Once again, Black activists and organizers are demanding our society transform itself and land on the right side of history. However, the state has chosen to greet this opportunity with increased violence and surveillance, doubling down on its commitment to undermine and disrupt Black-led movements for justice by criminalizing & attacking them. When the FBI was exposed for labeling participants of the Ferguson & nationwide uprisings “Black Identity Extremists,” we recognized the spirit of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO was alive and well. Is this the legacy that the U. S. government wants to uphold? 60+year-old patterns of social change and state repression are yet again active. More frightening, however, are the cruel new tools added since that time, heralding an even uglier chapter in American history should we fail to #ProtectBlackDissent.
Ironically, protests against police violence are being met with more police violence. Outcry against police violence has been answered with tear gas and rubber bullets. 60 years ago in Birmingham, it was fire hoses & dogs. 6 years ago in Ferguson, it was tanks and armored trucks. Today, it’s tanks, tear gas, and advanced surveillance & tracking technology: facial recognition cameras, StingRay devices that trick nearby cellphones & steal data, automated license plate readers, high-altitude spy planes and drones fitted with night vision & infrared sensors. The list of insidious tools deployed to identify, track, entrap and arrest protesters is staggering–and still growing.
In turning tools like this against us, the FBI & local law enforcement are effectively treating us like threats to justice for refusing to accept the harm done to Black people as the status quo. Such tools fundamentally shift the balance of power; for refusing to be killed by police, we have been deemed a criminal threat and treated as such. There is no time left. Congress must step in and fulfil their duty come to our aid.
The FBI’s 2017 intelligence assessment report warned 18,000 local law enforcement agencies that Black activism against police violence is a domestic threat, labelling us “Black Identity Extremists” in the process. In 2019, MediaJustice, ACLU and dozens of supporting organizations brought these concerns to the FBI & Congressional leadership. But rather than end the false and racist criminalization of Black-led movements, the FBI continues to lie to Congress. Feining change, the FBI now lumps Black activists with white supremacists under the “Racially Motivated Violent Extremist” designation while moving forward with COINTELPRO’s 21st century successor, code-named Iron Fist.
Congress has so far failed to hold the FBI accountable for the extensive targeting & criminalization of our movements. Right now, the FBI is supporting & resourcing local police efforts to hunt, intimidate, and ultimately suppress protests. We look back on the FBI’s response to Black social movements of the 60’s & 70’s with scorn for good reason. If we can acknowledge attacks on Black protest of the past as a shameful part of our collective history, then we are doomed to be complicit in a new, shameful era of high-tech repression if we do nothing now. History will repeat itself unless Congress chooses to do something different. Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-CA-37) should be putting pressure on her colleagues to protect constituents’ right to protest without surveillance. Join us by demanding Representative Bass & Congress resolve to #ProtectBlackDissent.