Harrassment Faced by Filmmaker in New York City

On May 13, 2005, Rakesh Sharma, a well-known filmmaker from India, was harrassed and intimidated by the NYPD, while trying to film in a public space. We suspect that the main reason for this intimidation was racially motivated. Mr. Sharma was in NYC legally, and was not breaking any law. We demand an investigation and prompt action.

To :     Mayor Michael R Bloomberg (FAX : (212) 788-2460)

Cc : 1. Sh. Natwar Singh, Minister for External Affairs, Government of India (jsxp@mea.gov.in)

        2. David C. Mulford, US Ambassador to India (ndcentral@state.gov)

        3.  The United States Department of Justice : Civil Rights Division ( Fax : 202-514-0212

        or  202-514-6273)

        4. Senator Hillary Clinton, New York (Senator_Clinton@clinton.senate.gov)

Dear Sir (s)

We are shocked to hear about the intimidation and harassment faced by the well-known Indian film-maker Rakesh Sharma in New York on May 13, 2005. NYPD personnel ‘detained and interrogated’ him for 3 hours and subjected him to verbal and physical abuse. The details of the incident can be found in the formal complaint filed by him on May 16, 2005 with The Civilian Complaint Review Board, New York. (http://rakeshfilm.com/NYPD/index.htm).

Mr. Rakesh Sharma has been traveling in several countries including USA to screen his film – Final Solution (http://www.rakeshfilm.com/finalsolution.htm). The film has been screened at over 60 international film festivals and has won over a dozen awards. On May 12, 2005, he was invited to present his film in New York at a screening co-organized by Columbia University and New School. As is clear from the sequence of events, the next day, Mr. Sharma was taking street shots of traffic in Manhattan, less than a block away from his hotel, when an NYPD detective accosted him. Even though Mr. Sharma answered each query, produced his identification papers and offered to put the detective in touch with his hosts in New York, he had to face hostile questioning, threats and public humiliation. The detective confiscated his passport, physically pushed him, snatched his camera and among other things said to him: “We know how to deal with you guys, asshole”, clearly a racist remark. Though Mr. Sharma was not formally arrested, he was not free to leave, not allowed to make any phone calls and was ‘interrogated’ by 2 more sets of officers. Finally, detectives of the ‘cold case squad’ at the 17th precinct illegally previewed the footage shot by him even after his identity had firmly and formally been established.

                                                                                      

We would like to register a strong protest against the NYPD and urge you to immediately conduct an enquiry into the episode. We find the ethic of interrogation adopted by the NYPD to be violent, insidious and oppressive. We feel that the NYPD not just violated several of Mr. Sharma’s rights but may possibly have indulged in racial profiling. According to Mr. Sharma – “ Perhaps I was accosted and interrogated because of my brown skin, my beard and the fact that I had a camera”. We urge the United States Department of Justice through its Civil Rights Division to respond, especially in view of its “Initiative to Combat Post-9/11 Discriminatory Backlash”.

Mayor Bloomberg, we urge you to take immediate punitive action against officers responsible for the incident. We hope that a formal apology will be tendered to Mr. Sharma and due compensation will be offered to him for the mental and physical distress suffered by him. May we also urge you to take formal steps to ensure that visitors to New York City are not subjected to such harassment and intimidation by NYPD in the future.

We would like directives to be issued to law enforcement agencies to put an immediate stop to the practice of racial profiling. We oppose and resist the perpetuation of newer and more grotesque forms of violence by state agencies in the name of national security and protest strongly against the consequent violation of peoples’ civil liberties and legal rights. May we suggest that such actions are not just an assault on the US Constitution but on the very concepts of liberty and freedom of expression.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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