Depression, Loss, & The NYPD

This is a partially off-topic post about something very personal to me, but something I feel compelled to share because there are a couple of things that I think we can make better, and I’d like to raise awareness to those issues.  First, the off-topic back story.

About a month before I published my big TSA video in 2012, I met a woman who inspired me to do a lot of things. We dated for almost a year, remaining inseparable even after the dating concluded, and started a music company together that helps me to fulfill perhaps the only part of me that brings about more passion than fighting government abuse. Andrea was an awesome partner to have, whether we were heading to a protest or weaseling our way backstage at a music festival to network with the VIPs. She always encouraged my advocacy, even acting as my process server for my suit against NYPD’s street body scanners.

We accomplished so much together despite the fact that she suffered from serious depression, which, looking back, was getting worse as time passed. Starting from very young, we’re all taught that there is help for people who are depressed. But sadly, help is often times difficult and expensive, and even when you manage to get it, it doesn’t always work. I learned that a good therapist in New York can charge $250 per hour and often doesn’t accept insurance (making weekly treatments $13,000 annually). I learned that prescribing anti-depressants is a lot like rolling a dice and hoping that the pill you takes makes you better rather than worse. I learned that even if you are hospitalized for your depression at the best psychiatric hospital in New York, there is no treatment — they literally just observe you until you feel better (or pretend to, such that you can leave).

Andrea took her own life last month. She was 38 years old.

If you saw her funeral, her Facebook, or the celebration of her life that we held for her, you would have seen that she was incredibly loved by a number of people that was shockingly large, even to me, knowing her as well as I did. Andrea Playing at Cielo NYC But, when you’re depressed, you don’t see that. I know that I didn’t really understand depression before I me her, so let me try to explain depression as I’ve come to understand it, as someone who doesn’t suffer from it directly: Imagine watching a video of the highlights your life that contains all the good things — friendships, laughter, successes — as well as all of the bad things — loss, guilt, stress. You may have a really good life and all that bad stuff may be just a few moments of the video, but when you are depressed, all of the good parts are cut out of the video. The remainder is the bad parts, and it’s stuck playing in your head in a loop. All you see and hear are those times when you didn’t feel loved, when you made a mistake, when someone was mean to you, and a feeling of being truly alone. Your entire existence, in fact, seems to be one giant mistake, and continuing your life can only burden the world with more of your failure. The videos can’t be shut off, and you can’t even remember a time when they weren’t playing. Someone could be talking to you a foot from your face and you literally wouldn’t be able to see or hear them, because your brain is somewhere else. This is how someone like Robin Williams, a man who was loved by so many for his ability to make them feel good, a man who had the resources to do anything he wanted in his life (including obtaining the best doctors that money could buy), could reach a point of desperation to make it all stop — even at the ultimate price — and this is how one of my best friends spent the last few moments of her life.

During the funeral, there were a few people present who were surprisingly upset considering that they didn’t know Andrea all that well, and each of those people ended up telling me that they, too, suffer from depression, and that it could have just as easily been them in that casket. I think it served as a huge wake-up call to them that it’s time to seek treatment now, even though it is difficult and far from certain. I pointed out to them that Andrea could have called anyone in that room when she needed to talk, but didn’t, because no one wants to “share” their depression.

So, the first of the things that I’m hoping we can make better is to remind you (yes, YOU) that if you feel depressed, feel free to call anyone, because more people understand than you might think, and even more people are willing to listen even if they don’t understand. Now is the time to make sure you have a resource to call when you need it, and if you think you’re being a burden on people by calling them, let me assure you that I would give anything to trade this burden of Andrea’s death that I have right now for the burden of talking her through another one of her dark times. It’s also the time to get therapy or medicine if you need it, which I know is hard because finding a therapist you can trust and afford isn’t easy, and taking medicine is scary. But, you probably know if you’re at the point where it’s dangerous for you to continue without assistance, and if you’re there, now’s the time. Two great resource for finding both therapists and psychiatrists are Psychology Today and Zocdoc, both of which let you search by insurance (if you have it) and allow patients to rate their doctors. If you still need help, e-mail me and I will help you personally: jon at professional-troublemaker.com.

The second thing I want to make better is actually relevant to this blog. Andrea lived in Manhattan, and when you report that your girlfriend killed herself, emergency services comes and makes sure you’re ok, tries to comfort you, etc. No, just kidding, of course that’s not what happens… the NYPD comes and holds you as a suspect in her death. Imagine the worst possible moment of your life — losing your closest friend under the worst of circumstances — and then add to that some cops forcing you to go to the precinct and holding you for hours, leaving you in a shitty back room to think about what just happened all by yourself, with no one to talk to. Depriving someone of a shoulder to cry on in such a time has to be one of the most cruel and compassionless acts possible during the worst personal tragedy I’ve yet to encounter. In a city where someone takes their own life every 16 hours, you’d think they’d have worked out a more sensitive way to deal with things.

I’ll be researching further, but my preliminary conclusion is that the police may have had some limited right to hold me briefly under the guise of an “investigative detention” (assuming for a moment that merely reporting a death gives rise to “reasonable suspicion” that you may have caused the death) but case law seems to indicate to me that 1) the duration of the hold, and 2) the forced change of location, violated my rights. Should my further research confirm, I’ll be filing my newest lawsuit within a month or so, as no one else should have to go through what I did and have their tragedy compounded by the police.

NYPD To Assemble 350 Person Team with Machine Guns for Use with “Terrorists” and “Protests”

The tone deafness required to come out and say that you’re assembling a team of men armed with assault rifles to deal with civil protests — the very same team designed to deal with terrorist attacks — is astounding. People would make fun of the stupid things Sarah Palin would say, but this stuff is too scary to make fun of.

Update: NYPD Accepts Coins

A few weeks ago, I mailed the NYPD over $800 in coins to cover some court costs. Initially, it seemed that they refused the shipment, but I just received a check from the NYC Law Department for $8.05, presumably a refund from putting a few too many coins in the box (I got a little excited). Pleasure doing business, po-po! :)

NYPD Court Costs Paid With 20,000+ Coins — Change We Can Believe In!

ReceiptOur “Change We Can Believe In” donation drive to cover $820.15 in costs due from my NYPD stop-and-frisk lawsuitdismissed by a judge who said that I couldn’t prove that the 4 men who detained and unlawfully searched me were actually cops — was a huge success and generated more than enough in donations to cover the fee. Mailed to the city last Thursday was over 16,000 pennies, plus nickles, dimes, quarters, half-dollars (had to order these off eBay — the mint apparently doesn’t circulate half dollars anymore!), and dollar coins, as well as a few small bills to make sure the exact amount fit in the flat-rate Priority Mail box (cost to ship incl. insurance: $25). The package came to over 60 lbs., heavy enough that the post office asked me to carry it into the loading dock for them.

The city, of course, refused the shipment, as online tracking confirmed today. I’ve let the city know that if they want their money, they can arrange pickup, otherwise, I will donate the change to local homeless people (I think it would be interesting to respond to, “Can you spare some change?” with 60 lbs. of coins :) ).

This is just a small part of the coins used in the final product...

This is just a small part of the coins used in the final product…

Box o' Change before the few bank notes were added

Box o’ Change before the few bank notes were added

The final box...

The final box…

A love note to the NYPD's attorney on the case...

A love note to the NYPD’s attorney on the case…

All set to head out to the Ministry...

All set to head out to the Ministry…

NYPD Pays $18M to Settle 2004 RNC Protest Arrests

I grew up with a grandfather who was a retired police captain. Needless to say, respect for police officers was a highlight of my upbringing, and until I moved away from the small town in which I grew up, I never understood why people would feel uncomfortable in the presence of law enforcement.

RNC Protests in Union Square, 2004.  Cell phone camera quality wasn't quite what it is today. :)

RNC Protests in Union Square, 2004. Cell phone camera quality wasn’t quite what it is today. :)

In the summer of 2004, I went to some protests in Union Square, a small park in lower Manhattan near where I was living where political speech was (and still is) a mainstay. I didn’t go to protest — if anything, my 20-year-old self thought it would be more entertaining to watch the crazy hippies, liberals, and even communists ranting on a megaphone about how much they hate George W. Bush. It was, in fact, the first time I met someone who would openly and happily proclaim they were a communist. All very strange to me at the time.

The protesters would be out there almost daily, and I’d probably see them a few times a week. Once in a while, a few cops would come and confiscate a megaphone. You see, use of a “sound amplification device” without a permit is against the law in New York City, and I’ll let you guess who issues the permits. But, everything was always peaceful, and the protesters would continue with just their voices and would collect donations to go buy a new megaphone, which they invariably did, sometimes same day.

The peaceful atmosphere ended as the Republican National Committee’s conference began. There weren’t really that many more protesters than usual in Union Square, but the police presence rapidly grew. Eventually, a few dozen officers lined up and began arresting the people who were speaking. People were thrown to the ground, injured, as they resisted being arrested for doing nothing more than speaking. These protesters were doing nothing that they hadn’t been doing there for the months (really, years) prior, but with the RNC in town, the order was out: protesters go to jail. As they took away the organizers, a friend of mine yelled at the police to stop, at which point they grabbed her and took her away too. My friend, a 20-year-old slender young woman from upstate Privilegeville, NY, was charged with “jumping on an officer’s back.”

At least 2 video cameras captured the incident showing that she did no such thing, and 4 witnesses, including myself, came forward to say that the charge was fabricated. The DA’s office, however, was instructed to prosecute all protesters no matter what, and they took the matter to trial, forcing this girl to endure the possibility of a 1 year prison sentence for doing nothing more than yelling at a cop. Thankfully, a jury deliberated for about 20 minutes before returning a unanimous “not guilty” verdict.

The city fought against over 400 individual lawsuits, plus one class-action lawsuit with another 1,200 victims, by protesters who were arrested and beat their charges (or were never charged). Think about that for a second: during a few weeks of a convention, the city wrongfully arrested over 1,600 people. It took 10 years, but they have finally been given justice: an $18 million settlement has been reached.

The incidents during the RNC cost the city (really, the taxpayers) a huge sum of money. But it also cost them my respect. It’s a sad day when you learn that your government really isn’t there to protect you.

“Change We Can Believe In” Donation Drive

ChangeIn October, I posted that I wouldn’t be pursuing an appeal in my case against stop and frisk, which was dismissed on the theory that I couldn’t prove that the 4 plainclothes cops who stopped and frisked me were actually real police officers (they might have been, you know, just ordinary citizens playing a game!). I think the ruling was wrong, but I felt that I couldn’t effectively pursue that appeal in addition to the two actions I have against the TSA, which are more important to me, especially in light of the advances against stop and frisk made by others this year. Each of these cases I take on generate hundreds of pages of complex legal documents, monetary costs, and stress — all totally worth it, by the way.

As a result, the NYPD asked for, and received, a judgment for their costs in arguing the absurd, over my objections and despite their request for costs being after the deadline set by federal rules. They don’t get attorney’s fees, but court reporting fees, copies, etc., resulted in a bill for $820.15.

I’d like to send them this $820.15 in coins, and I’d like your help! If you have a coin jar that you’ve been filling and would like to use it to make a statement, mail it my way. The USPS Small Flat Rate Box would fit well over $100 in coins and costs $5.80 — potentially less than CoinStar would charge you to count them (no worries, I have access to a free coin counter). If you don’t have coins sitting around, I’d be happy to turn your PayPal, Bitcoin, or check donation into pennies, nickles, dimes, and quarters on your behalf. Here’s how:

  • Coins: Mail to Jonathan Corbett, 228 Park Ave. S. #86952, New York, NY 10003
  • PayPal: Donate here!
  • Bitcoin: 15ftA2938sp7Mnsi8U7wYVmEtd4BRbFnkT
  • Check: Make out to Jonathan Corbett and mail to the address above

Once I get the coins together, I shall assemble them into a sculpture that expresses my feelings towards the NYPD and send it their way. I’ll, of course, post a picture. This, my friends, is change that we can believe in! :-D Thank you in advance for your support and for helping me to not only continue to fight against abusive governments in court, but also to help me make this special message to the NYPD.

NYPD Shoots at Unarmed Man, Hits Bystanders, Charges Man With the Shooting

You can’t make this stuff up.

The New York Times reports that last September, NYPD officers in Times Square came across a mentally disturbed man. When the man reached into his pocket, the cops assumed he was going for a gun (despite it being impossible for the man to have a gun, since guns are illegal in NYC!) and shot at him 3 times. All three shots missed, and two of them hit bystanders. The man was subdued with a Taser and found to have no weapons at all.

Yesterday, it was announced that the man was indicted for assaulting the two bystanders on the theory that he was responsible for the cops being “forced” to shoot at him and injure other people.

The Assistant District Attorney responsible for this assholery is Shannon Lucey. If you’d like to express your outrage, the DA’s office has joined the 21st century and accepts e-mails. No, just kidding, you’ll have to call them (preferably with a rotary phone).

Federal Judge: Suit to Stop NYPD Street Body Scanners Must Wait

nypdscanOn January 28th of this year, I filed the first and only lawsuit against the NYPD’s testing and planned implementation of “street body scanners” — terahertz imaging devices designed to allow cops to peer under the clothes of unsuspecting passersby on the street for guns. In addition to highlighting New York’s longstanding disrespect for the Second Amendment by assuming that anyone bearing arms must be doing so illegally, this tool plainly ignores the Fourth Amendment’s requirement, made clear in Terry v. Ohio, that searches must have cause. By checking underneath the clothing of the public at random, the NYPD proposes to conduct the most widespread and general search ever demanded (outside of the airport checkpoint, of course).

U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe ruled today, however, that the suit must wait because the immanency and effects of the NYPD’s proposed scanner use are, at this time, uncertain and speculative. This issue touches a gray area where, on the one hand, courts are allowed to protect the people from imminent loss of liberty, they must balance this against the constitutional requirement that only a live controversy may be reviewed.

The facts of this matter are that: 1) the NYPD has paid millions of dollars to fund the development of these devices, 2) the NYPD has procured at least one of these devices, and 3) NYPD Commissioner Kelly has stated his intent to begin use of the devices as soon as possible.

I think reasonable people could disagree as to whether this constitutes a situation where a constitutional injury is imminent, and it is, of course, no surprise that any benefit of the doubt be sent the government’s way by a federal judge. As of now, I don’t plan on appealing this ruling, but instead watching for the first sign that the NYPD has brought these machines into public, at which point I will move to re-open the case. Let the NYPD be on notice: if you start to scan the public, you will be sued on Day 1.

Corbett v. City of New York II – Dismissed (.pdf)

A Reminder That Stop-And-Frisk Is Wrong Even If Applied Equally to All Races

You’ve probably seen in the news that last week, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program is unconstitutional. Naturally, I couldn’t agree more. Seven out of eight people stopped under this program were found to be doing absolutely nothing unlawful. And, while the legal justification for stop-and-frisk is officer safety (that is, to find a gun on someone before they use it against the cop making the stop), not to search for general evidence of criminality (for example, to find drugs), 79 out of 80 stopped were not found to have a weapon. That is to say that the police were wrong in their motive for a stop 98.75% of the time.

I see a lot of focus in the media regarding this program being unconstitutional because it was disproportionately applied to racial minorities. This is true, and despite Bloomberg and Kelly’s claims that the inequality is due to the fact that more crime happens in “neighborhoods of color,” studies have shown that 1) even after accounting for the fact that black neighborhoods have more crime than white neighborhoods, the program is *still* disproportional based on race, and 2) blacks who live in white neighborhoods were more likely to be stopped than their white neighbors.

However, I feel like the intense focus on the NYPD’s racism, despite being well-deserved, masks the fact that even if the NYPD were to cure itself of its xenophobia and apply stop-and-frisk equally among all races, the NYPD’s behavior is still unconstitutional, as the judge also ruled. In order to stop someone, an officer must have reasonable suspicion that the person is committing a crime. In order to frisk someone (assuming the officer does not have enough evidence to make an arrest), he must have reason to believe that the person is armed and dangerous (officer safety, remember?). However, far, far too often, the officers have neither of these. Common “reasons” listed on stop-and-frisk paperwork for the searches include “furtive movements,” presence in a “high-crime area,” “suspicious bulge,” and other nonsense that is not indicative of crime or guns, but, quite simply, allows officers to search whomever they want (a bulge can be anything, presence in a bad neighborhood doesn’t indicate you’re committing a crime, and frankly but with respect to those intelligent NYPD officers who do take their job seriously, I would love to see a study done on how many NYPD officers even know what the word “furtive” means). The number of lives Bloomberg and Kelly opine have been saved are also no justification. Those numbers are about as verifiable as the NSA’s count of terrorists stopped by domestic spying or the TSA’s assertion that touching your junk prevents airplanes from being blown out of the sky, and they are also entirely irrelevant: unconstitutional practices are still unconstitutional even if they save lives. The police have an obligation to protect society and do so without trampling our liberties. These two prongs are neither mutually exclusive nor optional.

As one of the ~60,000 caucasian victims of NYPD stop-and frisk in 2011, I would hate to see reforms center around how to apply this unconstitutional, ineffective practice equally. It shouldn’t be applied at all, absent what the U.S. Supreme Court set out in Terry v. Ohio: reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, and specific reasons to think that the particular individual poses a threat to the officer’s safety unless the search were conducted.

Judge Finds Systemic Stop-and-Frisk Abuse, Orders NYPD Officers to Wear Cameras, Change Policy

In a resounding blow to NYPD’s stop-and-frisk, United States District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin has found that the NYPD has committed widespread, systemic abuse of the rights of the people by detaining and searching them without reasonable suspicion.

I skimmed through as much of the 237 page decision as possible before writing, and Judge Scheindlin means business. She appointed an independent monitor to guide the city through adjusting its policies and training to ensure that these violations do not continue, and even went as far as ordering:

… the NYPD to institute a pilot project in which bodyworn cameras will be worn for a one-year period by officers on patrol in one precinct per borough — specifically the precinct with the highest number of stops during 2012.

Very much looking forward to the implementation of the judge’s orders

City v. Floyd – Opinion (.pdf) (the Court’s finding that the NYPD broke the law)
City v. Floyd – Order (the Court’s remedy for the NYPD’s lawbreaking)

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