Harlem activist receives community service in weapons case (39496)

After more than six months of court continuances, the people agreed to an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal and five days of community service for community activist and longtime Harlem resident Joseph “Jazz” Hayden.

Last December, the police pulled Hayden over, searched his car, found a bat and a switchblade and charged him with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree. Hayden maintains that his arrest was in retaliation for posting a video of an incident where police engaged in a stop-and-frisk of two young Black men last year.

“The people have investigated the defendant’s claim that the stop of the defendant’s car was motivated by retribution on the part of the police for the defendant’s activism in his community,” Joan Vollero of the Manhattan district attorney’s office told the AmNews. “We have found no merit to these claims and have concluded, through interviews with the police and independent evidence, that the stop of the car was lawful. We also believe that the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant.”

The people also concluded that the knife recovered from Hayden’s car did not work, making it hard to go forward with their case. “We also note that although the complaint charges the defendant with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, we determined early in the pendency of this case that we would not go forward with the count relating to a small bat found in the defendant’s car and we so informed defense counsel,” Vollero added.

Once Hayden completes his community service with a court-sponsored agency and serves a six-month probation, his charges for weapons possession will be dropped. Supporters from different organizations, including representatives from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Stop the Mass Incarceration, joined Hayden outside the courthouse, where he thanked everyone for their support.

“So many things came out of this struggle. So many people supported me,” said Hayden. “People saw in me something that the district attorney did not. Some see a transformed human being. Some see a relentless fighter. Others see a community organizer who is committed to his work. There were a lot of reasons why people supported me, but in the end, it was all love.”

Hayden plans to continue his work in the community, which includes spearheading a campaign to end mass incarceration.