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  • Protesters demonstrate against police brutality at Grand Central Station, New York City, Jan. 1. 2015.

    Protesters demonstrate against police brutality at Grand Central Station, New York City, Jan. 1. 2015. | Photo: WikiMedia Commons

Published 9 February 2017

Police will now have to hand over undercover footage from "die-in" protests against the police killing of people of color.

A court has called on the New York Police Department to release its footage of its undercover spying on Black Lives Matter protesters after a previous request for the footage was denied by the police department.

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New York Supreme Justice Manuel Mendez ordered Wednesday that the NYPD disclose its surveillance footage of protesters from November 2014 to January 2015. Following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police, demonstrators held peaceful “die-in” protests at New York’s Grand Central Station, where both uniformed and plainclothes police took footage of the protestors.

Activists originally filed the lawsuit against the police department after it denied a freedom of information request for footage and argued that police surveillance could amount to a violation of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

Attorney David Thompson said his client, James Logue — the protester that brought the case to the court — feared that police were “compiling dossiers” on individuals from the peaceful demonstrations.

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Thompson described the decision as a “big victory for activists and freedom of information requests and a rebuke to the NYPD regular response to deny and delay.”

The police argued that releasing the footage would hinder the department's police work, and NYPD assistant intelligence chief John Donahue even claimed that it could expose details of ongoing investigations into terrorism, where protesters could have links to the Islamic State group.

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However, Mendez threw out Donahue’s claims and judged that “generalized references to use of materials by the ISIS or ISIL terrorists, fail to provide a causal connection to the protestors and are insufficient to state a generic risk.”

Mendez added that the NYPD could not demonstrate how releasing the footage with redactions could not protect their ongoing investigations and officers.

The Black Lives Matter movement was born out of a viral hashtag with the same words following a jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The movement has since grown in size and evolved into a wider struggle against police brutality and killings of people of color across the United States and beyond.

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