reports on a victory in the struggle to defend Joseph "Jazz" Hayden.
October 18, 2012
Jazz Hayden (second from right) and his supporters celebrate outside the courthouse (AllThingsHarlem.com)
THE MOVEMENTS against racism and the criminal injustice system in New
York City and around the country won an important victory: Jazz Hayden
will remain free. The prosecutors have admitted they can't win a
conviction on the trumped-up charges made against him, and he has been
offered an agreement that will end the threat he faced of years behind
On October 11, almost 40 people were sitting in a Manhattan courtroom
for Jazz's latest court date. When his name was called, they all
stood--something the Campaign to Keep Jazz Free has done for more than
10 months as we pressured Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to
drop the charges against Jazz, a 71-year-old Harlem activist involved
in the struggle against stop-and-frisk and a founding member of the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow
"When the guy was bringing me out of the courtroom," Jazz said
outside the courthouse, "he said, 'Man, you got a lot of people out
there.' I said, 'Yeah, that's love...I want to thank everybody, man,
I've never had this much love and support in my life, and it inspires
Jazz described the outcome of the case:
I want everyone to know we have a true victory...To get them to admit
what they admitted in that courtroom was major...And we have to realize
that this is 10 months later--almost a year that they held this over my
head. They knew from the beginning that this was bogus.
Jazz was clear about why prosecutors finally relented. "Once again,
the pressure that was applied made them reach this conclusion," he said.
Jazz's legal team agreed. Sarah Kunstler, one of Jazz's lawyers, said,
"All the advocacy that everyone has done outside the courtroom for Jazz
makes a difference."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
IN DECEMBER of last year, Jazz was pulled over by two officers of the
New York Police Department. While they still claim his car had a broken
taillight, they wrote no ticket.
According to Jazz, the police said, "We know you," and illegally
searched his car. He was charged with two counts of felony possession of
a weapon--for having a broken penknife and a miniature Yankees souvenir
baseball bat that Jazz's wife had gotten from her father.
And for that, the NYPD held Jazz in jail for two days and wanted bail
set at $16,000. The charges they imposed on Jazz could have landed him
in prison for up to 14 years.
In the end, the punishment against Jazz was whittled down to almost
nothing: five days of community service and a $120 surcharge--with his
record to be cleared in six months with no further violations. The fact
that Jazz's punishment is community service when he was arrested for
performing a community service apparently did not strike the DA as
Jose LaSalle of Stop Stop & Frisk talked about how Jazz's
activism inspires so many others: "There are a lot of brothers and
sisters out there who follow behind Jazz, and have been out there doing
Copwatch and making sure they document stuff."
Dozens of organizers and community members came together over the
past 10 months to build up a campaign of protests and online organizing.
Thousands of people signed a petition for Jazz, and hundreds called the
DA's office on multiple call-in days--on the first call-in day, the
office had to assign someone to take calls for the entire day.
, the DA's office and the 32nd Precinct. Organizers built enough pressure and awareness that even mainstream media outlets such as the New York Timeshad to report on Jazz's battle.
Jazz, his legal team of Sarah Kunstler and Gideon Oliver, and the
other organizers of the campaign shared a clear vision that Sarah
expressed earlier this year, "This is the way the system derails
movements--by putting people on trial to distract from the work that
we're doing. So we have to spin this on its head, and make these
prosecutions part of the work we're all doing."
Building speak-outs at the 32nd Precinct was one important example of
this strategy. The protests at the courts were also important to put
pressure on the DA and the judges, but rallying in Harlem--on the
doorstep of the precinct with the third-highest rate of use of force in the city
new people to the struggle, built awareness around Jazz's case and his
activism, and showed that there is power in numbers and unity.
This made clear the campaign's message: Jazz's arrest and prosecution
is part and parcel of the assault on communities of color by the NYPD
and the wider legal system--and thus the fight for Jazz is part and
parcel of the fight against stop-and-frisk, racism in the courts, and
the whole criminal justice system.
More than a dozen organizations came together to collaborate in the
campaign, involving veteran activists and people new to protest alike.
Building these connections will make collaboration easier and more
effective in the battles ahead.
The victory itself comes at a critical time, with police killings
taking place at almost twice the rate of last year, but the department
also coming under increasing criticism for stop-and-frisk policies and
facing a wider movement of families fighting for justice for their loved
"One thing is for sure," Jazz said outside the courthouse. "The work
is not going to stop. I'll be out there today with my camera. I have it
right here on my back," as he gestured to his backpack. He continued:
So nothing's going to change in that respect. But building the movement
and next steps is what's important. This is what we have to get together
on, because this stop-and-frisk is just the tip of the iceberg--just a
very small part of the bigger struggle that we all have to engage in.
I think our most immediate and pressing need, a prerequisite to
building a movement, is waking people up, because...they're feeling the
pain...[but] they don't see any solutions. They don't see themselves as
collectively powerful enough to change things. And that's what we have
to do. We have to expose the system--the way it operates and how it
doesn't operate in their interest. And to do that, we have to reach them
where they're at, living under a system that's totally against them,
and let them know that they have the power to change things.