Decades-old records detailing the NYPD's monitoring of the Puerto Rican activist group the Young Lords during the 1960s and 1970s have been found in a Queens warehouse. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.
The records documented the NYPD's conduct during the civil rights movement. But somehow, according to the department, hundreds of boxes of files detailing its surveillance of activists from 1955 to 1972 were lost, until now.
"Nation of Islam files, and I am not just talking about a few folders," said civil rights attorney Gideon Oliver. "According to the index, there are several boxes. There are boxes of surveillance of the Black Panther Party. There are boxes of records related to the Columbia University antiwar uprising."
Baruch College Professor Johanna Fernandez fought the NYPD for 10 years for records detailing the surveillance of the Puerto Rican activist group The Young Lords. She ended up seeking the so-called Handshu files documenting surveillance of all activists in the '60s and '70s.
"We are talking about approximately a million documents involving the histories, activities and efforts of New Yorkers," Fernandez said.
A judge actually tossed out a lawsuit Fernandez filed, ruling the city and the NYPD proved they couldn't find the documents, which a federal court had ordered preserved. But this week, the Department of Records and Information services said it found those documents during a routine inventory at a Queens warehouse. There could be more than 500 boxes.
"This is going to be the most complete record of police files, of surveillance of political activities, I would venture to say in existence," Oliver said.
For Felipe Luciano, a co-founder of the Young Lords, this is personal. He says police illegally infiltrated many groups with the help of informants. There were violent and deadly clashes, and still a lot of questions that may have answers in those NYPD records.
"Imagine the person who was next to Malcolm, is the one who said, 'My wallet, somebody took my wallet,' and that's when they shot him. Imagine the Nation of Islam finding out who were the rats," Luciano said.
The city says it could be months before the files are made public and that, of course, some information won't be released because of privacy concerns.