The New York Police Department has anonymously edited and tried to delete Wikipedia pages about police brutality victims, Capital New York has discovered. Edits coming from 1 Police Plaza headquarters targeted pages for Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo.
NYPD IP addresses were used to edit the Wikipedia page on the “Death of Eric Garner,” who was killed by police chokehold and inspired massive nationwide protests in the fall. Capital New York found that the department changed “Garner raised both his arms in the air” to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke,” and added the sentence “Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them,” among other changes.
Someone at the NYPD also tried to delete the article on Sean Bell, an unarmed man who was gunned down by officers firing 50 bullets in 2006, arguing that “no one except Al Sharpton cares anymore.” The user wrote, “The police shoot people every day, and times with a lot more than 50 bullets. This incident is more news than notable.”
The NYPD also edited entries about the police force’s stop-and-frisk policy deemed unconstitutional in 2013, as well as a number of unrelated articles, including “Four Loko,” “Sailor Moon,” and “Croissant.”
The edits and deletion attempts reflect the NYPD’s sometimes clumsy response to the increased scrutiny in the wake of controversies over stop-and-frisk, their treatment of Occupy Wall Street activists, and most recently, the crackdown on #BlackLivesMatter protesters.
The NYPD has long had a testy relationship with the press, punctuated by threats and arrests of journalists who document police misconduct. Lately, the nation’s largest police force has tried to circumvent the media to control its public image — with mixed results.
The department started writing and posting its own “good arrest” stories directly to its Facebook page last summer extolling heroic officers. In one instance highlighted by Gothamist, the NYPD reported on Facebook, “A rookie Bronx cop on a footpost this morning chased down and arrested a gun-toting 17-year-old who, moments earlier, fired four shots into another man and left him for dead on a Mount Eden street.”
The NYPD even cracked down on an artistic mural calling the police force “murderers,” even though the property owner had approved it. When the artist declined police requests to remove the mural, NYPD officers painted over it themselves.
Other efforts to improve the NYPD’s image online have backfired repeatedly. The ill-conceived hashtag #MyNYPD, on which Twitter users were invited to share positive interactions with police, was quickly dominated by stories of abuse and harassment. Yet the NYPD broached Twitter again after its officers ducked charges over Eric Garner’s death, using the hashtag #WeHearYou to promise to rebuild trust. That hashtag was soon swamped with criticism.