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Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

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NYPD

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part II)

disapproval
Not so fast, Mr. Corbett…

In March I wrote Part I of my journey to see if the rumors are true that it’s impossible for the average citizen to get a license to carry a handgun in New York City.  Part I described the application, $430 filing fee, and then the follow-up where the City asked for more than 2 dozen additional pieces of documentation, all of which I provided but could not seem to get in touch with the NYPD officer assigned to investigate my application.

Well, just a day after posting and sharing on Twitter with a tag to NYPD’s official @NYPDnews account, which spiked traffic to the blog on the order of several thousands of viewers, I suddenly got an e-mail from the licensing officer saying that he noticed we had difficulty reaching each other and scheduling an interview.   I’ll never know if making it public was what did it, but I suspect it may have helped.  (BTW, if you don’t yet follow me on Twitter, add me!)

I met with Officer Barberio, who was a friendly guy and took only a few minutes of my time to tell me that my background was clear but my “reason” for wanting a license probably wouldn’t make it past the higher-ups that would have a look at the application.  You see, New York law requires people who want to exercise their right to bear arms to give a reason.  The reason can be self-defense, but the applicant, apparently, must show a need for self-defense greater than the average citizen.  Gun licenses in New York are issued by county, and many counties apparently are lenient on this requirement, but not those comprising New York city.

Officer Barberio also clarified a few anomalies regarding the paperwork.  He explained that despite the forms available from the NYPD stating that one must have a business reason for applying to carry a handgun, you can ignore that part and state a personal reason.  He explained that the requirement to have your roommate’s consent, if you live with someone else, isn’t a bar to getting a license, but would result in them interviewing your roommate.  And, he explained that reference letters are no longer required, even though his form letter to me weeks prior insisted that they are.

About 3 weeks later, a letter appears from the NYPD.  Its title was “NOTICE OF DISAPPROVAL,” and explained the NYPD’s position regarding the requirement of showing a need.  The letter cited Kachalsky v. Cacace, by which it really meant Kachalsky v. County. of Westchester, 701 F.3d 81 (2d Cir. 2012), wherein the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the provision of New York law that allowed the state to demand a “reason.”

The only problem?  In the meantime, two other circuits of the Court of Appeals have ruled otherwise.   Middle America got its decision in Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933 (7th Cir. 2012, Posner, J.) and the west coast got it in Peruta v. San Diego, 742 F.3d 1144 (9th Cir. 2014).  Peruta is pending an en banc (larger set of judges) review that should be (re-)decided any day now.  I shall wait for that decision before I file suit, and in the meantime have filed an administrative appeal with the NYPD.

Stay tuned for Part III this summer…🙂


Fighting for civil rights in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against government assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part I)

If you ask a random person living in NYC how hard it is to get a gun license, they will probably tell you that if you want a license to carry a gun, you have to be a cop, work as a security guard, or “know someone” (i.e., be rich and have donated to the right politician or organization).  The thing is, I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t fit into one of those categories who had actually tried, and in light of semi-recent Supreme Court rulings that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right, not limited to “militias,” I figured it was about time to put it to the test.

nycgunlicense
What you need to apply for a NYC gun license — to start!

I gathered all the forms together, went down to “1 Police Plaza” — the NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan, and was promptly told I could not apply because I didn’t have an ID card issued by the New York DMV.  Apparently a Florida driver’s license, a social security card, and a U.S. passport were insufficient to prove who I am, even though all of those are sufficient to get the New York DMV to give me an ID card.

But, no problem.  A New York ID lasting for 8 years turns out to be a $12 investment.  My complete, “accepted” (as in, they were willing to consider it) application is pictured above: 1 three-page application, 1 letter of necessity, 1 letter explaining any checkboxes you may have checked that need explanation (Ever had a speeding ticket?  That needs to be explained!), 1 letter from your roommate approving of your license or an affidavit that you have no roommate (My 2nd Amendment rights are contingent on my roommate’s permission?), 1 affidavit from someone willing to take possession of my guns if I die, 2 photos, 1 New York ID, 1 U.S. passport, 1 social security card, and $429.75.  Oh, and a copy of my business tax return.

Business tax return?  In order to apply to carry a firearm in New York City, you must provide a business reason.  This seems likely to be ruled unconstitutional if challenged today in light of the new Supreme Court rulings, but I happen to run a business for which I have the necessity to get a gun license: I am a civil rights advocate, I need a license to exercise my civil rights, and thanks to your donations over the last 5+ years, I file a business tax return annually.

The application also asks a lot of extremely personal and seemingly irrelevant questions.  Have you ever been fired from a job?  Taken a sedative medication or pain killer (you’re checking yes if you’ve ever had surgery)?  Testified before Congress?  The NYPD wants to know.  If your answer to any of the above is yes, add that to your explanation form next to your speeding ticket explanation.  For all of these questions, I checked no box and explained on the form that I refuse to answer because they are irrelevant.

But, apparently that’s good enough to get the app in processing.  After everything is paid for, fingerprints are taken (included in that $429.75 fee, which, by the way, is non-refundable if you are denied a license, and lasts for only 2 years assuming you do).  A few days later (shockingly promptly), I get a letter from the officer assigned to examine my case:

Corbett Gun License App Reply (.pdf)

The reply is a request for *25* more documents that the NYPD needs to complete my application.  Some of the highlights include:

  • 3 letters of recommendation, notarized and signed by people who know you for at least 5 years but are not family members
  • The original court records for any of those speeding tickets you listed on your application
  • A letter from your doctor describing your mental illness (funny, since I checked “no” on the “is a doctor treating you for a mental illness” box on the app)
  • 6 months of bank withdrawal slips
  • Pictures of your business, inside and out
  • A whole lot of tax records

I’m really good at paperwork, so I compiled everything (or explained why I cannot, or will not, be getting them a particular document).  The letter says that once I do that, I should call Police Officer Thomas Barberio.

So I called.  And I called.  And I called…

callproof

No less than 10 times on 7 different days.  Officer Barberio is, it seems, never around.  So I sent a fax.  No reply.

For Part II of my journey, I head back to 1 Police Plaza to see if we can find Officer Barberio or his supervisor.  Stay tuned.


Fighting for civil rights in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against government assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

New York Tragedy: The Death of Kalief Browder

I wish I were writing this week about how the TSA misses 95% of weapons when screeners are covertly tested, how they “reassigned” the TSA acting director as a result, or how the TSA hired people on its own terror watch list as screeners. But since apparently no one actually is targeting our skies anymore (as clearly the TSA is not stopping anyone), the TSA is now merely a joke.

What’s not a joke is that a 22-year-old man is dead in New York, a suicide spurred by a systematic violation of his rights by the courts, “New York’s Boldest” (The NYC Department of Corrections), and the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. Kalief Browder was arrested when he was just 16 years old, accused of stealing a backpack. He plead not guilty and asked for a speedy trial, but because of delays by the NYC DA’s office, he was held for 3 years without trial before a judge told the city they had to let him go. A total of 31 court dates were scheduled, most resulting in an adjournment at the DA’s office’s request.

If that’s not bad enough, he experienced significant abuse and neglect on Rikers Island, the notorious NYC jail. Video taped beatings by guards, absurdly long stints in seclusion in solitary confinement, and abuse by his fellow inmates were this man’s life for more than 1,000 days without being convicted of a crime. While there is evidence that he may not have committed the crime in the first place, he likely would have served months — or less — had he merely plead guilty. Traumatized by his experience and struggling to integrate back into society after having those pivotal years taken from him, he took his own life last Saturday.

What does it say about our justice system that asking for a trial can result in spending more time in jail than pleading guilty, even if the result of the trial is a not guilty finding? What kind of judge refuses to release this man on a reasonable bail (or on his own recognizance) once they realize, “Hey! He’s already been in jail longer than we’d keep him if he were tried and convicted?!” What kind of DA postpones a man’s fate dozens of times because he can’t manage to prepare for a simple trial over 36 months? And where did our constitutional right to a speedy trial go??

Amendment VI – “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

I hope there will be protests — I will be there. In the meantime, if you’d like to express your thoughts on the matter: Robert T. Johnson, Bronx District Attorney, 198 East 161st Street, Bronx, NY 10451, ph: 718-590-2312, fax: 718-590-2198, angueirl@bronxda.nyc.gov

Depression, Loss, & The NYPD

This is a partially off-topic post about something very personal to me, but something I feel compelled to share because there are a couple of things that I think we can make better, and I’d like to raise awareness to those issues.  First, the off-topic back story.

About a month before I published my big TSA video in 2012, I met a woman who inspired me to do a lot of things. We dated for almost a year, remaining inseparable even after the dating concluded, and started a music company together that helps me to fulfill perhaps the only part of me that brings about more passion than fighting government abuse. Andrea was an awesome partner to have, whether we were heading to a protest or weaseling our way backstage at a music festival to network with the VIPs. She always encouraged my advocacy, even acting as my process server for my suit against NYPD’s street body scanners.

We accomplished so much together despite the fact that she suffered from serious depression, which, looking back, was getting worse as time passed. Starting from very young, we’re all taught that there is help for people who are depressed. But sadly, help is often times difficult and expensive, and even when you manage to get it, it doesn’t always work. I learned that a good therapist in New York can charge $250 per hour and often doesn’t accept insurance (making weekly treatments $13,000 annually). I learned that prescribing anti-depressants is a lot like rolling a dice and hoping that the pill you takes makes you better rather than worse. I learned that even if you are hospitalized for your depression at the best psychiatric hospital in New York, there is no treatment — they literally just observe you until you feel better (or pretend to, such that you can leave).

Andrea took her own life last month. She was 38 years old.

If you saw her funeral, her Facebook, or the celebration of her life that we held for her, you would have seen that she was incredibly loved by a number of people that was shockingly large, even to me, knowing her as well as I did. Andrea Playing at Cielo NYC But, when you’re depressed, you don’t see that. I know that I didn’t really understand depression before I me her, so let me try to explain depression as I’ve come to understand it, as someone who doesn’t suffer from it directly: Imagine watching a video of the highlights your life that contains all the good things — friendships, laughter, successes — as well as all of the bad things — loss, guilt, stress. You may have a really good life and all that bad stuff may be just a few moments of the video, but when you are depressed, all of the good parts are cut out of the video. The remainder is the bad parts, and it’s stuck playing in your head in a loop. All you see and hear are those times when you didn’t feel loved, when you made a mistake, when someone was mean to you, and a feeling of being truly alone. Your entire existence, in fact, seems to be one giant mistake, and continuing your life can only burden the world with more of your failure. The videos can’t be shut off, and you can’t even remember a time when they weren’t playing. Someone could be talking to you a foot from your face and you literally wouldn’t be able to see or hear them, because your brain is somewhere else. This is how someone like Robin Williams, a man who was loved by so many for his ability to make them feel good, a man who had the resources to do anything he wanted in his life (including obtaining the best doctors that money could buy), could reach a point of desperation to make it all stop — even at the ultimate price — and this is how one of my best friends spent the last few moments of her life.

During the funeral, there were a few people present who were surprisingly upset considering that they didn’t know Andrea all that well, and each of those people ended up telling me that they, too, suffer from depression, and that it could have just as easily been them in that casket. I think it served as a huge wake-up call to them that it’s time to seek treatment now, even though it is difficult and far from certain. I pointed out to them that Andrea could have called anyone in that room when she needed to talk, but didn’t, because no one wants to “share” their depression.

So, the first of the things that I’m hoping we can make better is to remind you (yes, YOU) that if you feel depressed, feel free to call anyone, because more people understand than you might think, and even more people are willing to listen even if they don’t understand. Now is the time to make sure you have a resource to call when you need it, and if you think you’re being a burden on people by calling them, let me assure you that I would give anything to trade this burden of Andrea’s death that I have right now for the burden of talking her through another one of her dark times. It’s also the time to get therapy or medicine if you need it, which I know is hard because finding a therapist you can trust and afford isn’t easy, and taking medicine is scary. But, you probably know if you’re at the point where it’s dangerous for you to continue without assistance, and if you’re there, now’s the time. Two great resource for finding both therapists and psychiatrists are Psychology Today and Zocdoc, both of which let you search by insurance (if you have it) and allow patients to rate their doctors. If you still need help, e-mail me and I will help you personally: jon at professional-troublemaker.com.

The second thing I want to make better is actually relevant to this blog. Andrea lived in Manhattan, and when you report that your girlfriend killed herself, emergency services comes and makes sure you’re ok, tries to comfort you, etc. No, just kidding, of course that’s not what happens… the NYPD comes and holds you as a suspect in her death. Imagine the worst possible moment of your life — losing your closest friend under the worst of circumstances — and then add to that some cops forcing you to go to the precinct and holding you for hours, leaving you in a shitty back room to think about what just happened all by yourself, with no one to talk to. Depriving someone of a shoulder to cry on in such a time has to be one of the most cruel and compassionless acts possible during the worst personal tragedy I’ve yet to encounter. In a city where someone takes their own life every 16 hours, you’d think they’d have worked out a more sensitive way to deal with things.

I’ll be researching further, but my preliminary conclusion is that the police may have had some limited right to hold me briefly under the guise of an “investigative detention” (assuming for a moment that merely reporting a death gives rise to “reasonable suspicion” that you may have caused the death) but case law seems to indicate to me that 1) the duration of the hold, and 2) the forced change of location, violated my rights. Should my further research confirm, I’ll be filing my newest lawsuit within a month or so, as no one else should have to go through what I did and have their tragedy compounded by the police.

NYPD To Assemble 350 Person Team with Machine Guns for Use with “Terrorists” and “Protests”

The tone deafness required to come out and say that you’re assembling a team of men armed with assault rifles to deal with civil protests — the very same team designed to deal with terrorist attacks — is astounding. People would make fun of the stupid things Sarah Palin would say, but this stuff is too scary to make fun of.

Update: NYPD Accepts Coins

A few weeks ago, I mailed the NYPD over $800 in coins to cover some court costs. Initially, it seemed that they refused the shipment, but I just received a check from the NYC Law Department for $8.05, presumably a refund from putting a few too many coins in the box (I got a little excited). Pleasure doing business, po-po!🙂

NYPD Court Costs Paid With 20,000+ Coins — Change We Can Believe In!

ReceiptOur “Change We Can Believe In” donation drive to cover $820.15 in costs due from my NYPD stop-and-frisk lawsuitdismissed by a judge who said that I couldn’t prove that the 4 men who detained and unlawfully searched me were actually cops — was a huge success and generated more than enough in donations to cover the fee. Mailed to the city last Thursday was over 16,000 pennies, plus nickles, dimes, quarters, half-dollars (had to order these off eBay — the mint apparently doesn’t circulate half dollars anymore!), and dollar coins, as well as a few small bills to make sure the exact amount fit in the flat-rate Priority Mail box (cost to ship incl. insurance: $25). The package came to over 60 lbs., heavy enough that the post office asked me to carry it into the loading dock for them.

The city, of course, refused the shipment, as online tracking confirmed today. I’ve let the city know that if they want their money, they can arrange pickup, otherwise, I will donate the change to local homeless people (I think it would be interesting to respond to, “Can you spare some change?” with 60 lbs. of coins🙂 ).

This is just a small part of the coins used in the final product...
This is just a small part of the coins used in the final product…
Box o' Change before the few bank notes were added
Box o’ Change before the few bank notes were added
The final box...
The final box…
A love note to the NYPD's attorney on the case...
A love note to the NYPD’s attorney on the case…
All set to head out to the Ministry...
All set to head out to the Ministry…

NYPD Pays $18M to Settle 2004 RNC Protest Arrests

I grew up with a grandfather who was a retired police captain. Needless to say, respect for police officers was a highlight of my upbringing, and until I moved away from the small town in which I grew up, I never understood why people would feel uncomfortable in the presence of law enforcement.

RNC Protests in Union Square, 2004.  Cell phone camera quality wasn't quite what it is today. :)
RNC Protests in Union Square, 2004. Cell phone camera quality wasn’t quite what it is today.🙂

In the summer of 2004, I went to some protests in Union Square, a small park in lower Manhattan near where I was living where political speech was (and still is) a mainstay. I didn’t go to protest — if anything, my 20-year-old self thought it would be more entertaining to watch the crazy hippies, liberals, and even communists ranting on a megaphone about how much they hate George W. Bush. It was, in fact, the first time I met someone who would openly and happily proclaim they were a communist. All very strange to me at the time.

The protesters would be out there almost daily, and I’d probably see them a few times a week. Once in a while, a few cops would come and confiscate a megaphone. You see, use of a “sound amplification device” without a permit is against the law in New York City, and I’ll let you guess who issues the permits. But, everything was always peaceful, and the protesters would continue with just their voices and would collect donations to go buy a new megaphone, which they invariably did, sometimes same day.

The peaceful atmosphere ended as the Republican National Committee’s conference began. There weren’t really that many more protesters than usual in Union Square, but the police presence rapidly grew. Eventually, a few dozen officers lined up and began arresting the people who were speaking. People were thrown to the ground, injured, as they resisted being arrested for doing nothing more than speaking. These protesters were doing nothing that they hadn’t been doing there for the months (really, years) prior, but with the RNC in town, the order was out: protesters go to jail. As they took away the organizers, a friend of mine yelled at the police to stop, at which point they grabbed her and took her away too. My friend, a 20-year-old slender young woman from upstate Privilegeville, NY, was charged with “jumping on an officer’s back.”

At least 2 video cameras captured the incident showing that she did no such thing, and 4 witnesses, including myself, came forward to say that the charge was fabricated. The DA’s office, however, was instructed to prosecute all protesters no matter what, and they took the matter to trial, forcing this girl to endure the possibility of a 1 year prison sentence for doing nothing more than yelling at a cop. Thankfully, a jury deliberated for about 20 minutes before returning a unanimous “not guilty” verdict.

The city fought against over 400 individual lawsuits, plus one class-action lawsuit with another 1,200 victims, by protesters who were arrested and beat their charges (or were never charged). Think about that for a second: during a few weeks of a convention, the city wrongfully arrested over 1,600 people. It took 10 years, but they have finally been given justice: an $18 million settlement has been reached.

The incidents during the RNC cost the city (really, the taxpayers) a huge sum of money. But it also cost them my respect. It’s a sad day when you learn that your government really isn’t there to protect you.

“Change We Can Believe In” Donation Drive

ChangeIn October, I posted that I wouldn’t be pursuing an appeal in my case against stop and frisk, which was dismissed on the theory that I couldn’t prove that the 4 plainclothes cops who stopped and frisked me were actually real police officers (they might have been, you know, just ordinary citizens playing a game!). I think the ruling was wrong, but I felt that I couldn’t effectively pursue that appeal in addition to the two actions I have against the TSA, which are more important to me, especially in light of the advances against stop and frisk made by others this year. Each of these cases I take on generate hundreds of pages of complex legal documents, monetary costs, and stress — all totally worth it, by the way.

As a result, the NYPD asked for, and received, a judgment for their costs in arguing the absurd, over my objections and despite their request for costs being after the deadline set by federal rules. They don’t get attorney’s fees, but court reporting fees, copies, etc., resulted in a bill for $820.15.

I’d like to send them this $820.15 in coins, and I’d like your help! If you have a coin jar that you’ve been filling and would like to use it to make a statement, mail it my way. The USPS Small Flat Rate Box would fit well over $100 in coins and costs $5.80 — potentially less than CoinStar would charge you to count them (no worries, I have access to a free coin counter). If you don’t have coins sitting around, I’d be happy to turn your PayPal, Bitcoin, or check donation into pennies, nickles, dimes, and quarters on your behalf. Here’s how:

  • Coins: Mail to Jonathan Corbett, 228 Park Ave. S. #86952, New York, NY 10003
  • PayPal: Donate here!
  • Bitcoin: 15ftA2938sp7Mnsi8U7wYVmEtd4BRbFnkT
  • Check: Make out to Jonathan Corbett and mail to the address above

Once I get the coins together, I shall assemble them into a sculpture that expresses my feelings towards the NYPD and send it their way. I’ll, of course, post a picture. This, my friends, is change that we can believe in!😀 Thank you in advance for your support and for helping me to not only continue to fight against abusive governments in court, but also to help me make this special message to the NYPD.

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