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Activist awaits decision in alleged weapons charge

CRAIG D. FRAZIER Special to the AmNews | 9/21/2012, 12:44 p.m.

A letter-writing campaign and petition may be adding pressure to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who last week announced another postponement in the weapons case of Harlem activist Jazz Hayden.

Over the past few months, supporters have collected over 2,000 signatures on petitions and hundreds have called the district attorney's office demanding that Hayden's charges be dropped.

Last year, the police said they stopped Hayden for a broken taillight. When the officers approached his car, Hayden reached for the center console of his Jeep. According to the criminal complaint, the officers seized a switchblade from the console and a wooden club. Hayden said what they really took were a penknife and a commemorative bat.

"The baseball bat was a 13-inch-long, commemorative edition commonly given out as souvenirs by professional baseball teams," Hayden told the Amsterdam News. "The knife was frozen shut and could not be opened when prosecutors and defense attorneys examined it recently."

Hayden says this is the latest example of out-of-control stop-and-frisk tactics by the NYPD.

"I did absolutely nothing wrong," said Hayden. "The police had no business stopping me. The district attorney needs to do the right thing. They should throw this case out."

He also alleges that he was arrested in retaliation for posting a video of an incident where police engaged in a stop-and-frisk of two young Black men in July of last year. He turned down a plea deal in which he would have performed community service in exchange for admitting guilt to a lesser charge.

"A lot of people come through the system, settling their cases through plea bargains," stated Hayden. "People are busy, working and can't pay legal fees to wait it out. They are treating me like one of those people. They asked for bail, but the judge released me on my own recognizance. It was because of my community service. That's all I do is community service. They are trying to get a grand jury indictment, expecting me to settle for a plea."

Hayden will reach out to elected officials for further support as he continues to put pressure on the district attorney. "The community says that politicians should be representing the community. They should be concerned about this case," he added.

When asked about the Hayden case, Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, replied, "We will decline comment."