NYPD Dusts Off Dossiers on Puerto Rican Activists

     MANHATTAN (CN) — Under fire after some records on police misconduct had mysteriously vanished, New York City officials told a researcher that a “routine inventory” unearthed 520 boxes of the missing materials.
     The enormous trove of papers — totaling an estimated 1.1 million pages — relate to NYPD investigations of supposed “communist activities.”
     With a broad swath of political organizations claiming to have faced unwarranted surveillance in the investigation, a lawsuit by a former Black Panthers attorney named Barbara Handschu gained traction.
     In 1985, a federal court in Manhattan presiding over the case made the department abide by a consent decree protecting the First Amendment rights of political activists.
     Litigation over the so-called Handschu guidelines, as they became known, has been ongoing for more than 30 years.
     After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, U.S. District Judge Charles Haight Jr. grappled with how the NYPD could effectively and constitutionally respond to the threat of terrorism.
     The NYPD meanwhile continues to face lawsuits accusing it of political and religious profiling that contravenes the consent decree. Groups have said Occupy Wall Street assemblies and mosques across the city have been infiltrated by undercover agents.
     Interest in the Handschu documents remains strong against the backdrop of this living history, and faced fresh scrutiny upon the records demand by a City University of New York professor.
     Johanna Fernandez, who teaches history at the university’s Baruch College, had wanted to study how the police kept tapes on a Puerto Rican nationalist group called the Young Lords.
     The press took interest when Fernandez said the city gave her the brush-off, however, telling her the records were lost.
     Local news channel NY1 took notice after investigative reporter Nick Pinto wrote a lengthy feature on the case for New York’s most prominent alternative newsweekly, The Village Voice.
     A city lawyer told Fernandez’s attorney Gideon Oliver last week that a “routine inventory” of a Queens warehouse uncovered the missing Handschu records.
     “Once [the Department of Records and Information Services] completes its inventory of these documents (a process that is expected to be completed within the next few months), we will know better whether they include the Young Lords records [Fernandez] seeks,” the letter says.
     Fernandez called the development an “epic win for civil liberties and historians seeking to understand the history of New York.”
     “The records open a window to the efforts of hundreds of civic organizations and thousands of New York City residents, surveilled and obstructed by the police, in their work to make our city and our nation more just and democratic,” she said in a statement.
     Pinto highlighted the timing of the city’s announcement in his own coverage.
     “Not that the media scrutiny had anything to do with the discovery, mind you,” the reporter wrote.

%d bloggers like this: