The Boston Police Department calls them criminals, extremists and a reason to raise a red flag in regards to ensuring homeland security. Their crime, though, is simply exercising their First Amendment rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts has successfully requested and obtained a trove of files from the Boston Police Department that reveals that officers of the law have for several years conducted detailed surveillance on peaceful protesters, in many cases filing extensive paperwork to discuss the inner workings of non-violent organizations and how they exercise their constitutionally-protected right to be secure in their political beliefs.
The victims, the ACLU reports, include well-known activist groups such as the Greater Boston chapter of the CodePink anti-war organization and a local branch of the Veterans for Peace movement. In dozens of cases, officers with the BPD intervened and interrogated activists with these groups and others who were not breaking the law. Even still, officers regularly wrote-up their findings in a scathing tone that suggests malicious intent in dossiers sent to federally-assisted fusion centers to be shared with the FBI.
“What’s happening in this city is really disturbing, and if you talk to activists who have been out on the streets protesting war for 10 years, protesting on behalf of immigrants’ rights or workers’ rights, they will tell you that this is not a surprise,” Kade Crockford of the ACLU tells RT. “The Boston Police Department has clearly been monitoring political speech for some time in this city. What we didn’t know was that the city was filing so-called ‘intelligence reports.’”
Those reports are now in the hands of Crockford and are entered, albeit redacted, into the public domain. The ACLU has now published the findings obtained through a lawsuit against the BPD, revealing that unmerited investigations were regularly opened up to probe into protest groups only exercising their rights. Even when no incident warranted an investigation, however, Crockford says that protesters were still filed in these fusion centers with reports plastered with labels such as “Criminal Act,” “Extremists,” “Civil Disturbance” and “HomeSec-Domestic.”
“When law enforcement officers start investigating protected ideas rather than crimes, they threaten our right to free expression and assembly protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and Article 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights,” the ACLU acknowledges in a write-up published online this week. “The unchecked political surveillance our lawsuit uncovered undermines our core values by chilling the speech of people who wish to participate in our democracy, which is a laudable exercise that our government should encourage and promote. It would weaken the First Amendment if would-be speakers were to remain silent out of fear that they would be falsely labeled an ‘Extremist’ or potential threat in a secret government database.”
“This information has absolutely no bearing to any crime to any threat to anyone in this city. This is purely First Amendment expression,” Crockford adds. “And not only just that, but the Boston Police Department retained these documents in violation of even their own guidelines.”
While it took a lawsuit to allow the ACLU to access those documents, the FBI was allowed unfettered access once files were fed to fusion centers, massive data-retention facilities funded in part by the US Department of Homeland Security but revealed by Congress to be doing little more than collecting “crap intelligence.”
Only earlier this month, the Senate’s bipartisan Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released the findings of a two-year investigation into the effectiveness of the centers, only to all but conclude that more than $1 billion has been wasted on a system that has done little to thwart terrorism, all the while eroding civil liberties.
“It’s very clear to me that when the Boston Police Department, which is charged with keeping the public safe with our money, is using its resources to intimidate and harass political activists based purely on their political issues and their First Amendment expression, of course that creates fear and distrust of authority in this city and this state,” Crockford adds.
“Everything we do is being seen; its being monitored in some way, and that’s scary,” Veterans For Peace activist Pat Scanlon tells the ACLU. “That can be very scary.”
The ACLU’s report was released only days after a third self-described anarchist was jailed indefinitely for refusing to answer personal questions before a federal grand jury believed to be convened in order to investigate persons who favor that particular ideology. Authorities demanded their testimonies following a series of coordinate raids where law enforcement demanded they relinquish, among other items, clothing and literature.
“People are scared,” peace activist Richard Colbath-Hess adds to the ACLU. “If the police are monitoring us, who wants to take a risk?”