Police departments across the country are now being scrutinized following the Justice Department’s report claiming evidence of widespread racial discrimination within the Ferguson, Mo., police department. But a disturbing report by Capital New York asserts that the NYPD may have tried to get ahead of the PR curve by altering pages at Wikipedia that deal with cases in which excessive force by New York’s Finest is believed to have been involved.
The story turns on the allegation that edits to Wikipedia articles on three prominent Big Apple cases — those of Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and most recently Eric Garner — have been traced to IP, or Internet Protocol, addresses at One Police Plaza in New York City. IP addresses are numeric signatures that uniquely identify each computer within a network. Capital New York claims that 85 NYPD IP addresses are implicated.
Among the changes made to Wikipedia entry for Death of Eric Garner are the following:
- “Garner raised both his arms in the air” was changed to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke.”
- “[P]ush Garner’s face into the sidewalk” was changed to “push Garner’s head down into the sidewalk.”
- “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 edits, Capital New York author Kelly Weill writes, were made the evening of Dec. 3, mere hours after a Staten Island grand jury elected not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.
By March 12, Weill continues, three of the edits remained in the Wikipedia article, while the rest were changed back.
Det. Cheryl Crispin, an NYPD spokeswoman, emailed Capital New York with the advice that “the matter is under internal review.”
The notions of police brutality and excessive force are at best subjective. Obviously, a person who is physically restrained by a member of law enforcement — especially a person of color in this day and age — is going to have view of what transpired that is very different from that of the officer involved. But interfering with the already subjective accounts in a quasi-news source like Wikipedia is only going to bolster the perception that the cops have something to hide.