Computer IP addresses traced to police headquarters in New York City have been used to make edits to the Wikipedia pages of NYPD brutality victims Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and others. Wikipedia is the sixth largest Web site in the world. Anyone can edit and revise entries, which is both the draw and detraction of all so-called “citizen media” like it. “Anyone” includes the state or in this case, the New York City Police Department. It’s unclear whether these edits are part of a directive, performed by individuals or even, how many people are involved. But, over the past decade, “a significant number [of edits] have been to entries that challenge NYPD conduct,” online political news site, Capital New York reports.
Last December for example, hours after a grand jury did not indict officer Daniel Pantaleo, edits to the “Death of Eric Garner” entry included:
- “Use of the chokehold has been prohibited” was changed to “Use of the chokehold is legal, but has been prohibited.”
- The sentence, “Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them,” was added to the description of the incident.
- Instances of the word “chokehold” were replaced twice, once to “chokehold or headlock,” and once to “respiratory distress.”
The legality of the “chokehold” or whether Pantaleo’s action could even be described as a chokehold were key pushback points in the early debate over how Garner died. The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide last August due to “compression of the neck” and to the chest. Chokeholds are banned under NYPD policy.
Regarding Sean Bell, the 23-year-old man whose death hours before his November 2006 wedding day sparked citywide protests, a user on the NYPD network edited the “Sean Bell shooting incident,” on December 2009 to read: “one Latino and two African-American men were shot at a total of fifty times” instead of “one Latino and two African-American men were shot a total of fifty times.” [emphasis Colorlines]
Undercover police officers had fired 50 times at Bell and two friends, all unarmed, after his bachelor party. Bell was hit four times. Joseph Guzman, survived 16 bullet wounds. Trent Benefield reportedly survived three.
Read Capital New York to learn more about their investigation and edits made to other flashpoint topics like, “Stop-and-frisk.”