Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who voted to water-down police identification bill, demanded ID of NYPD officer who used excessive force on him -- and was rebuffed

  • At the behest of Councilmember Ritchie Torres and Mayor Bill de Blasio, newly-selected Council Speaker Corey Johnson voted three weeks ago to weaken Municipal legislation that would require NYPD officers to identify themselves and to provide a reason for law enforcement activity.

  • On Thursday, Council Speaker Johnson was allegedly shoved by an NYPD Officer. When Council Speaker Johnson requested the identification of the violent NYPD Officer, the NYPD Officer refused to identify himself.

  • Fracas threatens to overshadow the Government's practise of prosecuting activists for their activism.

By LOUIS FLORES

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea) was reportedly shoved by an unidentified police officer in a melée between Federal and Local law enforcement officials, on one side, and activists and Municipal legislators, on the other side. The disorder followed the Federal detention of immigration activist Ravi Ragbir. When Council Speaker Johnson requested the identification of the NYPD officer, who had reportedly used excessive force on the top Municipal legislative leader, the responsible NYPD officer refused to comply.

Some police reform activists were quick to jump at the opportunity to point out the irony, because three weeks ago, the then-designated Council Speaker Johnson voted to weaken a police identification bill that was part of the Right to Know Act. The bill, which was passed, represented a compromise negotiated by Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Fordham), who sought to protect police officers from being charged with making false arrests or with misconduct. In the time since, Council Speaker Johnson has called for an expansion of the NYPD, according to a report published by The Village Voice, even though the Municipal legislature has been unwilling to hold NYPD officers to account for misconduct.

Besides Council Speaker Johnson complaining of being the victim of excessive force, Councilmembers Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Inwood) and Jumaane Williams (D-Canarsie) were arrested under conditions that were described as violent. The New York Post later published a report indicating that 18 individuals were arrested during the protest.

For this report, Council Speaker Johnson and his chief of staff, Erik Bottcher, did not immediately answer advance questions submitted by Progress Queens. As for the clash between law enforcement agents and activists, Council Speaker Johnson said that Federal law enforcement agents were responsible for escalating the peaceful protest into a physical confrontation.

The independent news platform, Democracy Now!, published exclusive footage that it described as showing NYPD officers making violent arrests of protesters. In years past, the NYPD have engaged in violent demonstrations in Lower Manhattan, such as was the case during the administration of then Mayor David Dinkins (D-New York City), when an estimated 10,000 off-duty NYPD officers showed up to a 1992 rally organized by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association outside City Hall to protest the police reform agenda of Mayor Dinkins. The Editorial Board of The New York Times described the 1992 rally as a "riot."

The fracas on Thursday, which took place outside 26 Federal Plaza, also revealed duplicitous policy positions on policing by other Councilmembers. Councilmember Rodriguez, who was violently arrested, also voted to support weaker identification provisions for NYPD officers. Furthermore, in 2016, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) led a demonstration from the 59th Street Bridge to Trump Tower, denouncing the anti-immigrant sentiment of then President-elect Donald Trump, according to a report published at that time then by The New York Observer. Yet, when it came time to vote on the watered-down police identification bill, Councilmember Van Bramer defended his support for the weaker provisions by stating, in relevant part, that, he wanted to defend Councilmember Torres from criticism over the watering-down of the police identification bill, according to another report published by The New York Observer. For this report, Councilmember Van Bramer did not respond to advance questions submitted by Progress Queens about the failure of the NYPD officer to identify himself after the police officer was asked for his name and badge number by Council Speaker Johnson.

Police use of excessive force on Council speaker threatens to overshadow the Government's pattern of prosecuting activists over their activism

The detention of Mr. Ragbir by agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement comes as advocates for the rights of immigrants are confronting an environment described as tinged by White nationalism, racism, and xenophobia during the Trump administration. Since activists are advocating for public policy changes in contravention of official policies of Government office holders, activists are at risk for experiencing retaliation for their political beliefs, for exercising their First Amendment rights to express their political beliefs, and for relying on their franchise rights to effect changes in Government. The pattern of political retaliation against activists under the Trump administration represents a continuation of what Government reform activists have claimed was a retaliatory culture under the Obama administration.

Thursday marked the five year anniversary of the death of open data activist Aaron Swartz. Mr. Swartz had been the target of what was described as a vindictive prosecution by then U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, the top Federal prosecutor in Massachusetts. Rather than face the outcome of impending prosecution for having sought to make public research funded by taxpayers, Mr. Swartz took his own life. According to guidelines applicable to Federal prosecutors, attorneys for the Government are prohibited from being influenced in making prosecution decisions by any subject's race, religion, sex, national origin, or political association, activities, or beliefs. See U.S. Dep't of Justice, United States Attorneys' Manual § 9-27.260. A series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, which overturned the Smith Act, a Federal law that at that time then permitted the arrest and investigation of citizens based on their political beliefs, and oversight of the NYPD in the Handschu litigation generally now prevent law enforcement agents from arresting activists due to their political beliefs. However, such arrests have continued, as with the arrest and prosecution of former U.S. Army Lt. Daniel Choi during the Obama administration. Former Lt. Choi was discharged from service, later arrested, and then prosecuted by the Government over his advocacy to end the then, discriminatory policy of the U.S. Armed Services known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" under a timetable that was more aggressive than was politically supported at that time then by the Obama administration.

In 2013, the publisher of Progress Queens filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking Federal records about the manuals, guidelines, procedures, and protocols that govern when activists get arrested or prosecuted for their activism. After the U.S. Department of Justice failed to process each of the FOIA Request, an administrative appeal, and a remand of the administrative appeal, the publisher of Progress Queens commenced civil litigation in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn to compel the release of records, alleging misconduct on the part of the Government before and during proceedings before Federal Court. After a partial release of records was made, the Government moved to dismiss the complaint, even though a showing was made that responsive records existed or were highly likely to exist. In the FOIA Request and in filings during proceedings before Federal Court, the publisher of Progress Queens provided examples of many activists, who were arrested and prosecuted for their activism by Federal law enforcement agents. Following protracted motion practise, Chief Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann issued a report and recommendation that resolved every controversy and dismissed every dispute of fact in favour of the non-moving party, in violation of civil procedure. The publisher of Progress Queens filed an objection, which U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack rejected, ultimately entering judgment in favour of the Government. An appeal is presently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The appeal, which is fully briefed, awaits the scheduling of oral arguments.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rukhsanah Singh, from the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's eastern district, has been representing the U.S. Department of Justice throughout the civil litigation. It is not known how the U.S. Attorney's Office viewed the crackdown on Thursday by Federal and Local law enforcement on immigration activists and on members of the New York City Council. Ms. Singh did not answer advance questions submitted by Progress Queens for this report.

Councilmember Torres, who was responsible for negotiating the weaker police identification bill, had dismissed the efforts by reform activists to hold police accountable for misconduct as "fanatical" and "hysterical."

According to information obtained by Progress Queens, the pattern of failed leadership and aborted reform by members of the New York City Council ; the pattern and practise of misconduct, including the violation of FOIA, by various officials with the U.S. Department of Justice, including by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Singh in Brooklyn and Angela George in the District of Columbia ; the reckless disregard for First Amendment rights of activists by each of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, and now U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions III ; and the suspect jurisprudence of Chief Magistrate Judge Mann and U.S. District Court Judge Azrack have contributed to a climate where activists can be arrested and prosecuted for nonviolent activism that is only meant to hold the Government accountable to the governed.

The Trump administration began with the arrest of activists, who protested during the inauguration festivities in Washington, DC, in January 2017. The Government had charged activists with rioting and property damage charges, but some activists have been acquitted of the serious charges in jury trials, because the Government could not prove their cases.

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