FBI Surveillance of African-Americans...then, and now

The words civil rights mean a lot of things, depending on one's perspective.  To people in the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian community civil rights may invoke first amendment rights to practice their religion, or the right to privacy in their home.  For Occupy, peace and justice, and environmental activists the words may call to mind the first amendment right to free speech.  As the government ramps up its use of Cointelpro style tactics, surveillance without criminal suspicion or warrants, planting agent provocateurs within political movements, and collecting massive amounts of intelligence, these rights are increasingly threatened.

Dr. King, Jr. with President Johnson That being said, there is no question that the term civil rights is intimately linked to the struggles and victories of African-Americans to be treated as equal citizens.  Some may see these struggles as distinct from the types of abuses mentioned above.  However, the systems of political oppression in place today, especially for communities of color, shows that they are not new. They reflect the ways in which African-Americans were targeted in the 60s and 70s.  Most famously, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was targeted by these tactics.  He was followed, taped, and sent harassing letters.  The FBI even (unsuccessfully) attempted to break up his marriage by

“taping personal moments he shared with friends and women and then sending edited versions of these engagements to King's wife.”

In addition to Dr. King, the Black Panther Party was targeted by surveillance and harassment, which included encouraging street violence between Panthers and street gangs.

Clearly, the tactics used by the FBI and other government agencies in the name of homeland security are a chilling echo of these tactics.  Even worse, African-Americans continue to be targeted.  As former FBI agent turned ACLU policy advisor Mike German writes, the FBI is using flawed training materials, based on dated material and irrational associations, to paint an imaginary picture of “black separatist terrorists.”  In fact,

“the ACLU released a 2009 FBI Atlanta Intelligence Note that purported to examine this “threat,” in part by charting the growth of the black population in Georgia from 2000 through 2015.”

Thus, the same apparatus that is conducting racial mapping of muslim, Arab, and other communities collects is focusing on African-Americans, even those that are not associated with any political movement at all.  Instead of turning its attention to other communities, then, the government has simply expanded its reach, which has always included African-Americans.

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