No matter how many times and in how many ways the New York City Police Department is reminded that it is not allowed to arrest people for filming the police, it is going to keep doing it, apparently.
Tuesday night, they arrested prison reform activist and solitary confinement survivor, Five Mualimm-ak after his book signing, while filming a police interaction with a homeless man. According to Gothamist, Mualimm-ak is also “a member of the mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice and has helped create a system which police are supposed to utilize when interacting with people with serious mental illness.”
Mualimm-ak was speaking at the Open Society Foundation on West 57th street in Manhattan to promote the book Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement, of which he contributed. After the event, Mualimm-ak and activist Joseph “Jazz” Hayden, another well-known copwatcher, discovered police officers harassing a homeless man and confronted them. Hayden began filming the officers and was promptly arrested. When Mualimm-ak protested this, he too was cuffed and detained. (Video below)
Discussing the events that led to his arrest, Mualimm-ak said, “When we came out, they were already accosting a person who was mentally ill.” He explained. “I created this system to help guide people to into properly addressing personal mental illness. Officer pulled up and just went Rambo, struck Jazz with his hand. We didn’t allow ourselves to be incarcerated. Sometimes you have to know when to fight back and how to fight back.”
Mualimm-ak and Hayden were taken to Central Booking in Lower Manhattan and arraigned Wednesday evening. Mualimm-ak was charged with one count of obstruction of government administration, two counts of disorderly conduct, and one count of harassment.
Five’s lawyer Gideon Oliver said that based on the investigation of the circumstances, neither Maulimm-ak nor Hayden should have been arrested. “[Maulimm-ak] was arrested for verbally responding to the police as they arrested Jazz,” Oliver told Filming Cops over the phone. “They did not interfere with the officer’s performance of their duties, there was no justification for the arrest.”
From the cops’ perspective, they were arrested for blocking pedestrian traffic. He said he doesn’t believe that the NYPD intentionally targeted the activists, but the harassment they experienced is standard for people in their communities. While the charges are standard for copwatching, Oliver said the incident represented, “Another example of the NYPD’s total failure to recognize and support the First Amendment rights of observers and bystanders of police interaction.”
Oliver said retaliation from the NYPD over the publicity of this case is certainly a possibility, but explained that Mualimm-ak and Hayden’s profiles within the community give them a certain leverage that others don’t have.
Five Maulimm-ak was born in Ethopia, the son of a Black Liberation Army member and a civil rights activist. In the United States, he was incarcerated for 12 years, five of those in solitary confinement. He is an avid prison reform activist and solitary abolitionist. Tuesday’s book event was meant to amplify voices of those affected by the horrors of solitary confinement.
Maulimm-ak said he was upset and angry that he was ripped from his community so suddenly. “These are these quiet spaces that people disappear in so you got to always be careful,” he said referring to jail system.
“These assaults will not be allowed to just happen and exist. We’re fighters and they physically abused the wrong people and need to be made an example of that. Why are they out there harassing people? And why are they out there on a night that we have an event?”
Back in 2014, the NYPD even released the internal memo below, sternly reminding officers that they are not allowed to arrest people for filming them. Apparently this officer, and many others, literally have not gotten the memo.