Harlem activist gets justice

By Alan Bean

Joseph “Jazz” Heyden, a Harlem activist accused of carrying a dangerous weapon (a miniature, souvenir Yankees bat) in his vehicle, got some very good news yesterday.  Jazz has been a vital part of a movement working to end the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy which is largely reserved for young men of color.  I should note that the attorney representing Mr. Heyden, Sarah Kunstler, is (a) the proud daughter of the famous civil rights attorney William Moses Kunstler, and (b) the co-producer (with her sister Emily) of an excellent documentary that became the foundation of the fight for justice in Tulia, Texas.

Jazz Heyden and his supporters have argued that the defendant’s car was pulled over by officers who had previously been filmed by Mr. Heyden out of a desire for retribution.  Although the DA’s office argues for the record that these claims are not supported by the facts, that should be interpreted as a face-saving gesture rather than a serious argument.

Weapons Charges Reduced for a Monitor of the Police


Prosecutors in Manhattan have agreed to reduce weapons charges against a Harlem community activist who was arrested after a traffic stop in his former neighborhood last year.

Around 9 p.m. on Dec. 2, the community activist, Joseph Hayden, was pulled over by the police near Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and 132nd Street for a broken taillight. According to the criminal complaint, the officers searched his vehicle and found a wooden club and a switchblade.

Mr. Hayden, 71, known for filming videos of police interactions with the Harlem community, said the officers had stopped him in retaliation. Months before his arrest, he said, he had filmed and questioned the same officers as they conducted a vehicle search in the area.

Molly Brottmiller, an assistant district attorney, said in an appearance in Manhattan Criminal Court on Thursday that the office found “no merit to these claims” and had concluded through an investigation that the stop was lawful.

But prosecutors said that there were issues with the weapons.

Mr. Hayden and his lawyer, Sarah Kunstler, said that the wooden club was actually a miniature, souvenir baseball bat from a Yankees game, and that the switchblade was the sort found commonly at 99-cent stores. And at a pretrial meeting with prosecutors, Ms. Kunstler noticed that the knife could not even be opened.

Prosecutors dropped the charges related to the bat and offered to dismiss the charges if Mr. Hayden is not soon arrested again and performs five days of community service for the knife charges after determining the weapon had “deteriorated to the point where the opening mechanism no longer functions.”

Ms. Brottmiller said,“Because the recovering officer tested the knife at the time, this would not absolutely preclude us from going forward, but it would make proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt difficult if not impossible.”

A spokeswoman for the district attorney declined to comment when asked how the knife became inoperable after Mr. Hayden’s arrest.

Mr. Hayden, who had faced two and a half to seven years in prison on each count if convicted, had been pressing for the charges to be dropped through an online petition, a letter-writing campaign and rallies outside the district attorney’s office.

He called the decision “a complete and total victory.”

“You couldn’t get a clearer admission,” he said, “that this was a bogus case.”

3 thoughts on “Harlem activist gets justice

  1. I’m not sure this was a waste of everybody’s time. This theatre of the absurd was expensive to Ms. Kunstler and to Mr. Hayden, and I’m sorry that he will have to do some community service for the City, rather than of his own choice, but the whole escapade has given the NYPD and the ADA Molly Brotmiller a chance to look foolish and show one episode of “Law and Order: RLV” (real life version) to the public.

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