Turns out, some of the Wikipedia readers over at NYPD headquarters 1 Police Plaza aren't just browsing — they're making some very real, and major, edits.
Thanks to Capital New York, we now know exactly what Wikipedia edits have been made from computers in the NYPD computer network. While some changes were benign (the entries for Shirley Temple and British band Chumbawamba, for instance), others were a bit more pointed. The entries for Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo were all edited, while users from Police Plaza’s network also attempted to delete the “Sean Bell Shooting Incident” entry, Capital reports.
The justification for the attempt? “[Bell] was in the news for about two months, and now no one except Al Sharpton cares anymore," the user wrote. "The police shoot people every day, and times with a lot more than 50 bullets. This incident is more news than notable.” That's what the user making the change submitted to Wikipedia, alongside the edit. Troubling, both for the lack of respect for human life and for the gravity of a shooting.
Notably, the Capital report discovered that sections of the “New York City Police Department” were also edited, particularly the section concerning police misconduct. A 1,502 section of the “scandals and corruption” section disappeared, for instance, including a sentence claiming “at the end of March, 2006, NYPD started to make changes to this very article in an attempt to censor scandals and corruption information.”
There’s no way of knowing who within NYPD HQ took it upon themselves to become the arbiters of the truth, how many people participated, and whether they were cops or civilians. But, it’s obvious that these were blatant attempts to censor criticism of the police force; in the Eric Garner page, changes were made that subtly avert blame from the police. “Garner raised both his arms in the air” was changed to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke,” and a sentence noting Garner’s size and continued struggling was added.
Deleting online criticism of the police force, however, isn’t going to solve the NYPD’s problems. Police brutality has been an ongoing issue facing this nation over the years — and it's widely being discussed well beyond Wikipedia and Al Sharpton, especially with the federal government providing military equipment to local law enforcement. Last week, Scandal took on the issue. And, tonight, HBO is airing a VICE episode investigating the same issue, with some very powerful images and voices sharing some surprising ideas. Below, a clip from the episode that looks back at 1999’s WTO protest, where nonviolent protesters were teargassed by local police. Norm Stamper, the former Seattle police chief in charge of handling the disastrous protest, deemed that move “really really foolish.”
Since stepping down, Stamper has become one of the most outspoken critics of the rise of military-like force among cops. “When we dress police officers like soldiers, they’re likely to act like soldiers,” Stamper said. “Soldiers follow orders for a living. Police officers make decisions for a living. When that kind of mentality… is trotted out in virtually everyday use, we got a problem.” And, that problem? It can’t be solved with Wikipedia scrubs.