The NYPD has been caught editing Wikipedia pages related to the deaths of three men, all of whom were killed at the hands of police.
CapitalNewYork traced various edits to the Wikipedia pages of Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo to 1 Police Plaza, the NYPD headquarters.
All of the edits were made to make descriptions of the incidents more favorable to police. Eric Garner was the most recent case edited. In one edit, “Garner raised both his arms in the air” was changed to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke.” This edit seemingly gives the cops some justification in their actions. Deadly force doesn’t make much sense if the man has his arms in the air, but to say he “flailed his arms as he spoke” makes it sound like this was a madman, and the police had no choice but to act as they did, leading to his death.
“[P]ush Garner’s face into the sidewalk” was changed to “push Garner’s head down into the sidewalk.” This makes it sound a little more gentle, making it sound more favorable to police.
“Use of the chokehold has been prohibited” was changed to “Use of the chokehold is legal, but has been prohibited.” Legal but prohibited? That’s going to confuse a few readers. This edit is no different from the others; it tries to make the incident seem more favorable to the police. To say it’s legal but prohibited sounds slightly better than to simply say it’s 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. They just had to do it! That’s what this is trying to say. The man was bigger than the Police officers, so they had no choice to put him in a chokehold and kill him. This is saying they had no other options. No taser, no nothing.
These edits are trying to muddy the waters in the Eric Garner case. Many people aren’t going to look much farther than Wikipedia if they want to know something, and if the police are leaving biased edits, they are going to get biased information. The NYPD told CapitalNewYork they would investigate the edits to determine who within the department may have been behind them, but what exactly do they intend to do to them? Put him on desk duty so he has more time to do even more edit like this? I can’t imagine much happening to the person responsible.
Something like this doesn’t do much to help the declining trust of the police seen across the nation in response to the long list of cases involving unjustified shootings, and other abuses of power. When people hear something like this, it just solidifies their views on police.
Sure, the NYPD isn’t the first to do this. Corporations have done this in the past, and so has the NYPD in other years. Have other departments done the same? Why not? These edits are subtle. Unless you look at the editing history, no one would know. None of them are blatantly obvious. They are subtle edits that make the descriptions subtly more favorable to the police. There is a great chance that elsewhere in the nation police departments have taken part in editing Wikipedia entries. The only difference is when a department such as the NYPD gets caught; it gets some press because of the enormous size of the department.