The NYPD has been caught red-handed making anonymous edits to Wikipedia pages for the "Stop and Frisk" policy, as well as pages dedicated to police brutality victims Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and Eric Garner. 1
These weren't corrections to factual inaccuracies, either: this is about a retelling of history. How about changing the word "chokehold," a term used by the medical examiner, to "respiratory distress" on Eric Garner's page? Or urging Wikipedia to delete its "Sean Bell" page entirely, accompanied with the following note: "He [Bell] was in the news for about two months, and now no one except Al Sharpton cares anymore. The police shoot people every day, [at] times with a lot more than 50 bullets. This incident is more news than notable."
These activities on Wikipedia are a blatant attempt to whitewash police brutality in New York City. The NYPD is trying to use whatever means possible to control the narrative around their outrageous behavior, including abusing resources like Wikipedia, which strongly urges its users not to make edits that constitute a conflict of interest. At a time when our mainstream media continues to oftentimes operate as a PR firm for police agencies, this attempt to subvert the purpose of Wikipedia in order to rob Black communities of our own truth and narrative cannot be tolerated.
Just last month Commissioner Bratton admitted to a long history of racism and missteps by the New York Police Department,2 which has contributed to deep distrust between police and black communities. He has also vowed to do what he can to repair that broken relationship. Implicitly supporting any member of the police force that seeks to eradicate the existence of long standing systemic problems and rewrite a history of police violence is not the way for the Commissioner to build community trust and justice.
Besides attempting to sanitize or remove widely documented excessive force cases, changes have also been made to a page about the controversial police practice of "Stop and Frisk". "Stop and Frisk" is an outlawed racial profiling program that generated over 4 million stops between 2002 and 2014, in which nearly 9 out of 10 of those stops were of innocent people.3 On the "Stop and Frisk" Wikipedia page the program, which has been deemed unconstitutional and racist in practice by multiple courts, has been mischaracterized as "reasonable" and justified by editors who have been tracked back to the NYPD.
Wikipedia is the fifth most read and visited website in the world. Its content has been used in academic studies, books, conferences, and court cases. As we continue to demand justice for our communities -- and protection from unjust and, at times, brutal tactics by police -- we cannot allow the NYPD to manipulate and steer the narrative. Their twisting and contorting of the truth about police brutality in our communities sways public opinion, making it harder for us to seize justice, and contributing to the hostile atmosphere for Black people in New York City and nationwide.
Rashad, Arisha, Matt, Brandi, Dallas and the rest of the ColorOfChange team.
1. "Edits to Wikipedia pages on Bell, Garner, Diallo traced to 1 Police Plaza," Capital New York 03-13-15
2. "Bratton Says New York Police Officers Must Fight Bias ," New York Times 02-25-15
3. "Stop-and-Frisk Campaign: About the Issue," NYCLU