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New York Police Collected Information on Black Lives Matter Protesters While Undercover

Friday, September 30, 2016 10:42
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  New York police officers stand guard in Rockefeller Center during the demonstrations over Eric Garner’s death. (Tina Leggio / CC 2.0)

In late 2014, a video of the death of Eric Garner prompted nationwide outrage and served as the catalyst for a fresh wave of #BlackLivesMatter protests. Garner, an African-American man, died after being put in a chokehold by a New York Police Department officer. The officer was not indicted.

Now, almost two full years after the initial protests, information has come to light that reveals how the NYPD posted undercover officers at these peaceful demonstrations. “The NYPD disclosed its undercover operations in response to a group of New York attorneys requesting records under the state freedom of information law,” George Joseph of The Guardian reports. “The department has thus far declined to provide the records requested.”

As Joseph points out, however, “August court filings of the records [the NYPD] is refusing to release” contain “new details about its monitoring of protests at Grand Central Station.” According to these filings, the NYPD collected “multimedia records” while participating in undercover operations.

“The attorneys litigating for the records say the NYPD’s newly revealed operations are potential constitutional violations,” Joseph writes. If “multimedia images are being held by the NYPD,” he continues, “they could be a violation of the NYPD’s protest monitoring rules, known as the Handschu guidelines, which are supposed to prevent the department from deploying undercovers or collecting images of protesters solely to keep tabs on their political activity.”

This is not the first time the NYPD’s involvement in Black Lives Matter protests has come to light. Last summer, The Intercept revealed that police in New York “monitored activists, tracking their movements and keeping individual photos of them on file.”

In fact, the records request used by The Intercept to obtain these documents sparked this new set of revelations. Joseph clarifies, however, that “those documents did not confirm whether the NYPD itself was leading its own surveillance operation targeting activists,” whereas the new court filings seem to indicate such a process.

The United States has a long history of conducting surveillance on mass political movements. COINTELPRO, a surveillance program of this nature that began in the 1950s, was exposed in 1971. In fact, a glance at Wikipedia lists a wide array of current U.S. counterintelligence programs.

In the past few weeks, a new series of protests has begun in response to recent police shootings. Black Lives Matter activists in New York have claimed that undercover cops are once again in their midst:

Check out this “protester” at #PeoplesMonday shaking hands with Sgt. Arthur Smarsch:

— Keegan Stephan (@KeeganNYC) September 2, 2016

It’s unclear whether the records in question will be released. “John Donohue, the second highest ranking uniformed officer in the NYPD’s intelligence bureau, argued in an affidavit that the NYPD could not release the records,” Joseph reports, “because public understanding of the undercover operations could help ‘would-be criminals’ learn ‘the circumstances in which the NYPD does not, or cannot, deploy undercover officers.’ ”

—Posted by Emma Niles

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