New York Law Enforcement May Have Destroyed Historical Surveillance Documents

August 12, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

While researching for her new book about the Young Lords — a radical Puerto Rican 1960’s group that turned militant — Baruch College Professor Johanna Fernandez was surprised to find that the NYPD did not have the records of the group’s surveillance. Fernandez found them all on her own. After discovering many of these documents proving intense monitoring and intervention by the special services division, Fernandez was told by NYPD officials that they had “no records that would satisfy her requests for information about surveillance of the Young Lords.” The New York Times reports:

The Police Department’s failure to produce documents that once existed has prompted questions about how certain municipal records are maintained. It has also raised the issue, still relevant in light of recent disclosures of police monitoring of Muslims and political activists, of how and when surveillance records are made available to the public.

The NYPD’s inability to provide documents for this case has prompted a lawsuit in the State Supreme Court from lawyer Gideon O. Oliver, who ordered the police to locate and produce the files Fernandez requested. “If the documents have been destroyed, that’s a tremendous loss and something New Yorkers deserve to know,” he said.

Fernandez agrees that the documents are of historic and political importance. “Part of the story of the Young Lords involves police infiltration and the criminalization of protest and dissent,” she explained. “And unless historians have access to these police records, we can’t fully understand why the movements of the 1960’s declined.” (Photo: National Young Lords)