Shawn Randall Thomas and his Many Battles Against Cops in NYC
Shawn Randall Thomas
Six days before my seventh birthday, a television movie aired that would have a serious impact on my world view. It was titled The Marcus-Nelson Murders, and it was the pilot episode for the television series Kojak.
It was set in New York City and that episode depicted a young, intellectually underdeveloped black male being abused and framed for crimes by members of the New York City Police Department.
I recall desperately wanting to expose that abuse; I don’t believe that feeling has ever left me. I think it was that TV movie that developed the lens through which I would forever view law enforcement officers in specific, and government officials in general.
My personal experience from childhood through adulthood did nothing to change my view of law enforcement. In fact, my experiences only sharpened my focus on government corruption; so as an adult I would pick up the camera to expose that corruption.
I believe it was in the summer of 2002 when I actively began documenting police activity in New York; I did so surreptitiously so I did not meet with much resistance.
It was in 2004 during the Republican National Convention in New York City when the proverbial “shit hit the fan”.
I was confronted, and threatened by the NYPD, the FBI, the United States Secret Service, the United States Marine Corps, the United States Marshals, the Bureau of Prisons and the New York National Guard as well as other law enforcement officers who refused to identify themselves.
Initially, I experienced the fear and intimidation, but those feelings quickly transformed into anger and determination likely due to my predisposition to question the integrity and legitimacy of any “governmental” acts.
How dare these agents of government tell me what I can or can not do and threaten my freedom for simply taking photos?
I can recall some thugs from the U.S. Marshalls Service storming across a street in lower Manhattan during the Republican National Convention to confront me for photographing federal agents as they held a guy on his knees on the sidewalk because he had the audacity to walk the streets near 26 Federal Plaza dressed in his religious, and cultural garments in the still glooming shadow of 9/11.
I retreated fearing that I would be physically battered, and I sought guidance from the local ACLU. I recall it being a bit complex to get a meeting with them, but I was informed that anything that I could see with my eyes was fair game to shoot with my camera. I began doing research in law from that point forward.
In 2006, I returned to the area where those U.S. Marshalls confronted me during the convention, just to see if I would be harassed for pointing my camera in the direction of a federal building.
The FBI arrested me for doing just that. I was taken into the building, chained to a wall and questioned about involvement with the bombing in London that occurred in July of 2005.
The two young FBI agents that questioned me struck me as stupid juveniles living out some spy movie fantasies. They stood in front of me with an 8" x 10” photo of what was supposed to be me rattling off a criminal history in an attempt to intimidate me, informing me that I would never see daylight again.
What struck me more than anything else was that I could see that photo, and it clearly was not a photo of me, yet they believed it to be me. I recall thinking to myself that we really do all look the same to these folks.
I was released with a summons to return to federal court. When I went to court, the matter was adjourned indefinitely. I recall what I was told amounted to, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”.
So after not receiving that call, quite naturally I returned to that same site with my camera in 2009, and I was arrested again; this time it was the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that arrested me.
On August 17, 2009, at approximately 5:40pm, a group of incompetent and inept federal officials were able to convince Federal Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV to sign a warrant to seize and search my camera, which they held for several months.
At the time, my camera and I were already seized, and in federal custody prior to that warrant being issued. I learned first-hand that no government official is immune against incompetence and corruption; and their integrity is simply illusory.
That arrest brought me together with Carlos Miller of Photography is Not a Crime,”, who wrote about the incident, which led to further media attention.
In one of the subsequent articles, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson unwittingly admitted guilt about the confiscation of my camera, which I believe is what finally sparked the interest of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Christopher Dunn of the NYCLU picked up my case, fighting both the 2009 arrest, and that indefinitely adjourned prior FBI arrest, getting them both dismissed. He then began drafting a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security.
Three months after my second arrest by the feds in 2009, a man named Antonio Musumeci was also arrested by the feds for his photography in lower Manhattan, so Chris Dunn added him to the lawsuit.
Musumeci eventually became the lead plaintiff in that suit which resulted in what some refer to as “The 2010 DHS Memo” that was supposed to prohibit law enforcement officers from harassing citizens for pointing their cameras at federal buildings nationwide.
However, from then until now, I’ve been arrested and prosecuted numerous times in what I like to think of as both my “Continuing Adult Education” and “On The Job Training” as they are expediting my law studies while forcing me into the practice of law, though neither were my desires.
So far, I haven’t lost a single case acting as my own lawyer; I’ve developed skills in writing effective legal briefs, and motions; I’ve developed the courtroom confidence necessary to make oral arguments; I’ve been able to cross examine the typical lying cop on the witness stand, extract testimony that makes it unnecessary for me to put on a defense; and make effective arguments to a jury. I’ve even made new law and reaffirmed existing law through my legal battles as you can read here.
What’s most impressive, in my opinion, is that I dropped out of high school, yet in at least three of the cases that I “won,” I was up against a Harvard Law graduate who was a standout in her graduating class.
I’ve adopted the belief that the worst thing that one can do when dealing with a challenge from the government is to give in. I've learned to never surrender as bullies are always cowards, and cowards are never to be feared. They are to be fought at all cost; it’s the same school of thought that tells us to “Never give in to the terrorist."
So whether it's a cop on the street or a judge in the courtroom, never give in; never surrender; fight through the fear, as it develops character.
One may want to be very selective with ones choice of words in a courtroom, however, outside of the courtroom one can be as colorful and creative with one’s language as one is inspired to be.
Various videos that I’ve posted to YouTube of my interactions with cops demonstrate that there is no reason to fear, or bend when confronted by cowards who hide behind a badge, and an illusion of authority.
I am known for using profanity while standing up for my rights as you can see in the above video compilation.
Over the years I’ve received very many opinions on how I handle police encounters. Most folks simply enjoy what they may perceive as my offending the police; then there are the others, the folks who believe that my actions, or choice of words were unnecessary, or inappropriate.
More often than not, those who object to how I handle those encounters will share an opinion that explains why they object to how I handled the situation; never are those opinions grounded in actual law. Often their opinions are grounded in misnomer, and other nonsense that they mistakenly believed to be law; and then there are those who would not give a rat’s ass for the law, they believe that the supposed “law enforcer” is the law.
I’ve learned a lot but my education continues. I believe that I have a lot to offer others who seek to be free. I want to use this opportunity, and this platform to share information that will assist others in their fight.
I believe too many folks are being misled into a false belief that the struggles we face have a political solution, are based on “race,” and require an organized group effort to overcome.
I am a firm believer in the power of the individual; if we the people truly want change we can start with replacing “Yes We Can” with “Yes I Will.”