‘Anyone can cop watch’: Grassroots organization uses knowledge as power against police violence

Member of the Justice Committee educate subway riders on how the importance of watching the police. ( Photo courtesy of the Justice Committee)

As New Yorkers prepare for an influx of 500 MTA officers in the subways, a band of activists are protesting the increased police presence not with posters, but with pamphlets. 

With canary yellow booklets in hand, members of the Justice Committee took to the subways over the weekend to teach riders how to safely document police activity, or Cop Watch.  

A page from the Justice Committee’s how to copwatch booklet. (Photo courtesy of the Justice Commitee).

“Anyone can cop watch,” said  Yul-san Liem, Co-Director of the Justice Committee. Liem was one of the 31 activists that spoke to subway riders on how they are legally able to film police officers with their cell phones and should film, jot down notes or just pay attention to a police interaction to help deter violence. “We want these MTA officers to know that we are watching them,”said Liem. 

Last June, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he would send 200 NYPD officers and 300 MTA police and peace officers into the city’s subways system to combat issues like fair evasion, assaults and homelessness. The additional 500 unformed officers will be stationed at stops were fair evasion is common and where bus and subway workers have been attacked, according to Politico. Both Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio justified the increased in order to maintain safety in the subways despite little evidence to show that there has been an drastic increase in crime. 

Since the announcement, advocacy groups have argued that the increased police presence will hinder not help the state of the subway system. Instead, some argue, that in order to deter crime and deal with the homeless the state should lower the price of subway tickets and invest more money in tending the city’s homeless.

Some, like the Justice Committee and Riders Alliance, argue that the plan will further target young people of color. The most recent public pushback was a protest at Grand Central Station, where 500 young New Yorkers stormed the terminal calling on free transit in place of more police. 

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