There are over 2,000 surveillance cameras, public and private, catching every action throughout Manhattan. The New York Civil Liberties Union is asking the NYPD to rethink two of them — a pair of cameras targeting Occupy Wall Street protesters.
In a letter issued Thursday out of the offices of the NYCLU, New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly is asked to cut the cameras that are monitoring protesters in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, the central hub of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
According to the NYCLU, the current surveillance is targeting participants that are abiding the law and goes “far beyond” what the NYPD is allowed to do legally.
“At Zuccotti Park, there are at least two special cameras trained on the park and apparently recording activity at all times,” reads the letter, dated October 20 and signed by four NYCLU directors. In addition to the cameras that are more-or-less apparent to the protesters, the letter claims that, additionally, many members the Police Department’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) “are at the park and other locations and are conspicuously and routinely videotaping protest activity.”
Given that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is allowing the occupation of Zuccotti Park to continue, the NYCLU suggests that the Department prohibit the constant surveillance of people they feel are protesting peacefully.
“It appears to us that the Department’s approach is basically to videotape all Occupy Wall Street activity. This type of surveillance substantially chills protest activity and is unlawful,” reads the letter.
Outside of Zuccotti Park, mass police presence is near constant, and now those that take comfort in the confines of the protest area could rethink their constitutionally allowed rights to assemble and protest, implies the letter. The NYCLU does, however, acknowledge that, at times, the NYPD has been accommodating and applauds the force for their occasional efforts to keep the protests happening.
The NYCLU adds that communication among officers with the Department have also caused some of the subpar moments of the demonstration to occur.
“Having been present at many of the major Occupy Wall Street events, we have seen situations in which officers have done an excellent job conveying information to protesters and bystanders,” writes the NYCLU. “In other situations, however (such as with the Brooklyn Bridge arrests), communications efforts were disjointed and ineffective. This leads to unnecessary tensions and, in the most extreme examples, arrests that could be entirely prevented.”
The NYCLU adds that they feel the Police Department should drop the charges against the 700-or-so demonstrators that were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge early on in the protests.
Now in its second month, more protesters continue to occupy Zuccotti Square, despite the New York weather beginning to turn brisk. As hundreds continue to turn out in droves, many have abandoned jobs and other commitments to lend their support. Stacey Hessler of Florida has taken time off from her family in order to show her commitment to the cause of the protesters.
“Military people leave their families all the time, so why should I feel bad?” Hessler. Asks the New York Post. “I’m fighting for a better world.”
Ironically, Hessler not only left children behind in her native Florida to lend her voice to the protests, but her husband — a banker — as well.
“He says he’s working for ‘the Man,’ and I’m fighting against him,” she tells The Post.
Hessler intended on only staying in Zuccotti Park for a week but is now approaching her third week with little sign of turning around.