Via Radley Balko I see that yesterday the ACLU released its much-anticipated report on police surveillance of (and interference with) protest activity. Read it and weep, as they say. It has dozens of examples from many states, and includes links to descriptions of each incident.
A few highlights:
LAPD Special Order #11, dated March 5, 2008 includes a list of 65 behaviors LAPD officers “shall” report. The list includes such innocuous, clearly subjective, and First Amendment‐protected activities as, taking measurements, using binoculars, taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value,” drawing diagrams, taking notes, and espousing extremist views.
Ask Rodney King about the LAPD's sense of esthetics.
During the 2004 and 2005 Air‐Sea Shows, the Friends Meeting of Ft. Lauderdale distributed information about conscientious objection to recruiters and interested civilians and handed out peace literature. Peter Ackerman learned that this action had landed him on a government watchlist when, shortly after news broke about domestic surveillance by the Department of Defense, a local reporter called him and asked if he was a "credible threat".
Caitlin Childs was arrested after a peaceful protest on public property outside the Honey Baked Ham store on Buford Highway in DeKalb County for taking down the license plate number of the car belonging to the DHS agent who had been photographing the protestors all day.
A plain‐clothes Harvard University detective was caught photographing people at a peaceful protest for “intelligence gathering” purposes. Protesters who then photographed the officer were arrested.
The ACLU aggregates distinct problems: detaining or arresting people for extremely dubious reasons (like for photographing police), on the one hand, and surveillance of protected activities, on the other hand. Those are distinct problems, and require distinct responses. False arrests require vigorous defense and, where appropriate, lawsuits. Questionable surveillance, on the other hand, often doesn't ripen into a constitutional violation. Policing that sort of activity requires vigorous inquiry, tools like FOIA requests, good journalism, and halfway-decent executive oversight of law enforcement. Those are in regrettably short supply — and public tolerance for law enforcement surveillance of dissenters remains appallingly high.
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