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Memo to Cy Vance

Drop the Case Against Activist Jazz Hayden

by ANTHONY PAPA

Joseph “Jazz:” Hayden is a community activist from Harlem whose main goal was to expose the NYPD’s stop and frisk campaign. The controversial practice has impacted more than four million residents of New York since it was initiated and raised serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights. Hayden did this through a video monitoring program he started called “Cop Watch” which is part of Allthingsharlem, a grassroots media company.

The Village Voice reported that last year after Jazz filmed two undercover cops who had stopped two motorists, he was arrested by the same cops months later. Hayden was arrested for a small pen knife that was found in his car. He now faces felony charges and can be sentenced to two to seven years in prison. Hayden claims that hisarrest was payback for the program he was conducting and at least one cop knew who Hayden was. In a video tape, the cop can be heard saying “you done selling drugs yet or what? I know your rap sheet.” And then later, the tape shows, the same officer can be heard saying: “Go sell some more drugs, sir. We know your background. I know who you are.”

I know Hayden personally, as we both graduated from New York Theological Seminary while we were doing hard time in Sing Sing Prison in upstate New York. I remember when I met him. He impressed me greatly with his activism back then when he had started a campaign from behind prison walls to secure the vote for prisoners.

New York Theological Seminary was a one-year, 42-credit program that afforded a select group of Sing Sing prisoners the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in theology. It started in Sing Sing in 1983 and was the only program of its kind in country — a graduate-level religious studies program that required a four-year degree from an accredited university to join. The program demanded intense academic scholarship and a commitment to personal growth. A recurrent theme was that of “koinonia,” or authentic community. Koinonia encompasses the belief that we must reject the differences between us to make the world a better place.

Each year, many prisoners applied but only 15 were accepted. Hundreds of men graduated and many of them are now in society working as social workers, pastors, prison reform advocates and educators. Few have ever returned to prison.

Joseph took the concept of koinonia and applied it in his life on the outside to create a viable company that is committed to help those who are marginalized and voiceless in the community of Harlem. Chief among the concerns of Harlem residents is the questionable practices of stop and frisk, which greatly affects Harlem residents.

In the interest of justice, New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance should drop the trumped-up charges against Jazz Hayden. He is an example of someone who has changed his life and dedicated it to serving his community. To put him in prison would serve no purpose and would be totally wrong based on the facts of his pending case. A petition to drop the charges against Hayden is being distributed widely and hundreds of concerned New Yorkers have signed it. Please sign it and send a message to D.A. Vance’s office to keep Jazz Hayden a free man.

We are also asking organizations and community leaders to write letters to District Attorney Cyrus Vance voicing their outrage. A sample letter is available here. The next court appearance for Jazz Hayden is on July 31 at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan. We are planning a rally outside of the courthouse beginning at 8:30 a.m. Please come to support him. Thank you.

Anthony Papa is an artist, writer, and  Manager of Media Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.