A 71 year old man is facing felony charges and up to 14 - yes, fourteen - years in prison. Is it because (a) the NYPD really believes that a penknife and a miniature commemorative baseball bat replica are dangerous weapons for which someone should spend the rest of their life in jail or (b) this 71 year old man is known for filming when the NYPD stops and frisks people for no reason and then posting it online? What seems more plausible to you?
A local campaign to end the controversial practice of stop and frisk and to end mass incarceration is gathering steam in New York as one of its most vocal members, 71-year-old Joseph "Jazz" Hayden, awaits an important decision from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. After more than six months of court continuances in this case, the DA has to decide whether to drop the charges against Mr. Hayden or convene a Grand Jury hearing. Hayden, a longtime Harlem activist, is facing two felony weapons charges that could result in a lengthy sentence of up to 14 years in prison. His supporters argue that these charges represent nothing less than police reprisal against Hayden's video documentation of stop and frisk, a modern day version of civilian monitoring of the police, which was popularized by the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. In a press release announcing an action at Cyrus Vance's office on September 6, 2012, activists denounce the city's case against Jazz Hayden as "a baseless prosecution." A review of the public record suggests that their claims suitably describe the charges against the Harlem activist.
Hayden's most recent odyssey in the courts began on the night of December 2, 2011 when he was stopped by police in Harlem while driving home after a meeting at The Riverside Church. What followed was an unlawful stop and search during which the police retrieved a penknife and a commemorative, miniature baseball bat replica from Hayden's vehicle. For this, the former prisoner and founder of The Riverside Church's Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, was arrested and charged with two counts of dangerous weapons possession.
Hayden is just one of dozens of New York City activists facing criminal charges believed to have been leveled against them by the courts and the police in retaliation for their civilian challenges to police authority. In Harlem, Hayden has become known for the copwatch video clips he posts on his website, allthingsharlem.com, which amidst the growing grassroots opposition to stop and frisk have shown up on NY1.