Cops Surveil Black Lives Matter; U.S. Justice Dept. Abandons All Police Oversight

Press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, NYC

Last week, the Guardian revealed evidence that NYPD [New York Police Dept.] officers had not only surveilled Black Lives Matter organizers in New York City, but infiltrated their meetings and gained access to their text messages. These tactics raise questions about whether the NYPD was violating its own intelligence-gathering rules. (This would not be the first time the NYPD has run afoul of the law; our current case Hassan v. City of New York is another example.)

The evidence of this latest surveillance came as the result of a Freedom of Information Law request filed on behalf of protester James Logue. The power of Freedom of Information requests cannot be understated: In October, CCR filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security for their failure to disclose documents related to the surveillance of members of the Movement for Black Lives. The suit, filed on behalf of Color of Change, followed FOIA requests sent to the agencies in the wake of revelations that federal and local law enforcement have used counterterrorism tactics to surveil protests, protesters, and perceived protest leaders. As CCR staff attorney Omar Farah said, The public has the right to know how and why the federal government is surveilling constitutionally protected activity in response to police violence.

Police violence on a national level was in the headlines this past week when news broke that Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be conducting a review of all consent decrees of police pattern and practice cases. The Department of Justice (DOJ) also had filed for a motion to delay finalizing the consent decree agreed to by the DOJ and the city of Baltimore to address systemic civil rights violations, which a Baltimore federal Judge denied last week. Coupled with the February Trump Executive Orders on law enforcement, the moves by the DOJ signal a break with the role the federal government has played in advocating for police reform nationally. As Vanita Gupta and Corey Stoughton, both formerly of the DOJ, noted in their recent New York Times op-ed, It would be an abdication of the Justice Department’s congressionally mandated responsibilities to ignore these problems.

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