was arriving. That was close.
While the squads of uniforms disperse the mob out front, inside we are checking to see if each of us all right. For a few minutes we get the post-tension giggles, but as they subside I start scribbling notes to catch up, and the people around me change back to cops. They begin examining the place.
It had lasted 45 minutes. Just before and after the siege I picked up some more detached information. According to the police, they are not picking on homosexuals. On these raids they almost never arrest customers, only people working there. As of June 1, the State Liquor Authority said that all unlicensed places were eligible to apply for licenses. The police are scrutinizing all unlicensed places, and most of the bars that are in that category happen to cater to homosexuals. The Stonewall is an unlicensed private club. The raid was made with a warrant, after undercover agents inside observed illegal sale of alcohol. To make certain the raid plans did not leak, it was made without notifying the Sixth Precinct until after the detectives (all from the First Division) were inside the premises. Once the bust had actually started, one of Pine’s men called the Sixth for assistance on a pay phone.
It was explained to me that generally men dressed as men, even if wearing extensive makeup, are always released; men dressed as women are sometimes arrested; and “men” fully dressed as women, but who upon inspection by a policewoman prove to have undergone the sex-change operations, are always let go. At the Stonewall, out of the five queens checked, three were men and two were changes, even though all said they were girls. Pine released them all anyway.
As for the rough-talking owners and/or managers of the Stonewall, their riff ran something like this: we are just honest businessmen who are being harassed by the police because we cater to homosexuals, and because our names are Italian so they think we are part of something bigger. We haven’t done anything wrong and have never been convicted in no court. We have rights, and the courts should decide and not let the police do things like what happened here. When we got back in the place, all the mirrors, jukeboxes, phones, toilets, and cigarette machines were smashed. Even the sinks were stuffed and running over. And we say the police did it. The courts will say that we are innocent.
Who isn’t, I thought, as I dropped my scimitar and departed.
A memorial for Akai Gurley, the unarmed 28-year-old black man shot by a rookie cop in the dark stairwell of a New York City Housing Authority building, is set to take place this evening in Brooklyn.
The NYPD, for one, appears to be expecting a large turnout. By Thursday night, the department had already dropped off a large stack of metal barricades at the corner of Washington and Gates.
A viewing of Gurley’s body is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Clinton Hill; the service itself will commence at 7 p.m. Both will be open to the public. Reverend Al Sharpton, who has called for a thorough investigation of the shooting, will deliver the eulogy. Gurley’s family, including his mother, father, and two-year-old daughter, is also expected to attend.
A spokeswoman for Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson confirmed that his office is conducting an investigation into the shooting, but she refused to say whether the D.A. planned to convene a grand jury to consider criminal charges against the officer involved.
The memorial comes two days after a grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who administered the chokehold that killed Eric Garner in July.
Gurley was shot on 11:15 p.m. on Thursday, November 20, at the Louis Heaton Pink Houses in East New York. An aspiring model, he was leaving a friend’s apartment after getting his hair braided. He was hit in the chest by a 9mm bullet almost immediately upon entering the hallway. (He and his girlfriend opted to take the stairs when the elevator took too long to come.)
The shot was fired by 27-year-old Peter Liang, an officer who had been with the force for less than 18 months. Almost immediately, Police Commissioner William Bratton declared the shooting an accidental discharge, and Gurley “a total innocent.”
The day after the shooting, the New York Times published an explanation of the events given by an unnamed but “high-ranking” police official. “Officer Liang is left-handed, and he tried to turn the knob of the door that opens to the stairwell with that hand while also holding the gun,” the official said, while also stressing that the account could still change.
On Friday, the New York Daily News reported that for more than six minutes following the shooting, Liang and his partner were unreachable by both their commanding officer and 911 operator; according to the paper’s sources, Liang was texting his union representative during the same time.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department offered $3 million “emergency safety and security grants” for housing authorities around the country. NYCHA applied for one of the grants, money that could have been used to go toward, among other things, lights like the ones that were out in the stairwell at the Louis Heaton Pink Houses the night Gurley was shot.
NYCHA’s application was denied, the Daily News reported in November, because, according to HUD, it “was not complete and did not meet the minimum threshold requirements.”
A grand jury convened to determine whether to bring criminal charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who killed Staten Island man Eric Garner, has returned no indictment, multipleoutlets are reporting.
The news comes one week after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot teenager Michael Brown. Garner and Brown, both black, were killed less than a month apart by white police officers this summer.
Jonathan Moore, an attorney for the Garner family, did not immediately return a call from the Voice seeking comment, and a call to Douglas Auer, spokesman for the Richmond County District Attorney’s office, was likewise not immediately returned. Linda Sachs, spokeswoman for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which fields complaints about the NYPD, had no comment on the grand jury’s decision. The CCRB is presently reviewing multiple complaints it has received pertaining to the Garner case.
On the day he died, officers approached Garner, suspicious that he was illegally selling loose cigarettes. An argument followed. During it, Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold. The whole thing, including Garner gasping and repeatedly telling the officers he couldn’t breathe, was captured on video by Garner’s friend Ramsey Orta. A medical examiner would later classify Garner’s death as a homicide.
In a statement released through his union, the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, Pantaleo expressed remorse over Garner’s death.
“I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves. It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” Panatleo said. “My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”
Pantaleo was stripped of his gun and badge following the incident in July. It remained unclear on Wednesday whether he would return to the force; if he plans to retire from policing, PBA president Patrick Lynch gave no such indication in a statement released on Wednesday. “While we are pleased with the Grand Jury’s decision, there are no winners here today. There was a loss of life that both a family and a police officer will always have to live with,” Lynch said.
Unlike in Ferguson, witness testimony from the Staten Island grand jury will likely remain sealed. Grand jury testimony and proceedings are by law confidential in New York and virtually every other state. In rare circumstances, testimony from grand juries in New York has been released under court order, but legal experts tell the Voice they doubt any of the grand jury’s records will ever see the light of day.
On Monday afternoon, the NYPD appeared poised and ready to respond to demonstrations against the verdict. Around noon in Union Square, a Voice reporter counted no fewer than three command trucks — one at 15th Street and Third Avenue, one at 12th Street and Fourth Avenue, and one at 15th Street and Fourth Avenue — and 13 officers (at the corner of 15th and Third).
“Hopefully everything will be smooth and it won’t ruin the tree lighting tonight,” an officer stationed at one of the sites said on Wednesday. The Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting was scheduled to take place that evening in midtown. The event was expected to draw thousands. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office announced that he will skip the ceremony to be in Staten Island.
Vans and police trucks have become a fixture in the neighborhood since crowds began meeting there to protest police brutality a week ago.
“We, as you might expect, are planning accordingly,” New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told reporters Tuesday morning. The commissioner canceled an appearance he was scheduled to make on NY1 Monday evening when the news began to break that afternoon.
Additional reporting by Katie Toth and Jon Campbell.
New details are leaking out about the rumored bill to ban carriage horses in Central Park. According to an advocate who has communicated with the mayor’s administration throughout the drafting process, the bill will be introduced as soon as Monday by City Councilmember Daniel Dromm. It will propose sunsetting horse-drawn carriages by May 31, 2016, when the last of the carriage operator licenses are set to expire. (A spokeswoman for the councilman confirmed the report to the Voice.)
Edita Birnkrant, campaigns director for the advocacy group Friends of Animals, has been lobbying to ban horse-drawn carriages in the park since 2006. She says she is overwhelmingly pleased with the bill Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office has come up with. “They wanted to put out the best possible bill that they could have created and I do think, from what I have seen, that is exactly what they have done.”
The bill will include support for carriage owners, carriage drivers, and stable workers — yes, Birnkrant confirms, offering free green-cab medallions (street value $5,000-$7,000) to any interested drivers is part of the package — as well as a call for proposals for a system to replace the horses.
“The mayor’s administration will be going out and asking the private sector if they have proposals and ideas for the city to consider for a similar system to replace the horse-drawn carriage rides around Central Park,” Birnkrant says. “They are opening it up to the private sector and saying, ‘Hey, let’s see your proposals — what do you have that could replace the tourism aspect of the carriage rides in New York City?’ ”
The legislation will not go up for a vote until June 2015 at the earliest because it includes a study of the economic impact of dismantling the horse-drawn carriage industry. (“It’s a necessary precondition to the council voting on the legislation and [one] that’s expected to take up to six months,” Birnkrant says.)
The actual phasing-out of the horse-drawn carriages will be done with the expiration of the carriage drivers’ licenses. The last of the licenses to own a horse-drawn carriage, which are valid for two years, are set to expire on March 31, 2016.
Those will be extended for two months in order to sync up with the last of the licenses to operate a horse-drawn carriage, which will expire on May 31, 2016. A third license (to own a horse) will need to be coordinated with the dates of the other two as well.
According to Birnkrant, the bill will also include a provision — crucial for animal-rights advocates — regulating how the horses will transition into “retirement.”
“There is a section that includes requirements for the horse owners to properly and humanely sell or dispose — that’s the jargon they use — of a horse,” Birnkrant says. She adds that owners will have to notify the city 10 days in advance of a sale. “It also adds language that an owner may not sell or donate a licensed horse for the purposes of slaughter, and it requires certification to that effect. The section also requires that records with the name, address, and telephone number of the horse be provided to the city.”
The purpose is to ensure horses end up in a nice home upstate, rather than a slaughterhouse in Canada or Mexico. “That’s a really important part of the bill because for many years now, we’ve been very disappointed at loopholes in the law that offer zero legal protection for the carriage horses, so when they are sold outside of New York City — and they are always sold outside of New York City — there are no records required, there is nothing in there that mandates that they not be sold to slaughter.”
(A few years back, Friends of Animals rescued a former Central Park carriage horse put up for auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania.)
Birnkrant says the bill that is set to be unveiled next week goes beyond even what she thought she could hope for: “Originally we thought there would be a three-year phase-out, and this is not even that. This is going to happen even sooner than that.”
Monica Klein, assistant press secretary for the mayor’s office, would not confirm any of the aforementioned details, but she offered the following statement: “We’ve been considering a range of options that move the horses off our streets, safeguard the animals, and protect the livelihoods of the men and women who provide carriage rides.”
Our condolences if you were planning on traveling between Queens and Manhattan this morning. The typically efficient 7 train (rated the best subway line in the whole city by the Straphangers Campaign earlier this year) was suspended for more than three hours.
It’s either particularly unfortunate timing, what with Grand Central Station being the 7’s first stop in Manhattan and this being one of the busiest travel days of the year…or an excellent excuse (on top of the National Weather Service’s ominous travel advisories) to avoid spending time with your family (or someone else’s).
This (almost) holiday, give thanks for the fact that you weren’t one of the poor souls who were on the train before 7 a.m. this morning when it was stuck in a tunnel between Manhattan and Queens for over an hour. (Those riders were eventually ferried back to Grand Central, the station the Queens-bound train left before it became stuck.)
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz says, “At about 6:50 a.m. we had a train with mechanical problems that became disabled in the Steinway Tube,” the tunnel connecting Manhattan and Queens. “At 8:15 a rescue train brought customers to Grand Central Station.”
Service between Grand Central and Queensboro Plaza resumed at 10:10 a.m.
The National Weather Service is predicting that a “significant” winter storm will arrive Wednesday morning and linger until early Thursday. The weather system will supposedly come in as rain, dousing the coast before freezing into snow in the afternoon.
But, grain of salt: This is just what the NWS is forecasting. And what do they know, anyway?
Take it from Governor Andrew Cuomo: The entire NWS might as well just be one old man on a park bench, licking his finger and sticking it in the wind. Here’s what Cuomo said this past weekend at a press conference in the city of Buffalo, which was buried under an unprecedented seven feet of snow last week.
“No one had any idea that it was going to be that much snow that fast. Snow coming down at the rate of about five inches per hour. No one had an idea. The Weather Service was off, by the way, which is why I said in my State of the State last year we’re putting in our own weather detection system,” Cuomo said.
And, as NWS spokesman Christopher Vaccaro explained to the Voice, the “state-of-the-art weather detection system” Cuomo first announced earlier this year wouldn’t be even a little useful if there were ever a repeat of the freak storm that hit Buffalo.
The proposed system, which comes at a cost of $18.6 million, doesn’t forecast future weather patterns; it only observes weather as it is already occurring.
The “mesonet system,” as it’s called, “will provide valuable observations that can be used to improve short-term forecasts and warnings,” Vaccaro says. “More data is always welcome. However, it would not have made significant improvements to the already accurate forecasts provided for the two lake effect snow storms last week.”
The big surprise about last week’s storm was the amount of snow, and the rate at which it fell. The snowfall rate is determined by radar and model data, neither of which are part of the system, Vaccaro says.
The storm that hit Buffalo came in from west of New York State, anyway, so weather stations located inside our borders wouldn’t have produced any data on the front as it was moving east. Or, as Vaccaro put it, “The locations of most of the observations would have not necessarily helped with characterizing the upstream conditions, which lay west of the location of most of the proposed sites.”
Cuomo halfheartedly apologized for his words on Monday. “To the extent any weather forecaster felt that they were criticized, that was not the intention,” he said, adding, “The state’s weather system that we are putting in has nothing to do with this storm.”
A pair of tattered banners billowing in the wind mark the site of the Brooklyn Free Store. One reads “ANARCHY For a Better World”; the other says “Share,” with an anarchist symbol replacing the letter a.
Books and VHS tapes are packed into a line of milk crates stacked two high — law textbooks, Game of Thrones volumes, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life — and more spill out of a suitcase just behind those (vestiges of Occupy Wall Street’s People’s Library). There’s a table piled with neat sheaves of anarchist literature, Xeroxed copies of the writings of Emma Goldman, and a guide to the Free Store, written in both English and Spanish.
Piles of clothes are knee-high to the scrawny, tattooed white girl pawing through them; there are lace-up boots missing their laces and a pair of scraped-up high heels. A broken coffee maker and some nonperishables — a bottle of barbecue ranch dressing, a few jars of baby food — sit on a nearby side table. A Hispanic family walks off with a lawn mower and a bag of clothes at the same time a pudgy black pre-teen walks up to ask Thadeaus Umpster if there are any bicycles available.
“Not today,” he tells the boy. They sometimes get free bikes, Thadeaus says, but not often.
Thadeaus has a bristly brown beard that obscures most of his face — not his eyes, though they too almost disappear when he laughs and his cheeks crinkle up around them. He is proud of the Free Store; that’s clear enough in the way he surveys it. He has helped run it since January 2005, when it was still located on Grand Street (a later location on Walworth Street burned down in a suspicious fire in March 2011). He keeps most of the inventory in his apartment a few blocks away, shuttling it by bike once a week to this patch of Von King Park at the corner of Marcy and Lafayette avenues. Every Friday between noon and 5 p.m., anyone is free to come by to take the things they want, and leave the things they don’t.
It was here, on this corner, on a Friday in the fall of 2013, that Thadeaus received confirmation of something he had long suspected: He was being watched — closely — by the NYPD. The police knew the names of all of the organizations to which he belonged, and had informants inside at least one of them. They knew he would sometimes moonlight as a DJ and dutifully noted which parties he attended, which events he played.
He learned from a New York Times journalist that he was under surveillance. The NYPD, he was told, suspected Thadeaus may have been “the bicycle bomber” — a shadowy figure responsible for detonating a makeshift grenade outside a military recruiting center in the middle of Times Square in 2008. Their evidence was thin: They knew he sometimes hung out with other bicycling enthusiasts and activists, and that he was, at one time, the administrator of an anarchist blog that posted a news article about the Times Square bombing several hours after it occurred.
Everything the police had on Thadeaus at the outset of their operation was contained in the preliminary request to open the investigation, which was one in a trove of documents published on a companion website for a high-profile book called Enemies Within. Written by then–Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, the book detailed the inner workings of the NYPD’s secretive Intelligence Division.
The documents, 37 in all, offered a glimpse into the Intelligence Division’s daily operations. They included an update on the installation of cameras outside radio stations Hot 97 and Power 105 and the New York offices of G-Unit Records; a request to surveil the hacker collective Anonymous for protesting the Church of Scientology; and, most notably, numerous documents describing the surveillance of Muslims across New York City.
The documents detailing the operation centered on Thadeaus also happened to expose the fact that the NYPD was conducting surveillance on at least three New York–based activist groups: the human rights organization Friends of Brad Will, the environmental nonprofit Time’s Up, and the pro-Palestine International Solidarity Movement.
It was an unsettling disclosure to many in the activist community, because New York City has an apparatus that is specifically designed to protect citizens — activists in particular — from overreaching investigations. That mechanism, called the Handschu Authority, was born out of a lawsuit stemming from a botched criminal case brought against the Black Panthers in 1971. Thirteen Panthers were tried for conspiring to bomb police stations, department stores, and the New York Botanical Gardens. A jury acquitted them of 156 charges in a matter of hours, but the trial exposed the fact that the NYPD had made a practice of infiltrating radical groups across the city.
Barbara Handschu and fifteen other activists sued in 1971 to limit the department’s investigation of political activity, and the so-called Handschu guidelines, finally enacted in 1985, included safeguards meant to protect groups from infiltration and surveillance.
Those safeguards, though, were gutted after 9-11, and the group of lawyers responsible for making sure Handschu guidelines continue to be enforced (to the extent that they still exist) are more focused on the Muslim spying case than allegations of spying on political groups. Even the city’s new inspector general doesn’t seem particularly keen on addressing the activists’ complaint that their rights have been violated, despite the fact that several of them lobbied the City Council to create the position partly out of hope that the IG would address their concerns about NYPD spying.
It’s been more than a year since the disclosure of the documents exposing the NYPD’s widespread surveillance of New York City activists, and without any increased oversight since then, it’s impossible to know if the NYPD ever stopped watching Thadeaus, Time’s Up, or Friends of Brad Will. In fact, anyone at the Brooklyn Free Store — the girl in the clothes pile, the family with the lawn mower, the kid looking for a bike, the other volunteers — might be taking notes on him right now.
Thadeaus doesn’t technically have a job. Helping run the Brooklyn Free Store is an unpaid position. For money, he sells books online that he finds being given away for free. That income pays for his iPhone and his room in an apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He scavenges grocery store dumpsters for food, and, twice a month, he hosts a big community potluck called Grub, which anyone is welcome to attend. When he’s not doing any of those things, he does court support — offering practical and emotional help to people in jail or on trial.
He seems an unlikely target for a resource-intensive surveillance operation, but when he got the call from the Times reporter last fall, the news that the NYPD was watching him made sense. Just a few weeks earlier, he’d heard that FBI agents were knocking on the doors of his friends’ apartments, asking questions about him.
Thadeaus is soft-spoken, and seems to choose his words carefully, taking pains not to assign blame, as he tries to explain how his life was affected by the revelation that he was under surveillance. “I heard things about people being less comfortable with me being in certain spaces, as if I would attract unwanted police attention,” he says. He doesn’t remember anyone saying anything to him directly, but that almost made it worse. Friends who were, in his words, “really freaked out about it” stopped talking to him altogether.
Thadeaus Umpster is a pseudonym he created for himself. An NYPD surveillance request from 2008 gives his real name: Dennis Christopher Burke. The request also contains his date of birth (January 21, 1981), height (6-1), weight (160 pounds), eye color (brown), and hair color (brown). There’s a summary of his criminal history, too.
His first encounter with the NYPD came in 1999, around the same time he arrived in New York City from Massachusetts. He’d grown up just outside Boston, the oldest of four children and the son of a teacher and a writer. He was in sixth grade when his own teacher lent him a copy of a National Geographic documentary narrated by Martin Sheen about a group of homesteaders in Alaska. “It showed me this romantic, living-outside-the-system lifestyle,” he says.
After high school, Thadeaus opted to skip college and strike out instead after the kind of life depicted in that documentary, and in his favorite books: Hatchet, The Call of the Wild, and Into the Wild. Instead of Alaska, he ended up in New York, where he fashioned himself a different kind of frontiersman — one with no money, trying to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world. He immersed himself in the activist community — camping in squats, joining protests, dumpster-diving — that’s where he met and befriended fellow activist Brad Will. The pair stayed at many of the same squats and action camps going back to 1999, and they would later live together as roommates. They were sharing an apartment on Clymer Street in South Williamsburg on October 27, 2006. That was the night everything changed.
Four days before Halloween in 2006, Thadeaus was DJ’ing the Critical Mass after-party at the Time’s Up space on East Houston Street. It was a rainy night, but the annual Critical Mass Halloween bike ride took place anyway, sending swarms of skeletons, clowns, Mexican wrestlers, and hundreds of other costumed characters marauding through the streets of Manhattan on two wheels. Some had speakers fastened to their fixies or 10-speeds; other, more ambitious riders had them wired directly into their costumes.
Police were there, of course — they always were on Critical Mass nights — hovering around, hassling those riders they succeeded in slowing down.
That night was different, though, because Brad Will wasn’t there. Earlier that day, a world away in the backstreets of Oaxaca, Mexico, Will was shot to death. A reporter with the anti-globalization media collective Indymedia, and a longtime fixture at Critical Mass, Will was in Mexico covering protests that had erupted against Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz after police there opened fire on striking schoolteachers. Will was shot while videotaping a standoff between protesters. He was hit twice in the stomach. The shots can be heard on the last piece of video he ever recorded, followed in quick succession by the sound of the 36-year-old Will yelping in pain, and the camera jolting as he fell to the ground.
Many of Will’s friends learned of his murder during the after-party that night. The fact that the news was delivered in the middle of a dance party — with many hearing it from a woman wearing a dinosaur costume — only made it more surreal.
“All the people there knew him. We all got the news at once,” Thadeaus says. A lot of them left the party, and headed instead to the radical bookstore Bluestockings on the Lower East Side to talk about possible action. “We’re activists,” Thadeaus says. “That’s how we respond to shit.”
Over the next two weeks, Will’s friends channeled their pain into demonstrations and direct action in his memory. There was a protest at the Mexican Consulate on East 39th Street; another Critical Mass ride — this one held in his honor; a party to make puppets and posters for more demonstrations; and one big, tearful memorial at St. Mark’s on the Bowery.
After the memorial, mourners, trailed by an NYPD squad car, marched to the shuttered CHARAS/El Bohio community center, a onetime progressive enclave that was sold by the city, over the community’s objections, to a wealthy developer in the 1990s. The group didn’t spend much time at the old building. They were there just long enough to leave behind messages of remembrance, which they scrawled on the walls before moving on to La Plaza community garden on East 9th Street and Avenue C. That’s where the day ended, with friends huddled in a big circle around a bonfire, trading stories about Will.
Those two weeks immediately following Will’s death were, Thadeaus says, “one of the more positive ways I’ve seen people respond” to a tragedy of that magnitude.
The years that followed, though, would create deep fissures within that same community.
On October 27, 2007, Friends of Brad Will, a loose network that coalesced around the idea of seeking justice for Will, was planning a protest at the Mexican Consulate in honor of the first anniversary of his death. The day before it was scheduled to take place, the consulate was attacked with two crude handmade grenades. Three windows were shattered, but no one was hurt. Police were quick to compare the explosion to one two years earlier, in March 2005, at the British Embassy.
A few months later, when another similar handmade explosive detonated at the military recruiting center in the middle of Times Square, the NYPD noted with interest the amount of time it took an anarchist blog called Bombs and Shields to find and post a Fox News item on the attack. (The only other information police had to go on was vague physical description: “an individual wearing a dark hooded sweat shirt and riding a bicycle.”)
In the Request to Conduct a Preliminary Inquiry Concerning Dennis Burke and Certain of His Associates, dated March 27, 2008 (21 days after the bombing), the NYPD Intelligence Collection Coordinator and Intelligence Analysis Coordinator wrote: “Open source information indicated that at or about 0600 hours on March 6, 2008, a blog called Bombs and Shields (which below its title prints the statement “Always Keep Your Shield Between You and Your Bomb”) reprinted a news article reporting on the Times Square Recruiting station bombing.”
According to a confidential informant used in a previous investigation of Time’s Up three years earlier, the document continued, it was Thadeaus, to whom the authorities refer as “Burke,” who administered the blog. “The less than 3 hour period of between the bombing and Bombs and Shields posting on the bombing raises the possibility that Burke or someone else associated with Bombs and Shields had information concerning the Times Square Recruiting Station bombing prior to its occurrence.”
The report also noted that, according to a Time’s Up informant, in 2005 Thadeaus attended a meeting in which the group discussed a planned demonstration against the Iraq war. “Information obtained in FI # 03/03 also indicated that on August 27, 2004 during the last Critical Mass bicycle ride before the Republican National Convention began, a confidential source observed Burke taking his bicycle and pushing it forward like a shield into a group of police officers who were trying to disperse a crowd and make arrests outside St. Mark’s Church.”
Thadeaus — like the bomber — had a bicycle and an anti-authoritarian attitude.
These details, disparate as they seem, led the two NYPD analysts to conclude: “the foregoing information indicates that there is a possibility that Burke and certain of his associates, who were members or participants in Time’s Up, or who were associated with Bradley Will, have engaged in, are engaged in or are planning to engage in unlawful conduct, including unlawful activity that may be related to the Times Square Recruiting Station bombing and/or earlier similar events involving explosive devices.”
The copy of the request obtained by Apuzzo and Goldman isn’t signed, but it’s clear that it was approved: More than a year later, on April 30, 2009, another memo was written by the two NYPD coordinators. This one asked to extend for an additional year the preliminary inquiry concerning Thadeaus — or Dennis Christopher Burke — some of his associates, and a group calling itself Friends of Brad Will.
Before 2003, if the New York Police Department wanted to open an investigation into a political group, it would first need to secure the approval of a three-person oversight panel made up of two high-ranking members of the NYPD — the First Deputy Commissioner of the Police Department and the Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters of the Police Department — and a civilian representative from outside the department. The outside representative was appointed by the mayor.
The panel was called the Handschu Authority.
The oversight process was meant to ensure that any surveillance or infiltration of activist groups was absolutely necessary, based on “specific information” that a crime had been or was about to be committed. It was designed to protect activists from investigations that could have a “chilling effect” on the work they did; if an organization is plagued by the kind of distrust and suspicion that accompanies a surveillance operation, it makes it hard to get anything done.
But everything changed after 9-11. In 2002, the administration of then-mayor Michael Bloomberg petitioned federal judge Charles S. Haight Jr. to relax restrictions as part of the war on terror. And Haight apparently saw merit in the argument, because he approved most of the city’s requested changes.
The biggest one? Starting in 2003, surveillance requests were no longer approved by the Handschu Authority. “The modified guidelines that were adopted in 2003 called for approvals of these investigations to be made by the commanding officer of the Intelligence Division, instead of by the Handschu Authority,” says Marty Stolar, one of the lawyers involved in the original Handschu case filed in 1972. “So the approvals for conducting investigations are done inside the department rather than having to make some kind of case to a body that is outside the department. That is the most significant change.”
The Handschu Authority ostensibly still exists, but John H. Doyle, the body’s last civilian representative, appointed by Rudy Giuliani in the mid 1990s, says it hasn’t met in more than a decade. Before the guidelines were modified the Handschu Authority would meet every couple of months. “We heard the police department present a description of their ongoing intelligence activities, and the Handschu commission had to approve them in advance, and then we would get reports on the status,” Doyle tells the Voice. “After the new guidelines went into effect there were no meetings.”
That means there is no one anywhere outside of the NYPD to question whether there really is enough specific evidence to open an investigation, or to suggest a fruitless hunt should finally be called off. Doyle won’t say how often the Handschu Authority rejected the NYPD’s surveillance requests before the guidelines were modified, but he does offer, “There were situations where what was proposed was rejected.” Today, he says, the authority’s only purpose would be to accept a complaint from someone who believes he or she was improperly surveilled — but he has never received one.
Back in 2002, when the lawyers who argued the original Handschu case were still fighting the city over the proposed changes, one of them, Paul Chevigny, spoke to the Voice about the dangers of changing the guidelines. “If the police win,” Chevigny warned, civil liberties will slide “back to the 1950s. Police will have the power to infiltrate and monitor groups just because they’re curious. They’ll be able to keep dossiers on people and disseminate the information to anyone they want, whether it hurts somebody or not.”
Chevigny’s warning seems particularly prescient now, looking back at what’s happened to the groups that were placed under surveillance. Would an investigation like the one into Thadeaus, Friends of Brad Will, and Time’s Up have been approved under the old guidelines? “That’s the million-dollar question,” he says today. Some of the operation, Chevigny believes, would have been approved, but he thinks it unlikely the investigation would have been so far-reaching had the police been required to secure approval from outside the department.
Time’s Up is best known for organizing Critical Mass, but the group has been doing environmental advocacy work in New York since it was founded in 1987. It’s not an overstatement to say that in those 27 years they’ve changed the landscape of the city, protecting community gardens and lobbying for the installation of bike lanes and acceptance of pedicabs.
The nature of the group’s work makes it a particularly bizarre target for the NYPD, according to the group’s co-founder, Bill di Paolo. “It’s confusing,” he says. “All we do are bike rides, garden cleanups, and workshops that empower people, pretty much every night of the week.”
According to the leaked documents, Time’s Up was the subject of at least two year-long surveillance operations prior to the Times Square bombing, dating at least as far back as 2005, but likely even earlier. Di Paolo suspects the organization has been under surveillance for a very long time. He openly wonders, in fact, whether the documents tying Thadeaus to the Times Square bombing were simply an excuse to justify continued surveillance of the group. “The idea that the police are saying that they think someone who was riding a bike did something wrong, so we’re going to investigate a group that promotes biking — it wouldn’t hold up in a court of law,” he says.
It’s unclear whether inquiries into Time’s Up would have held up under the scrutiny of the Handschu Authority, either. The behavior described in the NYPD’s internal surveillance requests can be characterized as mild civil disobedience, at most: “unlawful conduct in connection with Critical Mass bicycle rides,” “efforts by bicycle riders to divert police personnel during a demonstration or protest for the purpose of facilitating unlawful conduct by other protestors at the event,” and “unlawful activity that involved the use of bicycles, as a form of social or political protest.”
It’s not even the surveillance itself that was the problem, di Paolo says — it is the impact that the suspicion of surveillance had on the whole group. And it is the impact of the suggestion of some criminal association; just being mentioned in an article like this one, di Paolo says, will likely affect Time’s Up’s bottom line. “It does hurt our events, and membership, fundraising ability. It’s very difficult to document the damage. As an environmental group, if we’re getting harassed, we can’t clean your air up.”
Heidi Boghosian is a lawyer who works with Time’s Up and the author of Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power, and Public Resistance. “The impact of police surveillance — and we’ve got to assume that surveillance also includes infiltration and a certain level of calculated disruption — is especially detrimental to the functioning of grassroots organizations,” Boghosian says. “By nature, these groups challenge government and corporate authority. They rely on volunteers, informal organizational structure, and creative forms of communication to help carry out their mission; because they are less rigid in structure they are vulnerable to outside forces, including agents provocateurs, who may intentionally foment internal dissent as a means of countering their work.”
The attention only intensifies as groups get better at their work, she says. “The more effective these groups are, the more they seem to attract government surveillance. The result of protracted infiltration is that often volunteers will leave, and groups may have difficulty sustaining the level of energy and enthusiasm so critical to their activities.”
Not only does surveillance make it harder to retain members; Robert Jereski, one of the founding members of Friends of Brad Will, says the revelations that their organization was being watched made him reluctant to recruit new supporters. “I am aware of the possibility of police surveillance of people who are caught pursuing lawful, constitutionally protected activities. And as a result it makes me worried to reach out to groups that would be sympathetic with our human rights goals who are in compromised positions, like undocumented immigrants.
“They are our natural allies and I’m wary of exposing them to police surveillance,” Jereski says. “It’s confirmed that we’ve been targeted. That makes me even more hesitant.”
The NYPD did not respond to multiple inquiries for this story, including inquiries about the authenticity of the documents obtained by Apuzzo and Goldman.
If it’s tough to measure the impact of NYPD surveillance on the work of organizations like Time’s Up and Friends of Brad Will, it’s even harder to try to determine the impact that years under the department’s scrutiny had on Thadeaus’s personal life.
In the years since the NYPD initiated its inquiry into Thadeaus and certain of his associates, he’s been vilified online within the activist community, and, on more than one occasion, accused of cooperating with authorities and snitching on other activists. Thadeaus eventually registered his own website — Thadeaus.com — complete with testimonials from friends and a therapist, to try to combat the online narrative against him. The vitriol on both sides might be written off as activist drama were it not for reports that agents from the FBI printed out copies of those websites and blog posts, using them as reference material while making rounds in the activist community in 2013 inquiring about the bicycle bombing.
Things should have gotten better for Thadeaus when, a few weeks after those visits by the FBI, Enemies Within was released. The document dump that accompanied the book included information that suggested he was not providing information to the police — rather, they were collecting information on him, and using informants already present in the community to do it. But a specific detail that appeared in the criminal history section of one of the NYPD documents only cast further doubt on his character. The dossier says Thadeaus was caught with a handgun during a 2000 May Day protest in Union Square. But no one who knew Thadeaus had ever heard anything about it. People started to wonder what he might have done to make a serious charge like that disappear.
Google the name “Thadeaus” and you’ll find at least one entire blog, and multiple posts on other sites around the Web, dedicated to demonizing him. Most of the sites appear to have originated in 2010, well after the surveillance operation was initiated. The WordPress site Information About Thadeaus states in bold type that he has been guilty of verbal abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse in his past, but when you read the details closely, the accusations seem deliberately sensationalized. By verbal abuse, it turns out the author meant specifically “manipulation through guilt-tripping, badgering and lying”; physical abuse actually meant “invading personal space” and “restraining and manipulating others [sic] bodies.” The sexual-abuse accusation refers specifically to “withholding critical information about risk factors and violating safer sex agreements” with his former partners.
On another website, there is an email that was circulated in 2010 by the New York chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross and a few lesser-known anarchist groups calling on activists everywhere to turn their backs on Thadeaus. The communiqué details a series of altercations between Thadeaus and other people squatting in the same house. The email says Thadeaus called the police on several occasions, and ultimately got two of his housemates arrested. “Please forward this widely, and fight against snitches, snitching and individuals who prey on radical social scenes. The strength of our movements depends on it. This statement serves as a notification to all that Thadeaus is a persona non grata in NYC and should not be welcomed elsewhere.”
Another site, Snitch Wire, devoted two long posts (one with no fewer than seven updates) to discussing whether or not Thadeaus was actually a snitch. “A lot has been said about what is and isn’t a snitch. Should Dennis Burke be listed amongst the likes of traitors like Brandon Darby [who infiltrated protests at the 2008 Republican convention on behalf of the FBI] or undercover pigs like ‘Anna’ [a notable FBI informant who infiltrated activist circles in Des Moines, Philadelphia, Miami, Sacramento, and other cities]? Our short answer, without resorting to petty (but likely valid) character assassination, is yes.”
Inquiries to the Anarchist Black Cross, and to the administrators of the websites that hosted negative information about Thadeaus, went unanswered. At least one ex-friend of Thadeaus’s also declined to be interviewed for this story, but warned that he was manipulative. Whatever happened in 2010, it clearly caused a deep rift in the community — and one that the FBI may have attempted to exploit further by using the dueling websites as ammunition.
Cecily McMillan was one activist approached by the FBI. McMillan met Thadeaus at Occupy Wall Street, and the two became friends in the two years leading up to her trial for assaulting a New York City police officer during an Occupy demonstration. She says that a few weeks before the Enemies Within documents became public, four or five agents showed up on her doorstep asking about “Dennis Burke.” She thought they had the wrong address. Thadeaus didn’t live there, but she also didn’t recognize they were looking for him. They showed her pictures of him and asked her about events that happened before she arrived in New York. That’s when she stopped the conversation and gave them her lawyer’s card.
The agents left her with a parting message that made her skin crawl: “When you go back down to your bedroom, and you crawl back into bed with that man, you can let him know that we are looking for him and will find him,” she says they told her. (She adds that she and Thadeaus were never romantically involved.)
Attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen says McMillan was not the only activist whose home the NYPD visited that day. All of the visits, as far as she gathered, were related to a last-ditch effort to track down the bicycle bomber.
“It appeared that the investigators were attempting to exploit rifts extant in the dispersed community of anarchists and their satellites in order to get someone to implicate someone else in that series of pyrotechnical hijinks,” Meltzer-Cohen says via email. “Of course, nobody knew or knows anything about it. But who knows who said what to them, or what other potentially interesting intelligence they managed to glean out of those interactions. We never really know what they are after. They run around gathering information and intelligence about social relations and schisms, in hopes that they will find…something.”
Enemies Within and the NYPD documents surfaced a few weeks after the FBI visits, and that’s when things got even worse for Thadeaus. The documents had listed, among many arrests he doesn’t dispute, one that he says is entirely fabricated: “Criminal Possession of a Weapon 4 (hand gun).” It is dated May 1, 2000 — the same day Thadeaus and a group of activists were arrested for wearing masks at the May Day protest in Union Square.
The arrest is sealed, but Susan Howard, who is now the president of the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, was there when Thadeaus was arrested and said he was most definitely not carrying a weapon. “Of course there was no gun!” she says. The National Lawyers Guild performs legal support at protests, but Howard, who was not involved with the organization at the time, was a participant at the protest. “I remember very well that Thadeaus handed me his bag in Union Square while he was being arrested, but the police took it from me — I know the bag had what the police claimed to be instruments of graffiti, spray paint, but no handgun. I saw the contents myself.
“This info is very disturbing and I think meant to create distrust,” she adds. Ron Kuby, the lawyer who defended Thadeaus and the other activists he was arrested with that day, also confirms there was no gun. (“No, no, no, a thousand times no,” Kuby says.)
But in radical circles like those in which Thadeaus is involved, a serious charge like gun possession can be a red flag for fellow activists. It’s common for police to leverage it to get someone to cooperate, to inform on their friends. Thadeaus admits as much. “It’s a reasonable concern for people to have,” he says.
Jereski, who knew Thadeaus first through Brad Will, and later through Friends of Brad Will, says, “There’s been a long-term festering wound in the community about [Thadeaus] — the person who was mentioned as a suspect who drove surveillance.
“It’s just quite strange,” he adds, that the target of an online campaign like the one executed against Thadeaus also appears to have been the target of an extended surveillance operation. The whole thing, Jereski says, is “quite reminiscent of COINTELPRO” — the notorious FBI program designed to turn activists against each other in the ’60s — “and the strategies of dividing activist communities and efforts.”
Di Paolo says something to the same effect. “I noticed a pattern in the documents, and that was that all the people who they were saying were dangerous were the exact opposite, in my opinion. They were all community organizers working for free 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When I saw the names, every single name were people I work with in the community.
“This was a targeting of successful community activists.”
The Office of the NYPD Inspector General was created by the New York City Council at the end of 2013, over the veto of Mayor Bloomberg. The department, vested with a $5 million budget, is tasked with investigating patterns of misconduct within the NYPD. Inspector General Philip Eure’s first day on the job was May 27, and when the office opened that morning, Jereski and two friends were there to file its very first complaint. The complaint is nine pages long, written on behalf of a coalition of local groups, including Friends of Brad Will and Time’s Up, and catalogs instances of suspected police infiltration dating back to 1997. (Eure declined to meet with them in person that day. Instead, a cheerful secretary accepted the complaint on his behalf.)
Shortly after filing their complaint, a few of the activists involved went out to a café with a retired FBI agent, a man who had gone undercover with right-wing militias during his time with the bureau. They asked him, as someone who had infiltrated and surveilled groups, how they might prevent it from happening to them, or at least identify the informants in their midst.
His advice? Don’t even try.
The NYPD and the FBI, he told them, “have endless resources to create covers for themselves. You should just keep doing the work that you’re doing, and don’t try to get to the bottom of it, because it will waste your time, it will be a distraction, and it will destroy your organizations.”
A month later, Jereski et al. received a form letter back from the inspector general. “Thank you for contacting the Department of Investigation’s Office of the Inspector General for the New York City Police Department,” the letter read. “The OIG-NYPD is currently being established and hiring a core staff in order to carry out its responsibilities under Local Law 70. Once this start-up phase for the Office has been completed and certain procedures have been put in place, we will be in a position to consider your complaint. We will then be able to determine whether any action by our office is warranted.” It’s been four months since, and Jereski has yet to have any additional contact with the inspector general’s office.
Class counsel for the Handschu lawsuit (the group of lawyers who originally argued the suit, who are tasked with making sure the law is enforced) are not planning on addressing the group’s case anytime soon either, both Chevigny and Stolar confirmed. “At the moment, class counsel are concerned with dealing with the Muslim surveillance issue,” Stolar says. “We have not taken up the Friends of Brad Will and Jereski’s complaint as a class counsel yet.”
On October 27, 2014, eight years to the day since Brad Will was killed in Mexico, Jereski and other Friends of Brad Will gathered outside the Third Avenue offices of senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer to hand out flyers asking the officials to do something about Will’s death.
They hadn’t publicized their plans to gather outside of the building, but, somehow, a security guard was waiting for them when they arrived.
The NYPD, the guard told them, had given him a heads-up.
A black car crashed in Bushwick this weekend after the passenger inside repeatedly stabbed its driver. The fare made off with the victim’s phone and his cash. According to the NYPD, the driver picked the passenger up just before 11 a.m. on Saturday outside 1234 Halsey Street in Bushwick.
Police say: “[O]nce inside the cab he then displayed a knife and demanded cash. After the 47-year-old male cab driver refused, the suspect then assaulted and stabbed the victim multiple times, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and crashing into a fence.”
After the car crashed, the passenger absconded with the driver’s iPhone 5 and “an undetermined amount” of cash. The driver was taken to Kings County Hospital for treatment.
The suspect — described by police as a black male, approximately five feet, ten inches tall and 180 pounds — fled down Knickerbocker Avenue in a red tracksuit with white stripes.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-8477, text 274637 and enter TIP577, or submit tips via the Crime Stoppers website.
On November 17, New York City announced an ambitious new plan to replace payphones across the five boroughs with nine-and-half-foot pylons beaming free Wi-Fi to any device within a 150-foot radius, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The new network, Mayor de Blasio declared, would be “the fastest and largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world.”
Besides a free, unfiltered Internet connection and speeds of up to one gigabit per second, the new kiosks would offer free domestic phone calls, a touchscreen for city services, directions, and charging docks.
Best of all: It won’t cost you, New York City taxpayer, a red cent! The entire operation will be funded through advertising revenue, and the group in charge of the roll-out, CityBridge, projects it will actually make $500 million in revenue for the city over the next 12 years.
CityBridge comprises four companies: the design firm Control Group; the telecommunications giant Qualcomm; Comark, which will manufacture the kiosks, called “Links”; and Titan, the city’s largest and oldest payphone franchisee.
If the name Titan sounds familiar, it’s because the company controls the outdoor advertising on several thousand phone booths across the city. It may also ring a bell because in October, Titan was embroiled in a bit of controversy when news emerged that it had installed tiny radio transmitters called beacons in 500 payphones around New York City.
Beacons can be used to push advertising to a person’s phone, but they are also able to track a person’s movements and collect profiling data like age, gender, income, ethnicity, education, interests, and the locations where that person spends the most time.
In New York the devices were installed by Titan with permission from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications but, BuzzFeed found, “without any public notice, consultation, or approval.”
Titan, which uses beacons in other cities, is now set to oversee operations and manage the advertising for the new Link program, and, according to a spokeswoman for the project, isn’t ruling out bringing beacons back. “Right now beacons are not included; however, Links have been designed to be flexible and able to incorporate new technologies over time,” Sarah Sanzari told the Voice via email.
Sanzari also confirmed the group is definitely planning to incorporate location-sensing technology of some kind in the kiosks. “CityBridge believes that some location-based technology should be included in LinkNYC to allow New Yorkers to take advantage of all of the city services and other benefits that Links have been designed to provide.”
And it seems the group has thought quite a bit about how it might use beacons in the future. “There are a ton of great community-use cases for beacons, from services for people with disabilities to getting much more accurate GPS signal in the canyons of NYC. Of course, beacons are an opt-in technology, and you would have to choose to use them,” Sanzari added.
At least this time around, she promises, New Yorkers will be notified in advance of any installation. “If we do incorporate beacon technology, we will work closely with the city to let the public know when and how they will be used.”
It’s been a rough year for Rachel Noerdlinger. New York City first lady Chirlane McCray’s chief of staff has had her love life, her family, her family’s friends, her home, and even her parking tickets — pretty much everything except the actual work she did as a City Hall aide — dragged out as evidence that she was unfit for the job.
The coup de grâce came on Friday, when Noerdlinger’s 17-year-old son was arrested and booked on a trespassing charge after he and some friends were caught drinking in the lobby of a building in Washington Heights. It was her 44th birthday. On Monday morning, Noerdlinger announced she will be taking a leave of absence from the administration.
“Today I am announcing that I have decided to take a leave of absence to spend more time with my son. These past two months have been extremely difficult for both of us, and his arrest on Friday heightens the need for me to devote my full attention to Khari, my number one priority,” she said in the statement.
Noerdlinger’s resignation is a victory for the police unions, who have not stopped calling for her resignation since the first story broke in September detailing her boyfriend’s anti-police views. It was, in one sense, payback: In her previous role as spokeswoman for Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Noerdlinger had called for a boycott of companies that contributed to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.
Here’s a brief history of the police unions’ recent publicity offensive against Noerdlinger:
“These revelations are of serious concern because her position gives her access to critical information about police plans and strategies. It raises serious questions about her judgment and character and the quality of the counsel she provides to City Hall. The safety and security of our police officers and the public is far too important to risk with someone who is so closely associated with a known convicted criminal with such hateful opinions. She should not be in that position.”
– Patrick J. Lynch, president of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association
“[Noerdlinger] has an open relationship with a convicted felon who has complete animosity and disdain for all law enforcement…Miss Noerdlinger is in a position where she exercises incredible influence within the de Blasio administration…It is even more disturbing when Miss Noerdlinger is described by Mayor de Blasio’s spokesperson as being a ‘woman who possesses a core set of values and beliefs that align with this administration.’ Such a relationship can easily be interpreted as a cohesive group of people that are unashamedly anti-law enforcement. Is this really the message the de Blasio administration is trying to perpetuate?”
– Louis Turco, president of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association
October 2, 2014
“Ms. Noerdlinger is a skilled public relations person who doesn’t live up to her public statements. Given her companion’s criminal history and his record of hateful posts on social media, it is easy to see why she might intentionally fail to mention that relationship, which would disqualify from employment, during her pre-hiring investigation. The standards that apply to hiring police officers should apply equally to hiring high ranking, influential staff members. If it is found that she committed a lie of omission during the investigation, then she should be fired.”
– Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association
October 3, 2014
“The double standard is alive and well in the deBlasio administration: one standard for the elite at City Hall and another for the rank and file workers.”
– Patrick J. Lynch, president of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association
“People who are hired in sensitive positions in City Hall must be held to a higher standard…Obviously a mistake has been made hiring her and the de Blasios should cut their losses and move on to a replacement.”
– Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association
“She’s in a $170,000-a-year position…You can’t cover for her with all this stuff saying she didn’t know. If she didn’t know [about his drug use], she should have. And if she didn’t know a thing, then she’s incompetent.”
– Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association
October 10, 2014
“There is clear dysfunction occurring in City Hall, there’s been a pattern of abuse, a pattern of indecisiveness and a pattern of less than truthfulness…My question is if this is what’s occurring around one of the top positions at City Hall, who is really in control of City Hall?”
– Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association
October 14, 2014
“She’s not worthy of the job.”
– Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association
October 14, 2014
“If Mrs. Noerdlinger had any character she would resign the position herself and take a lot of pressure and embarrassment off City Hall.”
– Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association
October 21, 2014
“We’re at a point where the Mayor needs to fire her or she needs to resign…Why is she the choice for this position? …Is DOI incompetent or were they told to disregard all the negative stuff? What’s really going on in City Hall?”
– Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association
“[E]ach new disclosure is increasingly disappointing.”
– Roy Richter, president of the Captains Endowment Association
“They are a criminal family…It’s time for her to step down.”
– Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association
In the statement announcing her departure on Monday, Noerdlinger thanked the mayor and first lady for their “unwavering support” over the last several months. “Thank you to everyone who has helped me weather this difficult period — your kindness means more than you will ever know, and I look forward to fighting for social justice on behalf of New Yorkers once I feel my pressing obligations to my son have been met,” she said.
In her own statement on Monday, Special Adviser to the Mayor Rebecca Katz said the gratitude was mutual. “The mayor and first lady thank Rachel for her service. She has been a great asset to the administration and the people of New York City over the past year, and everyone wishes her all the best during her leave.”