Wanted For Contempt Of Cop

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Law enforcement likes “wanted” posters, even in entirely inappropriate circumstances.

I first recognized this a quarter-century ago when I worked as a summer intern for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. The DA’s Office had just announced, with great fanfare, a “gotcha poster” program. The concept was this: the public relations department of the DA’s office would produce posters with the pictures of recently convicted miscreants (usually gang members), complete with bold-font description of their crimes of conviction and sentences, capped with stern exhortations to avoid committing crimes. Then someone — presumably someone armed — would put these posters up in gang neighborhoods. Someone in the DA’s Office believed that this would deter crime. Don’t blame me for that, I was just an intern. I was briefly assigned to draft language for the posters. That responsibility was unceremoniously taken away as a consequence of a fairly disastrous practical joke, in which I left a message for another intern saying that a poster she had created stated that John Doe had been convicted of Penal Code Section 187, murder, when in fact he had only been convicted of City Code Section 187, excessive noise from a lawn mower, and John Doe was suing, and the District attorney wanted to talk to her. She reacted . . . badly. [She was quite attractive. Of course I was interested in her. Behold my interpersonal prowess!]

But law enforcement posters are not all about bragging rights or harebrained deterrence theories or even about informing the public of wanted fugitives. Sometimes, like any law enforcement communication, they offer a window into cops’ attitudes towards the citizens they police.

Take the story of Matthew Swaye and Christina Gonzalez.

Swaye and Gonzalez are concerned about policing in Harlem, where they live. They are particularly concerned about the NYPD’s aggressive stop-and-frisk program, the questing fingers of which are disproportionately felt by New York’s young men of color, and which Radley has frequently discussed here. They take videos of police stopping and frisking their neighbors, and post the videos on a YouTube channel.

How do you suppose that goes over with the cops?

Swaye and Gonzalez learned the answer when they discovered that officers of the 30th Precinct had created a wanted-style poster of them and posted it outside of a public hearing room at the precinct house.

The flyer featured side-by-side mugshots of Matthew Swaye, 35, and his partner Christina Gonzalez, 25, and warned officers to be on guard against them. It was spotted by multiple people, including the couple, when it was taped to a podium outside a public hearing room in the 30th Precinct house last Thursday, where residents met for precinct council meeting.

“Be aware that above subjects are known professional agitators,” read the flyer, which bears the NYPD shield and a seal of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. It also gave the home address of the couple.

“Above subjects MO is that they video tape officers performing routine stops and post on YouTube,” the sign said. “Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too deter officers from conducting there [sic] responsibilities.”

The flyer also listed the name and cellphone number of a Sgt. Nicholson in the 30th Precinct, and implored cops to “not feed into above subjects propaganda.”

The couple took a video of the poster; you can see it here.

I think Jacob Sullum is right in his post about this incident when he writes that the poster can be taken in two ways: the style and publication of the couples’ home address suggests intimidation, while some of the language suggests a warning to police to leave them alone rather than approach them in a manner that will look bad on video. But whatever the intended message, the unintended message about law enforcement’s entitled attitudes is clear. First, in the face of steadily advancing legal norms protecting citizens’ rights to record cops in the course of their duties, cops continue to do everything they can to portray such recording as dangerous, intrusive, inappropriate, and a signifier of bad citizenship. Second, cops view concern about constitutional rights as a signifier of bad intent and suspect behavior. Only an agitator would want to document, and challenge, the widespread temporary detention of young men of color in New York City.

Swaye and Gonzalez seem proud to be “agitators.” Clearly our gracious host is proud. I’m proud.

Are you?

Hat tip to my high school classmate Joe, who sent me the story, and to Jacob Sullum, who beat me to writing about it.

—Ken White

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25 Responses to “Wanted For Contempt Of Cop”

  1. #1 |  Wanted For Contempt Of Cop | Popehat | 

    […] For Contempt Of Cop Jul 3, 2012 By Ken. Politics & Current Events Today's guest post at the Agitator is up. Check out Patrick's post as well, as well as those of the other guest-posters Radley has […]

  2. #2 |  (B)oscoH, Yogurt Eater | 

    Yeah, clearly it’s about intimidating them. The right response is to get a large copy made up and placed in a prominent window next to life-size cut-outs of the agitators smiling, eating their yogurt, and having a great time protecting the rights of community members.

  3. #3 |  ShelbyC | 

    Sombody missed a [sic]. Should be “Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too [sic] deter officers from conducting there [sic] responsibilities”. The writer of the poster seems barely literate.

  4. #4 |  Dan Weber | 

    If they put it someplace where only cops would expect to see it: possibly good attempt at managing PR. “Don’t let them see you doing bad stuff” may not be the most pure motive in the world, but sometimes “teaching to the test” produces good results.

    Putting it in a public place where the public meets weakens that theory considerably. If the cops knew these people regularly go there, then it does so even more.

    One good test to see how the cops feel about it: what would happen if these “agitators” removed the poster?

  5. #5 |  croaker | 

    I would certainy view it as intimidation.

    Would it be worth $75 to pay a lawyer to send a letter to the 30th Precinct Capitan asking him to explain the actions of his subordinate?

  6. #6 |  Bill | 

    Can never get enough of your postings Ken

  7. #7 |  Dante | 

    “The writer of the poster seems barely literate.”

    This adds to the long list of evidence that indicates cops aren’t smart enough to qualify for other jobs.

    So stay in school, kids, or you will end up in a dead-end job and become a low-life punk.

    (Egads, the delicious irony of using a trademarked cop line to diss the cops)

  8. #8 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    They look bad on film and they can’t write a proper grammatical sentence…
    what does that tell you about the type of people who take this job?

  9. #9 |  Jim | 

    A gold star for using ‘citizen” and not the detestable ‘civilian’ in describing us serfs.

  10. #10 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “Above subjects MO is that they video tape officers performing routine stops and post on YouTube,” the sign said. “Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too deter officers from conducting there [sic] responsibilities.”

    Using MO (Modus Operandi or Method of Operation) on the poster suggests that what the “agitators” are doing is illegal. In the eyes of NYPD, then, promoting police accountability and transparency is criminal in nature. And stating that the purpose of these “agitators” is to deter officers from conducting their responsibilities just shows you how out of touch–or how committed to repression–the NYPD really is. If you don’t have anything to hide, officers, why do you care if you are being recorded?

    And yes, I am a proud agitator.

  11. #11 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Were I in the place of Matthew Swaye and Christina Gonzalez I think I would make up a close copy of the poster along the following lines;

    “Warning; the persons depicted above are responsible Citizens who know their legal rights. Their MO is to video record officers cutting corners, violating civil rights, and generally screwing around. Their purpose is to make it hard for sub-literate, terra-cotta toothed, violent thugs to reach retirement before getting fired or jailed. F’Christ’s-sake behave!”

    and offer stacks of copies, free, to the police force.

  12. #12 |  Personanongrata | 

    “Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too deter officers from conducting there [sic] responsibilities.”

    The “officers” of the NYPD don’t need any help portraying themselves in a negative way.

    The “officers” are crying crocodile tears because their abhorrent behavior has been recorded for all to see.

    The “officers” should be ashamed of themselves for being used in such a manner, which directly contravenes their sworn oaths.

  13. #13 |  205guy | 

    @ShelbyC: you missed one too: “Subjects [sic] purpose…” It needs an apostrophe.

    BUT, a lot of commenters seem to be making hay about the spelling mistakes. Sure, they could be avoided, but who hasn’t made some mistakes while typing. It was just an informational flyer for internal use, I don’t fault them for being sloppy and/or doing it quickly.

  14. #14 |  Goober | 

    My message to the police officers involved in this is to remind them that only roaches and vermin scuttle for cover when the light of day is let into an area.

    If you aren’t doing anything illegal, then you have nothing to hide*. So quit acting like roaches and vermin by complaining about the daylight. If you truly have nothing to hide, then you shouldn’t be worried about them videotaping you and yours. If you DO have something to hide, then stop acting all high and mighty and DO SOMETHING about that. You’re supposed to be professionals in service to the community, for cripes sake!.

    *I do take a measure of satisfaction in being able to use this particular line here, since it is used in the opposite direction so often.

  15. #15 |  Bergman | 

    I wonder…what would the police response be if you were to put up posters of officers, using a similar language style, warning citizens about disciplinary problems, excessive force complaints, civil rights abuses and the like?

    I bet they’d be HOWLING about inciting violence against officers, especially if (like the poster the police put up) the counter-posters included home addresses. I have little doubt criminal charges would follow.

    I bet even if you only put up a poster about Sgt. Nicholson, the reaction would be the same.

  16. #16 |  Nash | 

    The language (typos and all) on the posters reminded me of how all of the cops spoke in Idiocracy.

  17. #17 |  MET | 

    I feel ethically charged to admit that I am usually no fan of police and police antics, and historically they feel the same way about me. I don’t have any prolific record – just a tension in the air. That being said (and God forgive me, I don’t want to be the holier-than-thou internet pontificator trying to moralize to the masses), I don’t know that I’m comfortable with the “cops are all d-bags” responses that I hear so often in cases like this. Are some of them behaving as such – yep. And should we be ticked off about it? Clearly I think so or I wouldn’t be on a website called the agitator. But that being said, I fear that looking at this as an excuse to give up on the pigs at large just sort of exacerbates the situation. I think that’s why these two – dangerous rebels that they are – are more bothersome to authorities than your general sideline hecklers. They get specific – look, HERE’S the officer who did it. THIS is the ACTUAL one who is a problem. I dunno…am I too Pollyanna? Do I still get to be an agitator if I have some begrudging resistance to overall resistance to disliking ALL officers of the law? I just want to be a member of the cool kids club, guys.

  18. #18 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    Not to be a wet blanket, but are we sure Swaye and Gonzalez didn’t create and put up the poster themselves? Maybe it was impossible for them to post it outside the hearing room without being seen, but progressive activists have a long and dishonorable tradition of manufacturing ‘outrages’ aimed at themselves.

    If the cop did it, hang him by the short hairs and fire his boss. But let’s be sure he did it, first.

  19. #19 |  harper | 

    This seems like “false light”. While nothing said on the poster is untrue, the fact of it being on a poster produced by the police, in police premises, in the general form and style of a WANTED poster… would be a hell of a case.

  20. #20 |  Gordon Clason | 

    Here is why cops hate video: “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” John 3:19.

  21. #21 |  andrews | 

    This seems like “false light”.

    Depends on whether your state recognizes false light as a workable cause of action. It is not universal.

  22. #22 |  demize! | 

    The odd bit of cognitive dissonance displayed here, other than the poor spelling, is this aims to portray the police in a poor light nonsense. If by filming goons behaving normally in their natural environment is doing so than I would ask does a tree falling in the forest make a noise?

  23. #23 |  Matthew Swaye | 

    thank you,

    youtube: “Dirty Thirty Hunts Its Prey”

    video of the intimidation we’re subject to

  24. #24 |  Project: Not Guilty | 

    Hey Ken, ‘David’ AKA: Packman of yester-years Injustice Everywhere, envisioned his “Making Posters” leading the way to his “See Something – Film Something” ad campaign of 2011 as a positive tool to capture public servants red handed. On behalf of PNG and the public at large, we responded with the creation of a holiyear (365/7/24). The “National Document A Public Servant Day Campaign” or (NDPSDC) encourages an entire nation to capture the actions of ‘all’ public servants from the President to Animal Control. Including the good, the bad & the ugly sides of public servants on/off duty in public.” Remain a safe distance from any police action is a no brainer, call 911 if you witness a felony & having others film you filming misconduct from afar is catching on.

    “Please do not forget to include the good actions seen as acts of bravery and going out of their way to assist another human, animal or protecting the property of others. There are many ‘Good’ public servants out there and it’s our duty to let them know we appreciate them and it’s our duty to not ignore the bad ones. Ignoring a criminal act just because you are intimidated by the uniform or badge worn by the bad actor automatically makes you part of the problem and you effectively enable it to continue. Do your duty 365 day a year or wait till it happens to you, it’s your call.” Police Departments being encouraged to submit footage from their dashcams, back seat cams, holding cells, hallways and Sally Ports. Thanks.

  25. #25 |  Return of the Agitator « The Honest Courtesan | 

    […] also wrote “Wanted for Contempt of Cop” (two activists’ pictures and home address are printed on a “Wanted”-style poster by […]