Archive for category: Surveillance
Despite being spied on and having their privacy invaded by the UC Global firm that targeted Assange, reporters from major US news outlets have said nothing in protest. Meanwhile, new evidence of that firm’s CIA links has emerged. A Spanish security firm apparently contracted by US intelligence to carry out a campaign of black operations […]
The post Mainstream US reporters silent about being spied on by apparent CIA contractor that targeted Assange appeared first on The Grayzone.
“Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.” That same persistent eye in the sky may soon be deployed over U.S. cities.
At the time he made that comment about surveillance drones over Afghanistan, Maj. General James Poss was the Air Force’s top intelligence officer. He was preparing to leave the Pentagon, and move over to the Federal Aviation Administration. His job was to begin executing the plan to allow those same surveillance drones to fly over American cities.
This plan was ordered by Congress in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. It directed the Departments of Defense and Transportation to “develop a plan for providing expanded access to the national airspace for unmanned aircraft systems of the Department of Defense.” Gen. Poss was one of nearly two dozen ex-military officers who, starting in 2010, were put into positions at the FAA to oversee drone integration research. With little public scrutiny, the plan has been moving forward ever since.
If you’re thinking that this is a partisan issue, think again. This plan has been enacted and expanded under Presidents and Congresses of both parties. If you’re uncomfortable with a President Biden having the ability to track the movements of every Tea Party or Q-Anon supporter, you should be. Just as we should all be concerned about a President Trump tracking…well, everybody else.
Along with civil liberties, a major concern must be safety. The military and the drone manufacturers, principally General Atomics, are arguing that the technology has advanced far enough that flying 79-ft. wingspan, six-ton drones over populated areas and alongside commercial air traffic is safe. We have one response: self-driving cars. Self-driving cars present a technological problem that is an order of magnitude simpler than aircraft flying hundreds of miles per hour in three dimensions. Yet they still can’t keep these cars from plowing into stationary objects like firetrucks (or people) at 60 mph in two dimensions. Are we really comfortable with pilotless aircraft operating in the same airspace as the 747 at 30,000 feet that is bringing your children home for Christmas? These drones have a troubled history of crashing and unfortunately, the process for determining whether these drones are now truly safe has been compromised by having the military, which wants this approval, largely in charge of the testing.
Which brings us to San Diego. Last October, General Atomics announced that they would be flying their biggest, most advanced surveillance drone yet, the SkyGuardian, over the City of San Diego sometime this summer. The stated purpose was to demonstrate potential commercial applications of large drones over American cities. In this case, the drone would be used to survey the city’s infrastructure.
But when General Atomics first began preparing for the flight, the goal was a very different one: Back in 2017, military technology analysts were predicting that by 2025, drones similar to those used in Afghanistan and Iraq would be hovering above U.S. cities, relaying high-resolution video of the movement of every citizen to police departments (and who knows who else). When there was public pushback to this police department drone use—even a pro-industry reporter called the idea “dystopian”—General Atomics changed the purpose of the flight from providing data to the police to “mapping critical infrastructure” in the San Diego region.
The FAA, which is responsible for granting permission to General Atomics, has kept the process secret. When the Voice of San Diego asked for more information, the FAA refused on the grounds that this supposed commercial demonstration was actually “military.” The Voice of San Diego is now suing to get answers and the ACLU has also expressed concern about the flight. Amid the scrutiny, General Atomics quietly announced that the flight was cancelled, but this is certain to be a small hiccup in their long-term plan.
In fact, General Atomics’ drones are already being used domestically. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) flies Predators over parts of the U.S.- Mexico and U.S.-Canadian borders. Recently, CBP has expanded their reach, using these drones to assist police in Minneapolis, San Antonio and Detroit in the wake of protests against police brutality. Deeply concerned, members of Congress wrote to federal agencies denouncing the chilling effect of government surveillance on law-abiding Americans and demanding an immediate end to surveilling peaceful protests.
The concerns of these members of Congress should be echoed by the general public. What are the possible effects on our civil liberties from having high-tech surveillance platforms circling over millions of Americans, gathering information about our every move? We know from past experience that every government surveillance technology that can be abused has been abused. Allowing this powerful technology to be taken from overseas wars and turned inward on American citizens isn’t something that should happen without a robust public debate. The implications for civil liberties are too profound.
The post A “Persistent Eye in the Sky” Coming to a City Near You? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.
Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair
The demands are clear: defund and abolish police. As those calls grow, so will efforts by reformers to propose new rules and regulations that they say will “improve” and restore “legitimacy” to policing. These bureaucratic reforms reflect the failed thinking that built up the carceral state, and they will make policing harder to dismantle. Reforms like this are meant to pacify social movements, replacing community self-determination with the “expertise” of lawyers, academics, and other professionals who are complicit in oppression.
Bureaucratic reforms are not just too little. They are also dangerous. Decades of judicial oversight, transparency legislation, and self-auditing requirements have not reduced the power of the carceral state. To the contrary, they have created a vast punishment bureaucracy giving political legitimacy and social inertia to a system of mass caging rooted in enslavement. Applying this same regulatory framework to the governance of policing will only expand the reach and harm of policing, just as it has helped to make the prison-industrial complex bigger, harsher, more durable, and racist as ever.
The chief proponents of police bureaucracy are typically professionals whose authority depends on working closely with the carceral state. Consider the recent L.A. Times op-ed by University of Texas professor Sarah Brayne, “One way to shrink the LAPD’s budget: Cut costly and invasive big-data policing.” Brayne spent years embedded within the Los Angeles Police Department as a doctoral student at Princeton. Despite the op-ed’s title, it never proposes reducing let alone “cutting” any police surveillance. Instead Brayne writes about the “secrecy” that “shrouds” LAPD’s data systems. She notes that New York City recently required “the NYPD to disclose which technology it uses and what data it collects.” She proposes that “Los Angeles should follow suit.”
Brayne asserts that “surveillance technologies are largely missing from today’s urgent conversations.” That voice is “missing” only if one ignores local activists. Here in Los Angeles, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition has fought to dismantle LAPD surveillance since 2011, recently forcing LAPD to end its LASER, Chronic Offender, and PredPol surveillance programs. An abolitionist organization, Stop LAPD Spying has also organized against laws like the one Brayne proposes importing from New York. That law, named the POST Act, tasks the NYPD with writing “surveillance impact and use policies” to post on their website, where the public has 45 days to comment. While police are asked to “consider” the comments, NYPD is not required to make changes or to share the information that underlies their conclusions, which will be framed by NYPD’s army of lawyers.
These laws are also often coupled with efforts to limit use of a particular surveillance technology, like the restrictions on facial recognition enacted by San Francisco and the recently proposed Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, introduced by Senator Ed Markey and others this June. Explaining the bill, Markey acknowledged calls “to dismantle the systematic racism that permeates every part of our society” and noted that face recognition “physically endangers Black Americans.” But at the same time that his bill seeks to freeze police use of face surveillance, it outlines details of the regulatory scheme that Congress would enact to end the moratorium, including “auditing requirements,” “standards for use and management,” and “minimum accuracy rates.”
The idea behind these reforms is that policing can be tamed through paperwork and rules. This whitewashes the harm of surveillance, which will be used for racial domination no matter if it is lawful or unlawful, no matter if “accurate.” The politicians and lawyers behind the POST Act last month celebrated their “tremendous” and “vital” victory. But the truth is that legislation like this is the easiest possible win in this moment, betraying the bolder visions of the mass movement calling to abolish police.
No one is taking to the streets facing down tear gas to demand police bureaucracy. To the contrary, today’s protests originate in the failure of past reforms, which have done little to end policing’s death toll. These protests have made police abolition a serious conversation. Whether and how legislation can be abolitionist are important questions. But if legislation is a goal, that power should be used to ban particular forms of surveillance, not just create a bureaucracy to regulate them. Calls for surveillance oversight ignore the lessons of past struggles against federal national security surveillance and Red Squad repression, which led to the creation of bureaucracies like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the NYPD’s Handschu guidelines. Rather than dismantling policing, reforms like this help police adapt to criticism, to reinvent and rebuild.
When the POST Act was enacted, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition criticized the reform as “surveillance bureaucracy” and observed that laws like this presume “that our communities want to be surveilled, so long as the state follows a heavily stacked process, pretends to consider input, and checks off a few baseline legal requirements.” At the time, it may have appeared odd for activists from Los Angeles to criticize local legislation in another state. But Stop LAPD Spying observed that the “national uprising against police terror will be used to force similar reforms across the country.” We are seeing that now.
To be sure, this isn’t the first time a reformer who worked closely with police has proposed surveillance bureaucracy laws for Los Angeles. In 2015 the ACLU’s local Director of Police Practices sent a proposal for a similar local law that he had drafted to an LAPD deputy chief, asking “if you have any concerns with any of the provisions that are in here” and inviting ideas for “provisions you think should be in here but aren’t.” The ACLU later pushed a statewide version of similar legislation. An ACLU press release announced that the bill would offer “a seat at the table” and foster “public debate” to build community assent for surveillance.
This relates to the deeper issue with reforms like the POST Act, reflected both in who is advancing these proposals and in what these laws will create. Reform like this is pacification: it takes power away from the people, directing opposition into a bureaucratic process that marginalizes community voices, while elevating voices that support police or – at most – compromise with them. And at the end of the day, these reforms allow police to say that the community “controls” surveillance (“community control” is even in the title of the ACLU’s model surveillance bureaucracy legislation, curiously named CCOPS) when the truth is that police set the agenda and violently hold the power. After securing “public” approval, police continue their harm with a claim of legitimacy. This is nothing like abolition. It’s not even de-policing, reducing the scope of what police do. It’s police preservation.
Abolition is decolonization. More than just ending policing and prisons, it’s a practice of building a new world. Those institutions are weapons of settler colonialism and racial capitalism, but they aren’t the only ones. Abolition requires dismantling all the weapons made using those ideologies. It requires dismantling universities, which colonize and hoard knowledge while credentialing experts who work to maintain oppression. It requires ending imperialism, whose wars, borders, and extraction are police violence on a planetary scale. And it requires dismantling the legal bureaucracies that legitimate and sustain a system of mass torture and killing.
Far more than dismantling and defunding though, abolition requires building the autonomy and self-determination that the carceral state denies. This begins with advancing the political vision of those who policing harms. Academics like Brayne aren’t the only people with ideas about how to address the harm of surveillance in Los Angeles. Brayne is using her authority to argue against the views of movement organizers who are working to dismantle LAPD surveillance. No matter her intentions, Brayne’s expertise comes from riding around in police cars and helicopters, shadowing police as they hunted people. In contrast, grassroots organizers speak from working to empower the communities harmed by policing.
Academics and lawyers don’t need to get in the way of liberation. Instead of solely thinking about social problems, they can think with movements struggling to transcend those problems. They can defer to the deep expertise of communities marginalized by the state and participate in the daily work of building political power, advancing self-determination, and dismantling oppressive structures. They can amplify community leadership in an effort to ensure lasting social change, contributing their “expertise” to collective liberation rather than being another cog in the technocratic management and bureaucratic rationalization of structural violence.
The positive task of surveillance abolition – building a world without mass suspicion and supervision – poses questions that need deep attention. Surveillance extends beyond the hard social control and violence of police and prisons. “Surveillance,” writes Simone Browne, “is the fact of antiblackness.” Its purpose is to harm communities and administer an oppressive social order. Rather than settling for “community control” of this violence, communities that are resisting surveillance from the perspective of liberation are creating a new historical horizon, where at first light these important questions can be confronted and then in the fuller light of a new day can help new ways of life built around democratic self-administration to bloom. Advocating for reforms like the POST Act keeps us lost in the darkness of our present condition.
Abolitionists have long known that the purpose of policing is to violently maintain an oppressive social order. New rules and criteria will not end that violence. Instead, they will just lead police to invest more resources and expertise into monitoring and avoiding compliance with the latest rules. This will make our system of mass suspicion, incarceration, and banishment harder to dismantle. If academics and lawyers wish to play a role in advancing liberation, they need a radically different approach to expertise as well as deference to those working to build a world without policing. Reforms that build police bureaucracy go in the opposite direction, placing more authority in elite hands and giving police new footing to expand their violence.
The post Police Bureaucracy and Abolition: Why Reforms Driven by Professionals will Renew State Oppression appeared first on CounterPunch.org.
In August, 40 federal agents arrived in Memphis. Some were already on the ground by the time U.S. Attorney Michael Dunavant announced the onset of Operation Legend and the city became, along with St. Louis, the seventh to be targeted by the Justice Department’s heavy-handed initiative to reduce violent crime. Many of the agents are on temporary assignment, working in collaboration with police; nearly half will relocate by November. But they will leave behind a city flush with grant money for local police — and heightened surveillance capabilities.
In Memphis, organizers have long battled police surveillance. The fight came to a head in 2017, when a lawsuit against the city of Memphis revealed years of close surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists and union organizers. “We knew we were being watched and monitored and surveilled,” said Hunter Demster, an activist who was tracked on social media by MPD. The suit was successful, and in 2018, a federal judge ordered an independent monitor to oversee policing in the city. Now, activists there say that Operation Legend is a serious blow.
Operation Legend and its December precursor, Operation Relentless Pursuit, are both funding surveillance technology in cities across the country. Through Operation Legend, Memphis and four other cities received grants for gunshot detection technology, which lines cities with sensors to detect gunfire, despite longstanding concerns about its efficacy. Other more opaque grants from the Justice Department, like a $1.4 million grant to Shelby County, which surrounds Memphis, in April and a $1 million grant in July to the city of Cleveland, are to be used in part for “technological solutions” or “support” for investigations.
Awash in these federal funds, cities have doubled down on their surveillance investments, even as they face general budget shortfalls in the tens of millions. On August 4, two days before Operation Legend was formally announced in the city, Memphis signed a new contract with Cellebrite, an Israeli forensics manufacturer popular with law enforcement, whose products can hack and extract data from smartphones. The estimated $65,000 contract would double previous annual spending on the technology, per city procurement records. The Memphis police declined an interview request for this story and did not respond to several additional inquiries about the purchases.
Through Operation Legend, Memphis and four other cities received grants for gunshot detection technology, despite longstanding concerns about its efficacy.
On August 12, the city of Detroit — another of the nine cities targeted by Operation Legend — also placed a $100,000 order with Cellebrite to acquire the company’s “premium” software package and, two weeks later, renewed an older Cellebrite license for another $22,000 — more than tripling 2018 and 2019 expenditures.
Chicago, meanwhile, announced on August 14 that it would employ “enhanced” technology for “around-the-clock” monitoring of social media to identify looters. One hundred federal agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives were sent to Chicago through Operation Legend in late July. Though Mayor Lori Lightfoot at first assumed a hostile attitude toward the initiative, in August she also announced a new task force on looting in partnership with the FBI. “This Task Force is already reviewing video camera footage and other evidence to identify perpetrators and develop strong cases against them,” she wrote.
Just the presence of federal agents can undermine longstanding efforts for accountability on police surveillance. In Memphis, a unique consent decree from 1978 prohibits law enforcement from engaging in “political intelligence” — collecting information on individuals for political purposes. This decree was the backbone of the 2018 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, which held that Memphis had violated the law. City law enforcement has lobbied to amend and strike the decree, but so far, it has held.
Yet the Memphis law does not apply to federal law enforcement. “That’s the harsh truth. The decree only covers the city,” explained Tom Castelli, legal director for the ACLU of Tennessee, though per the decree, the city cannot collaborate on unlawful surveillance with outside agencies.
Still, Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings has alluded to partnering with the FBI to get around some of the decree’s restrictions, later confirming through a city spokesperson that he “told [federal officials] that we are restricted by the consent decree and depend on them to catch threats articulated on social media.”
As U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana Josh Minkler said, as he announced Operation Legend’s expansion to Indianapolis, federal agencies contribute “not just manpower, but technology that can help identify and arrest the individuals. And then they have access to federal courts.”
For Joia Thornton, an organizer with Decarcerate Memphis, a group that formed in response to Operation Relentless Pursuit, the initiatives form part of a longer legacy of federal support for policing. “We believe this mirrors the three-strikes laws, the war on drugs — all of these types of tactics to drive up mass incarceration,” she told The Intercept. “We are on the front lines to resist that.”
Indeed, U.S. Attorney General William Barr has frequently defended Operation Legend by noting that it is a continuation of federal policing efforts, rather than a radical departure from the norm. These are “traditional crime-fighting activities” he told reporters in Detroit — just now “ratcheted-up.”
Attorney General William Barr talks to the media during a news conference about Operation Legend, a federal task force formed to fight violent crime in several cities, on Aug. 19, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo.
Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP
The Department of Defense’s 1033 program is perhaps the best-known example of federal investment in policing. In 2014, footage of military vehicles rolling down the streets of Ferguson drew national outcry, bringing scrutiny to the program. 1033 continues provide bayonets, grenade launchers, and other leftovers from U.S. wars overseas to police precincts across the country.
But the Homeland Security and Justice departments also fund law enforcement to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The DOJ’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which emerged in the post-9/11 era of rapidly inflated federal spending on policing, is one of the major grant programs for police and has been criticized for, in effect, funding mass imprisonment. Its grants also fund sophisticated policing technology.
Memphis is a prime example: Over the last decade, the city’s license plate reader system, its “real-time crime center” — which houses a “video wall” of live surveillance camera feeds — and its gunshot recognition cameras were all funded, at least in part, through Byrne JAG grants.
Years of federal investment in surveillance have resulted in what Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, calls a “layering” effect: “These things don’t come all at once. They build up,” she said. “And when you start feeding one surveillance technology after another into a database, you give police departments the ability to track what people are doing very closely.”
Technologies popular with federal agencies tend to make their way down to the local level. Take, for example, the new popularity of phone-hacking technology with police: The technology was first picked up more than a decade ago by federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI. Now, a growing number of cities and state law enforcement have access to some kind of mobile data extraction software. “You’ve got cops and cruisers using it. The tools always trickle down,” a forensic scientist told Motherboard in 2016.
Yet the federal government, for years, has funded phone-hacking tools directly. The Bureau of Justice Assistance, which has offered generous grants to Memphis, Detroit, and other cities through Operation Legend this summer, has previously funded Cellebrite products for police departments in Florida, Maryland, Kansas, and Idaho. It has also funded artificial intelligence-based data repositories, predictive analytics, and social media monitoring tools.
“Much of this equipment and technology is given under the guise of either narcotics, policing, or counterterrorism. Ultimately, a lot of it gets used to monitor protests.”
In turn, the grants have created an industry of policing technology dependent on federal funding. ShotSpotter, the largest gunshot detection provider in the country and a major beneficiary of Operation Legend, illustrates this well. The company has spent nearly $2 million lobbying legislators over the past decade, according to records from the Center for Responsive Politics — most recently, on a bill that would permit the attorney general to dole out grants for gunshot detection tech.
That legislation remains stalled in the House, but for ShotSpotter, Operation Legend proved a windfall. Five cities — Memphis, Cleveland, Albuquerque, Milwaukee, and Detroit — will receive grants to purchase or expand their gunshot detection through the program. Milwaukee already has a ShotSpotter system in place, and Detroit now plans to deploy it again, after piloting the technology in 2014.
Yet there is little evidence that ShotSpotter reduces gun crime. A study published this year on ShotSpotter in St. Louis found that the system, whose microphones detect and alert police to gunshots, had no impact on violent crime whatsoever: “The results were, essentially, it doesn’t work,” said Dennis Mare, a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who co-authored the study, though he admitted that it is difficult to extrapolate the results to all cities. Why, then, is St. Louis still receiving federal grants to expand the technology? The company points to other investigative benefits overlooked by the study. “ShotSpotter spends a lot of money,” was Mares’s answer.
ShotSpotter does, however, increase police presence in the neighborhoods where it is used — “disproportionately in minority neighborhoods,” according to Mares. In response, a company representative told The Intercept that the system’s placement is “not based on who’s living in the community. It’s based on, ‘where are the shootings?’” Still, for Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that has serious consequences.
“This is yet another surveillance technology that has the potential to victimize people based on their proximity to crime and overpolicing,” he said. “If you live in a neighborhood that has a gun violence problem, not only are you subjected to that, you are also subjected to the surveillance regime that comes along with it.”
As cries to “defund the police” resound in the streets and cities fly surveillance planes low over demonstrations, Operation Legend is the latest reminder of the magnitude, and consequence, of federal police spending. Advocates have long called for federal grant funding reform, with some results, but the government has continued to grow its police budget; just two Department of Justice grant programs, Byrne JAG and the Community Oriented Policing Services program, give out about a collective $750 million annually to law enforcement.
“Much of this equipment and technology is given under the guise of either narcotics, policing, or counterterrorism,” Guariglia said. “And, ultimately, a lot of it gets used to monitor protests.”
The post Operation Legend Is Bringing Surveillance Tech to Cities appeared first on The Intercept.
White House manipulation of US intelligence on Russian and Chinese interference may rival WMD fiasco that led to Iraq war, say experts
Two months before the presidential election, the US intelligence agencies are under increasing pressure from the Trump administration to provide only the information it wants to hear.
After installing loyalist John Ratcliffe at the pinnacle of the intelligence community, the administration is seeking to limit congressional oversight, and has removed a veteran official from a sensitive national security role in the justice department
Almost two weeks after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd while he was handcuffed face down in the street, a hacker began exfiltrating 19 gigabytes of documents from the poorly secured Northern California Regional Intelligence Center website. The NCRIC (pronounced “nick-rick”) fusion center shares information between federal agencies, local police departments across northern California, and private industry partners, including Silicon Valley companies. It also provides local cops with analytical and technical support services such as monitoring social media or helping break into locked smartphones, and it hosts events and law enforcement-related courses.
The hacked data from NCRIC, provided to transparency collective DDoSecrets by a source identifying with the hacktivist collective Anonymous, was part of a larger breach of 251 police websites across the country known as BlueLeaks. German authorities, acting on behalf of the U.S. government, seized the server DDoSecrets was using to distribute the BlueLeaks data, though the data itself is still publicly available on the internet using the peer-to-peer file sharing technology BitTorrent. (Note: I’m a member of the DDoSecrets advisory board.)
The NCRIC documents, from a 13-day period between George Floyd’s killing on May 25 and the evening of June 6, when the latest information was exfiltrated (judging from time stamps found in the leaked material), provide an unprecedented window into the internal workings and priorities of Northern California’s police intelligence agency during the recent waves of anti-police brutality protests.
One way that NCRIC shares information is by sending bulk emails to its partners. Since the protests began, these have included vague, fear-inducing memos from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI about the threat of violent civil unrest, as well as more specific information, including emails sent at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day to more than 14,000 police officers across Northern California with updated lists of Black Lives Matter protests. During the 13-day period covered in the hacked files, over half of the bulk emails NCRIC sent were related to monitoring and policing the largely peaceful protests.
Local police and other partners send information back to NCRIC by submitting “Suspicious Activity Reports.” Of the 21 civil unrest-related “suspicious activities” during this period, most were local police posting information about upcoming protests, screenshots of tweets and Instagram posts about looting and rioting, as well as two instances of people threatening to shoot and kill Black Lives Matter protesters.
Another way local police interface with NCRIC is by requesting support. Of the 20 civil unrest-related support requests during this period, most were providing information about upcoming protests to be added to the daily protest emails as well as requesting help monitoring social networks for information about the protests. Two of the requests asked for help identifying threats against white female teenagers who were facing doxxing or harassment after making racist statements and using anti-Black racial slurs.
Daily Lists of Black Lives Matter Protests
Notably, a substantial portion of the intelligence on Black Lives Matter protests flowed through NCRIC’s Terrorism Liaison Officer program, whose purpose is to keep the intelligence center’s members “engaged & knowledgeable about current terrorist tactics, techniques & trends, regional crime trends & threats, and Officer safety information.” The terror-info program became a clearinghouse for information on upcoming demonstrations.
The weekend after Floyd’s killing, when Black Lives Matter protests were erupting throughout the country, NCRIC’s TLO sent an email to its 14,406 subscribers — mostly local police officers across Northern California — with a PDF containing a list of upcoming protests, their times, locations, and sometimes links to more information. “We will be providing a list of local protests twice daily at 1000 and 1800, until further notice,” the email said. “This information is for Situational Awareness only. Agencies may use this information for planning/staffing purposes or as they see fit,” adding, “Some of these events involve criminal activities such as planned looting, vandalism and threats of violence.”
Between May 31 and June 6, NCRIC sent these emails out every morning, and again with an updated list every evening.
June 5’s evening email listed 46 protest events scheduled for June 6 in San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Oakland, and other Bay Area cities, as well as 36 other events scheduled for the following days. For example, the “Noe Valley Police Violence Protest With Social Distancing” was scheduled for June 6 at 11 a.m., and the “SF Kids Peace March” was scheduled for June 7 at 2 p.m. While the vast majority of the events were Black Lives Matter protests, some had different topics, such as a “6 Feet and Grieving COVID 19 remembrance” event in Oakland.
“The fact that fusion centers are sending out lists of protests and other activities that are protected by the First Amendment is constitutionally suspect,” Vasudha Talla, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told The Intercept. “They may try to justify it by attaching text alluding to the potentiality of certain criminal activity, but it’s clear from the documents that you showed me that there is no reasonable suspicions attached to any of these events.” She added, “Really what we have here is overbroad collection and dissemination of people’s protected First Amendment activity, and it’s untethered to any basis in the law.”
“Sending out lists of protests and other activities protected by the First Amendment is constitutionally suspect.”
Mike Sena, NCRIC’s executive director, told The Intercept that the fusion center no longer distributes daily lists of protests. “During that period of time we had just had an attack on the Ronald Dellums Federal Building,” he said, referring to the May 29 killing of Dave Patrick Underwood, a private security officer guarding the federal building in Oakland. Steven Carrillo, a far-right extremist and member of the so-called Boogaloo movement, who “came to Oakland to kill cops” according to the FBI, was charged on June 11 in the murder of Underwood. When asked at what point NCRIC stopped distributing lists of protests, Sena said, “I believe it was after the suspects were taken into custody, from that attack. At least the known suspects were taken into custody. We don’t have that going on anymore.”
Sena also claimed that NCRIC was keeping track of Black Lives Matters protests in order to make sure that they remained safe. “We weren’t keeping track of the protests themselves, but we were identifying where we were gonna have gatherings of people,” he said. “That’s our concern is, we want to make sure the events are safe. And if there are any threats that come up that may be associated with any of those events that we’re able to get that threat data to whatever agency may have protection responsibilities.”
Talla disagreed. “At the end of the day what you have is federal agencies, not only DHS but the FBI, monitoring people’s constitutionally protected activities without any reasonable suspicion,” she said. “Even though the agencies may include in some of these documents a disclaimer that they are not targeting First Amendment activities as such, if you actually look at what they’re doing, it’s clear that there is no criminal activity that they can point to to justify the overbroad collection and monitoring of protests. They have no basis to do that.”
Beginning with the second protest list that was emailed out, the footer of each PDF says: “This document is not subject to the California Information Practices Act and contains information that may be exempt from public release under exemptions provided by the California Public Records Act,” and “This information is not to be released to the public, the media, or other personnel who do not have a valid ‘right and need-to-know’ without approval of the NCRIC.”
Sena claimed that the reason these documents were exempt from public records requests, and were not supposed to be released to the public or the media, is because they could be used as a target list by someone who wanted to attack the protesters.
“Simply attaching a tagline to a document saying ‘This is exempt from the California Public Records Act’ does not make it exempt from the California Public Records Act in and of itself,” Talla said. “The document you sent me can’t be characterized as criminal intelligence because there’s no articulation of any criminal activity associated with these activities, these protests, marches, demonstrations. Really, what is confidential about this document? There’s nothing.”
Days after the Floyd killing, someone in the FBI’s Los Angeles division noticed a tweet from the Long Beach Anarchist Collective that read, “see a blue lives matter flag, destroy a blue lives matter flag challenge”:
see a blue lives matter flag, destroy a blue lives matter flag challenge https://t.co/1IgudD82lK
— Long Beach Anarchist Collective (@AnarchistLB) May 27, 2020
At the time, this tweet had four retweets and 26 likes. In response, the FBI analyst typed up a Situational Information Report describing the tweet, as well as the other tweet that it referenced, with the title, “Civil Unrest in Response to Death of George Floyd Threatens Law Enforcement Supporters’ Safety, as of May 2020.”
NCRIC got a copy of this document and forwarded it to its more than 14,000 subscribers. This is far from the only fearmongering memo from the federal government that NCRIC forwarded to thousands of local cops; DHS and FBI consistently fed local cops a diet of scary-protester anecdotes and internet rumors, potentially frightening them into believing their lives were in danger during protests and thus helping feed the often brutal and violent response to peaceful protests.
Another document from the multi-agency National Explosives Task Force that NCRIC distributed claimed “a variety of incendiary and explosive devices were used against civilian and law enforcement targets in civil unrest demonstrations” with photos of Molotov cocktails and fireworks. NCRIC also distributed an FBI Situation Report which described cherry-picked messages posted by unnamed social media users, including an Instagram user who allegedly posted about a “purge” planned for June 6, saying that “anyone stopped by police should follow the only rule, to kill law enforcement first, then continue destroying property.” Without any context, there’s no way of knowing how many followers this account had, or if it was run by an internet troll.
FBI Situation Report from June 6, 2020.
Screenshot: The Intercept
NCRIC also forwarded a series of “Intelligence Notes” from the Department of Homeland Security to its members:
- One document from May 29 claimed that the ongoing unrest related to the killings of Floyd and Breanna Taylor — a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was shot eight times by Louisville, Kentucky, police officers as they were breaking into her apartment late at night without announcing themselves — “could motivate some domestic terrorist actors to engage in violence against law enforcement and others protesting lawfully.”
- Another document from May 30 stated, “We anticipate armed individuals will continue to infiltrate the protest movement. We assess with high confidence during the period of darkness from 30 to 31 May the violent protest movements will grow and [domestic violent extremists] and others will seek to take over government facilities and attack law enforcement.”
- A document from May 31 described protesters monitoring and disrupting law enforcement communications. Police in Portland “reported that they assessed that well-coordinated groups had potentially compromised law enforcement radio communications,” and police in Minneapolis “were forced to switch to cell phones for tactical communications after learning their communications were being monitored by individuals using publicly available police scanner apps.” Police scanner apps, which allow anyone to listen in on police radio communications, have seen record downloads since Floyd’s killing. The document also states that “unidentified individuals” in the Chicago area saturated police radio channels with music.
- Another May 31 document states, “We have also noted several incidents of potential violent opportunists traveling to protests with milk or other liquids in anticipation of mitigating the effects of pepper spray or other crowd control agents.”
- A document from June 1 states, “As the protests persist, we assess that organized violent opportunists—including suspected anarchist extremists—could increasingly perpetrate nationwide targeting of law enforcement and critical infrastructure.” It went on to say that an NYPD official “had strong evidence that suspected anarchist groups had planned to incite violence at protests, including by using encrypted communications.” Using encrypted communications is not only perfectly legal, but an important measure that individuals can take to protect their personal cybersecurity. The document also warns of “Foreign Influence Activity,” stating, “Russian state media outlets particularly emphasized themes alleging excessive police brutality, police attacks against journalists, and claims of systematic racism.”
Prioritizing Spying on Protests
NCRIC’s tracking of BLM protests sometimes interfered with work targeting actual criminal suspects. Shortly after 5 p.m. on May 29, an FBI analyst submitted a support request to the NCRIC website. “FBI San Francisco is concern [sic] about possible criminal activity; including mass causality attacks, vandalism and destruction of property, violence towards law enforcement and participants, and ideologically motivated attacks; near or about constitutionally protected activities in Oakland in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis,” he wrote. He requested NCRIC provide [Real-Time and Open Source Analysis] “and appropriate analytic resources.”
On June 1, the day after NCRIC began distributing lists of protests, NCRIC sent a bulk email to its subscribers saying that it was “actively monitoring potential planned criminal acts, acts of violence, and civil unrest” and asking for help. “Please submit upcoming events or concerns related to planned events by logging into ncric.org, clicking on the ‘Request Support’ tab, and submitting a ‘Request for Investigative or Equipment Support.’”
The following day, NCRIC sent another bulk email announcing that an upcoming class would need to be postponed. “Due to operational needs necessitated by the protests in our [area of responsibility], the Chasing Phones class scheduled for June 3-4, 2020 has been rescheduled for June 17-18, 2020.”
According to a flyer, the Chasing Phones class “will explore the methods of exploiting a suspect’s cellular phone, phone company records, and third-party data sources records” and “will increase law enforcement officers’ awareness and appreciation of the evidence and intelligence located in a mobile device and provides students with the tools and training to prepare search warrants to legally obtain that evidence.” At the time the NCRIC data was exfiltrated, the class was scheduled to happen over Zoom, and 356 people had registered for it. But this training would have to wait; monitoring protests was higher priority.
Black Lives Matter Protests as “Suspicious Activity”
Local police connected to NCRIC used the intelligence hub to repeatedly flag BLM-related protests, vigils, and cultural events as suspicious. On May 31, a sergeant in the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office posted a Suspicious Activity Report, or SAR, requesting “intel if any is observed regarding violent civil/criminal unrest in the county of San Mateo, specifically the cities of Redwood City, San Mateo and East Palo Alto,” adding, “It is believed that protests will occur this coming week in these cities – want intel as to #’s of participants and any illegal activities being transpired.”
Later that same day, another officer from San Mateo Sheriff’s Office posted another SAR about a local protest. “Peninsula Progressive Action Group holding a vigil/protest for George Floyd,” he wrote, referring to a local Bay Area progressive citizens group. “Requesting NCRIC intelligence gathering/monitoring of social media, etc. Although the event is promoted as peaceful, similar events in the region devolved into violence. Unknown attendance at this point. Agitators are known to promote suburban targets next.”
The next day, PPAG posted to its website that the planned vigil in San Carlos was postponed over to safety concerns, citing “right-wing extremists groups that are using events, particularly evening events, as an excuse to instigate violence and cause damage.” Even though the vigil was canceled, “about 100 people” showed up anyway with masks and signs, according to a follow-up post.
On the night of June 2, 20-year-old San Jose hip-hop artist Simon Vertugo tweeted about an upcoming event called “The Black American Experience,” a “discussion on the Black experience and how we can take steps to prevent future civil injustice, police brutality and reform our judicial system,” to be held in a few days at the Olympic Black Power statue at San Jose State University.
SAN JOSE. PLEASE JOIN US THIS SATURDAY JUNE 6TH AT SJSU WELCOME TO…“THE BLACK AMERICAN EXPERIENCE” pic.twitter.com/1YihcmXNgl
— simon vertugo (@simonvertugo) June 3, 2020
After an officer with the university police department saw this tweet, he logged into NCRIC’s website and posted a SAR under the category “Radicalization/Extremism” with the event image from the tweet. “Possible meeting spot for protest activity at SJSU,” he wrote. “Has been seen on Twitter under the name @simonvertugo. Date is 6/6/20 at 1300 hours. Has been retweeted about 300 times. No data on possible attendance.”
Vertugo felt this was an example of police overreach. “Truthfully I think the university cops were completely overreacting to a speech being held on a college campus,” Vertugo told The Intercept. “Nobody was inciting any riots, no plans of breaking windows, destroying property. It was just a speech held by some Black kid and his peers. I think it’s a huge joke what they choose to focus on.” Nearly 300 people showed up at the speaking event.
Officers from San Benito County Sheriff’s Office and Novato Police Department also posted SARs of local protests they heard about. Local cops from across the region logged into NCRIC to request support related to upcoming protests in their cities, sometimes asking for social media monitoring. These police departments all posted support requests about Black Lives Matter protests to NCRIC:
- Walnut Creek Police Department
- Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety
- Antioch Police Department
- Fremont Police Department
- Napa Police Department
- Healdsburg Police Department
- Palo Alto Police Department
- Golden Gate Bridge Patrol
- Contra Costa College District
A sergeant with the Oakland Police Department posted a support request asking for “analysts to monitor open source media to track crimes that are about to occur or have just occurred during the protest.” And an officer with the San Francisco Police Department posted an equipment request to NCRIC asking for surveillance cameras in “high volume locations.” “We have several more planned demo’s this week and these cameras would greatly enhance our situational awareness and public safety during these incidents,” she wrote.
Police were also paying close attention to any social media posts that mention looting, rioting, or violence against law enforcement. One SAR describes a Twitter user who tweeted, “Are we having a protest in Napa I low key wanna layout a cop.” Another describes a Twitter thread mentioning looting Target stores in Walnut Creek, Emeryville, and Bayfair. Another describes receiving a “threat via social media” threatening to loot stores at Sun Valley Mall in Concord. And another included a photograph of a phone displaying instructions for a “San Mateo County Looting Night” with a “hit list” of corporate chains.
On May 31, a paramedic at a gas station that rents U-Hauls in Napa said he “observed an estimated two dozen people dressed in black (hoodies, masks, shirts pants) in their twenties most white as far as he could tell, several of which were wearing masks,” with “another half dozen people wearing the same clothing” in the store, and he overheard them asking if they could rent vans for one day and leave them in San Francisco. He considered this suspicious behavior, so he called his off-duty friend in the fire department and said “they looked like a ‘ANTIF[A] or Black Bloc’ group.” His friend called the department’s Homeland Security operations officer, who posted this secondhand information as a SAR to NCRIC’s website.
And on June 2, a hardware store employee called the Novato Police Department to report that a woman “purchased all their helmets, hard hats, hammers, bolt cutters and goggles,” and that she mentioned the goggles were for tear gas. The Navato police officer posted this as a SAR, with a description of the woman and her vehicle.
Threats Against Protesters’ Lives
The large majority of civil unrest-related suspicious activity reports during this period were about Black Lives Matter protests, but a few were about people who believe that Black lives don’t matter.
A middle-aged white man called a California Constituent Affairs employee on June 2 and described his plans to shoot and kill protesters, according to a June 3 SAR posted by an officer with the California Highway Patrol. “The subject said he will shoot and kill protesters he perceives as a threat,” the employee described. “He believes all protesters are thugs, and says this has nothing to do with race. The subject said he has multiple firearms, including an AK 47 and he has no problem blowing off their heads if they get near his house, start a fire, or begin looting in his city. He said he will take actions into his own hands because politicians are not doing anything about it. He added that all his friends and neighbors have guns and are not afraid to use them. The subject made it very clear that protesters are not welcomed in his neighborhood and threatened to kill protesters.”
In another instance, the FBI’s threat operations center found a tweet that said, “Everyone please be careful out there! I don’t know if this person is genuine or fucking with me but I’d rather be safe than sorry! Apparently his businesses were looted and he is now threatening to shoot protesters.” It included a screenshot of a direct message conversation in which the alleged San Francisco business owner wrote, “I will start shootings tomorrow,” and “Anyone from this bullshit [enters] my store I’m gonna [shoot] them.”
Screenshot of a conversation with an alleged San Francisco business owner threatening to shoot protesters, taken from a tweet.
Screenshot: The Intercept
On June 3, an officer at West Valley-Mission Community College Police Department posted a SAR that included a video from Snapchat, writing, “Subject has been reported as to have made a video of himself on [Snapchat] wearing a KKK style hood and [making] a white power hand gesture with the slogan ‘Burn crosses not buildings’ likely in response to the ongoing riots related to the George Floyd protests.”
Protecting Racist Teenagers From Online Harassment
“For ‘Black out Tuesday’, a 16 year old female changed her social media profile picture to all blue, in support of law enforcement, instead of all black, in support of Black Lives Matter,” a detective with the Walnut Creek Police Department typed into a Cyber Security Assessment request to NCRIC on June 4. “The family has been receiving death threats/property threats on social media, by phone and text.” He requested that they “search/review social media to obtain potential threats to family, as well as the identities of persons making such threats.”
The attached documents — a Microsoft Word document and a series of emails between Walnut Creek police officers — show much more than changing her avatar to blue to support law enforcement. They include screenshots of the teenager’s TikTok videos where she wrote messages like, “Tbh the kkk should come back. Oh and I wanna move to Georgia bc they have segregated proms,” and “I don’t talk to niggers.”
On June 6, a lieutenant with the Moraga Police Department posted a similar request to NCRIC. “The Moraga Police Department became aware of a video clip circulating on social media that depicts 3 Campolindo High School female teenagers using racist and offensive language, including the N-word,” he wrote. “We are requesting open source internet checks and overall social media monitoring analysis for the presence of threats, especially threats of violence or retaliation to occur in the Town of Moraga.”
When asked if it’s their policy to provide proactive protection to racists, the Walnut Creek and Moraga Police Departments did not respond to a request for comment.
“Any time there’s a potential threat where they’ll harm somebody, or someone’s indicating that they’ll harm somebody, we do support local agencies with those types of requests,” Sena, NCRIC’s executive director, said. “And we can’t base our support based on what the person says, or their ideologies. We have to treat everyone in the public the same, and our goal is to protect lives.”
Cyber Attacks Against Law Enforcement
In addition to sending bulk emails to thousands of local police, NCRIC sometimes sends bulk emails to its list of over 3,700 industry partners.
One June 2 mailing included a prescient warning from the FBI’s Cyber Division: “Due to ongoing civil unrest, hacktivist groups are actively threatening and endorsing cyber attacks against law enforcement and state government networks,” the FBI wrote. “Groups such as ‘Anonymous’ are actively leveraging societal and political unrest to encourage global cyber action against law enforcement and government computer networks, outward facing web pages, and social media accounts.”
Four days after NCRIC sent this email, the BlueLeaks hacktivist — who identified with Anonymous — began exfiltrating data from NCRIC’s server.
The post How Northern California’s Police Intelligence Center Tracked Protests appeared first on The Intercept.
The dump of the damning “Blue Leaks” files in late June provided the public with over 250 gigabytes of video, audio, and other data from a broad range of law enforcement agencies across the US. Yet, the organisation behind it insists it is not responsible for the hacking itself.
The US Department of Homeland Security is persecuting Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets), the group that was the first to publish the “BlueLeaks” trove of hacked police files in June, as a “criminal hacker group”, similar to WikiLeaks, as follows from a bulletin circulated to fusion centres around the country earlier this summer, The Verge reported.
The post ‘BlueLeaks’ Publishers Pursued As ‘Criminal Hacker Group’ By DHS appeared first on PopularResistance.Org.
By the kites editorial committee (US section)
Following the protests and rebellions ignited by the police murder of George Floyd, calls to “defund” and “abolish” the police have grown in popularity, mostly among the activist/Leftist crowd and the progressive petty-bourgeoisie. Some elected officials have given their endorsement to these calls, and the Minneapolis city council intends to make a considerable overhaul of its local repressive state apparatus. The exact meaning of “defund” and “abolish” the police varies considerably, but usually means shifting money away from the police and into social service and community programs.
To some degree, these calls represent a growing recognition of the depth of brutality at the hands of the police faced by Black proletarians and other oppressed people, with the words “structural” and “systematic” in increasing, if unclear, usage. This recognition tends to come through the prism of Foucauldian power relations rather than a communist understanding of the police. In the latter view, the police under capitalism-imperialism are a crucial part of the bourgeoisie’s repressive state apparatus. Under US capitalism-imperialism in particular, the police play the function of keeping oppressed people—especially Black proletarians and all those “surplus populations” cast off into the “reserve army of labor” (unemployment)—in a subordinate position and stamping out the threat of rebellion through harassment, brutality, and murder, as well as repressing protests that go beyond the acceptable limits of dissent. While the prism of Foucauldian power relations focuses instead on the daily interactions between different groups and individuals in society with differing amounts of power, it is nevertheless a good thing for growing numbers of people in the US, including substantial numbers of white people, to confront the scope of brutality the police inflict upon Black proletarians and other oppressed people, through whatever ideological prism they understand it.
On a more practical level, these calls to defund or abolish the police also highlight how neoliberal austerity over the last several decades has drastically cut social services, from mental health treatment and intervention to school councilors, while simultaneously dramatically increasing police budgets, arming the police with military weaponry, and siccing the police on everyone from school children to individuals undergoing a mental health crisis. So it’s understandable that people are seeking funding for the social services that have been cut under austerity by demanding funds be withdrawn from police budgets, as doing so might mean fewer individuals in mental health crises being killed by the police and fewer Black youth being thrown in prison for “misbehaving” at school. On the ground, it is inspiring and righteous to see high school students fighting to expel the police from their schools.
But there are two important contradictions with calls to defund or abolish the police. One, usually they are simply radical-sounding rhetoric masking making reforms to the system of capitalism-imperialism that oppresses and murders Black people. That’s not to say that such reforms wouldn’t make life a little better for some people—that’s what reforms do. But shifting some money to social services and nonprofit organizations, who preside over oppression with paternalistic rather than blatantly brutal methods, will not alter the fundamental nature of the system and the brutality it inflicts on the masses.
And by “taking action,” what Kijiji means is buying themselves some public relations wokeness by giving $100k to Black and Indigenous charities that encourage oppressed peoples to work harder at succeeding in a system that murders them at shocking rates.
Which brings us to contradiction number two: calls to defund or abolish the police pretend that you can somehow get rid of the police without overthrowing the system that the police are there to protect. In any society divided into classes, the ruling class maintains standing armed bodies to defend its rule and prevent rebellion among those it oppresses. In the US, where the oppression of Black people—from slavery to Jim Crow to Northern and urban ghettos to unemployment and mass incarceration—is central to the foundation and functioning of capitalism-imperialism, the police play a crucial role in defending the system exactly by the brutality they inflict on Black people. Consciously or unconsciously, calls to defund or abolish the police imagine that you can somehow get around these facts and trick the ruling class into relinquishing the repressive force that its rule rests on. It’s an odd rehash of the old Trotskyite “transitional demand,” where you seek to manipulate the masses by making a demand that the system cannot meet rather than telling the masses that the system must be overthrown. The masses cannot be manipulated into making revolution and the bourgeoisie cannot be tricked out of power.
Given the explosion of protest and rebellion that has rocked the US, there will likely be aspects of “defunding” the police implemented in the coming months and years. These measures will sew confusion and bourgeois-democratic illusions while keeping the system intact and gluing the smooth functioning of bourgeois law and order back together. Some nonprofit organization careerist activists will secure higher salaries for themselves and funding for community programs that make little difference in the lives of the proletariat. Some social services will be used for things like mental health crises, while the police will be focused on brutalizing specific sections of oppressed people with greater precision (for example, after “stop and frisk” was no longer official policy, the NYPD targeted youth in housing projects with a vengeance under the rubric of fighting gangs). In the most extreme scenario, especially if ecological catastrophes and economic collapse increase, we could imagine the bourgeoisie employing private security to protect their neighborhoods and wealth while the masses are left to fend for themselves.
Besides failing to make substantial change for the masses, reforms and performative wokeness can also be used to enlist people to assist the police. “Community control” of the police can easily facilitate the creation of snitch networks. And woke snitching is now a reality. After Rayshard Brooks was killed by Atlanta Police on 12 June 2020 outside a Wendy’s fast food restaurant, protesters burned down the Wendy’s. Activists acting under the rubric of postmodernist identity politics rushed to point out the white woman in a video supposedly torching the Wendy’s. Police then arrested the white woman, Natalie White, and charged her with first degree arson. A subsequently released police video showed Rayshard Brooks referring to Natalie White as his girlfriend.
A fast-food joint burned to the ground is immediately labelled terrorism and criminality by the dominant class forces. But another black man murdered by police – that’s just business-as-usual in America. Rayshard Brooks was killed by Atlanta police outside this Wendy’s on 12 June 2020.
The bourgeoisie also has the option of allowing and even encouraging the flow of drugs and guns, as well as contradictions among the people, to lead to an increase in gang violence, while the police take a more hands-off approach. In summer 2018, a communist-led multinational social investigation team visited Black proletarian neighborhoods in Baltimore and talked to residents about what their experiences with the police and with the system overall were after the 2015 rebellion ignited by the police murder of Freddie Gray. Many people pointed out that the police in fact backed off in the wake of the rebellion, allowing drugs to flow and murders to occur with little intervention. It’s not that the police became less brutal per se, but they allowed the effects of decades of unemployment, deteriorating neighborhoods, drug addiction, and the underground economy to run their course and do the work of brutalizing the people for them. Here’s what three Black proletarians in Baltimore told the communist-led social investigation team:
Let me tell you something, we don’t have cops no more. We got monitors. They monitor the crime. For instance, walk across the street, [you hear] “I got this, I got that, I got ‘bupes’, I got percs.” They be selling their wares, and the police be sitting right in front of them, and they don’t say nothing. [Pointing at a police car parked at one of the busiest drug-dealing corners in West Baltimore:] There you go, his lights are flashing, but he’s not going to get out the car.
[The police are] hanging around the corners where people are doing what they’re doing [dealing and using drugs] and they’re not doing nothing. They may have even be having a conversation with the criminals. In fact, I think they may even be involved with some of them; there’s some crooked cops out here.
People like you of different nationalities, before the Freddie Gray situation, the police would have stopped the car, got out, asked what was going on. But nowadays, I can be holding a gun to you, and holding you hostage, and the police would roll right by. …They just figure like “why should we put our hands on someone?” They just thinking “why should I jeopardize my career?” We video recording them now. So they just avoid it all.
To be clear, and before any idiot eager to prove their wokeness gets it twisted, the police would only respond to the rampant drug trade by brutalizing and murdering people, not by stopping the importation of drugs or providing treatment to addicts. The point here is that the system has no solution for the oppressed, whether that comes in the form of police brutality or unemployment and economic devastation leading to a booming drug trade and violence among the people. As one Baltimore resident told the social investigation team concerning the failures of existing social service programs:
Drug needles over here. Programs over there. All these programs doin’ nothing but helpin’ you a little. But it’s putting you back out in the system. Because once you finish the program you gon come back out in the streets. Right on the drugs again.
A similar scenario played out in Cincinnati after the 2001 rebellion set off by the police murder of Timothy Thomas. A large number of guns mysteriously appeared the summer after the rebellion, the flow of drugs seemed to increase, and murders among the people reached new heights. The bourgeoisie has learned many ways to respond to rebellion, including fomenting gang rivalries and contradictions among the people and then saying, when the murder rates increase, “see what happens when the police aren’t around?”1 The increase in murders in a number of cities through the US since the 2020 rebellions could very well be in part fostered through conscious bourgeois policy. This is exactly why we need revolutionary organization with deep roots among the people that can act as a counter to this tactic. Here, we renew the call we have been making in kites: as Mao emphasized, at the core of being a communist is doing social investigation among and integrating with the masses, and those in North America who are serious about becoming communists should spend far less time on the internet and talking to Leftists and far more time in proletarian neighborhoods getting to know the masses and struggling side by side with them.
The bourgeoisie is quick to learn from history because, as the ruling class, it is a highly organized class. The proletariat cannot hope to begin doing the same without organization.
Some might read all this and say, “okay I agree with your theoretical arguments, but shouldn’t we unite with the defund/abolish the police position because it’s the best thing that’s out there now?” This line of reasoning confines potential within the narrow horizons of the existing activist/Leftist milieu and justifies a petty-bourgeois fear of challenging those who use postmodernist identity politics to appoint themselves leaders of the existing movement (and increase their nonprofit activist salaries with Ford Foundation funding). But it does point to a real problem: no revolutionary leadership—individual or collective—exists today in the US with the ability, experience, influence, and audacity to vie for leadership of the current movement against police brutality and the oppression of Black people, set correct dividing lines, unite all who can be united, and divert the spontaneous movement towards revolutionary objectives. This is what we must transform by training communist cadre capable of acting as such a leadership (including by training ourselves). Not taking on this responsibility means allowing class forces other than the proletariat and politics and programs short of communist revolution to lead and deflate the existing resistance movement into dead-ends and keep the system intact, even if some reforms come to pass.2
Finally, if the above arguments have not swayed you, here’s something to marinate on concerning the problem with today’s “abolitionist” politics: Angela Davis is now a celebrated author, academic, and hero for the activist crowd. Ruchell “Cinque” Magee is still in prison. How many “abolitionists” even know who he is?
1 One noteworthy strength of the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion was that a gang truce was reached shortly before the rebellion and subsequently strengthened in the course of and after it, making it much more difficult for the bourgeoisie to employ this tactic.
2 As a practical suggestion for training communist cadre in relation to the present movement against police brutality, we suggest reading the article “From the Masses, to the Masses: A Summation of the October 22nd Coalition’s Resistance to Police Brutality in the Late 1990s” in kites #1.
- One noteworthy strength of the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion was that a gang truce was reached shortly before the rebellion and subsequently strengthened in the course of and after it, making it much more difficult for the bourgeoisie to employ this tactic.
- As a practical suggestion for training communist cadre in relation to the present movement against police brutality, we suggest reading the article “From the Masses, to the Masses: A Summation of the October 22nd Coalition’s Resistance to Police Brutality in the Late 1990s” in kites #1.