In a blatant display of online whitewashing, to borrow from Boing Boing’s headline, the New York Police Department is being investigated for making some self-serving changes to the Wikipedia page about Eric Garner’s death. You know, the death that one of their police officers was directly responsible for causing, as seen on a video made at close range. Not surprisingly, this is not the first time changes made to posts relating to the NYPD have been traced by IP address back to 1 Police Plaza in New York City, but it also won’t be the last time they’ll be called on it. Here are a few examples:
Computer users identified by Capital as working on the NYPD headquarters’ network have edited and attempted to delete Wikipedia entries for several well-known victims of police altercations, including entries for Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo.
NYPD IP addresses have also been used to edit entries on stop-and-frisk, NYPD scandals, and prominent figures in the city’s political and police leadership.
One could argue that there are two sides to every story, and both sides have the right to defend themselves, especially if there is misinformation. That’s fair game. However, when there isn’t particularly inflammatory rhetoric casting a subject in a bad light — in other words, facts are being presented — trying to change things in the name of good PR is going to look rather defensive. That’s being generous. It’s really going to look suspicious:
On the evening of Dec. 3, hours after a Staten Island grand jury ruled not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, a user on the 1 Police Plaza network made multiple edits, visible here and here, to the “Death of Eric Garner” Wikipedia entry. The edits, all concerning the actions of Eric Garner and the police officers involved in the confrontation…
The changes made were turned around to make it look like Eric Garner was responsible for his own killing, embellishing his actions and editorializing his behavior. Here is a list of the most egregious changes:
● “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.”
As of today, March 13, it looks like most of the cop-friendly text is still there, but has been changed slightly from the revisions from December 3; rather than Garner’s arms “flailing,” now they’re “swatting.” The references to “chokehold or headlock” and pushing Garner’s “head down” into the sidewalk instead of his face remain.
The NYPD said they’re conducting an investigation into themselves, so everyone can rest easy.
Fun fact to go along with this truly disturbing development in self-editing: Anonymous users at the NYPD have been making their own changes to all kinds of things. Capital actually developed a program to specifically track all changes made to Wikipedia from the NYPD’s numerous (over 15,000) IP addresses and found “extensive” updates to pages on the Catholic Church, Chumbawamba (yes, that Chumbawamba), and the age of consent in Europe. Plus, some homophobic stuff on the entry about styes.