Undercover New York police officers infiltrated organized Black Lives Matter protests and the city police department tailed and kept secret files on the organization's activists, according to newly released documents.
Nearly 300 documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the media, from the Metro-North Railroad and Metropolitan Transit Authority, show there was much more on-the-ground surveillance of Black Lives Matter members by undercover NYPD officers, NYPD intelligence officers and MTA counter terrorism agents, than had previously admitted to.
The level of surveillance on the group, which is dedicated to the human rights of African Americans, is on par with terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
The documents are the first real proof of a regular presence of undercover police at Black Lives Matter protests in New York City. The protests began last year after a grand jury did not indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo over the death of Eric Garner.
The surveillance of protesters and use of undercover officers raises questions about whether New York-area law enforcement agencies have the potential to criminalize free speech and treat activists like terrorist threats.
Civil rights activists say the police files appear to document a response not in proportion to the level of crime and law breaking associated with protests, which was virtually nothing.
Media were unable to get particulars of undercover officers who attended protests or monitored Black Lives Matter activists.
In response to requests for names, MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg said “The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department must ensure the safety and security of millions of people who pass through our railroad systems every day, at a time when transportation networks have been persistently targeted by terrorists. We accommodate peaceful protest in our transportation system, while also ensuring that protest activities do not prevent customers from using the system for transportation. We take all appropriate police measures to ensure the safety and security of our customers, but we do not discuss the particulars of those operations.”
Although the NYPD did not comply with request for documents, those obtained from the MTA and Metro-North show NYPD personnel had been involved in the surveillance of Black Lives Matter protests .
Many of the released documents included live updates on protests from undercover police officers, reporting on numbers, and the tracking of protesters’ movements around the New York city, particularly those of New York’s ‘People’s Monday’ protests, an organization that focuses attention on, and demonstrate on the behalf of, victims of alleged police brutality, and which repeatedly convenes at Grand Central Station. Some of the reports go beyond tracking group movements, containing information on specific activists, including photos.
Some documents showed surveillance operations may have targeted organizations and individuals all across the city including including schools and students, with files on individuals including photographs and movement and contact reports.
Black Lives Matter activists have said that while the intense surveillance of their lives was worrying it would not stop them protesting.
DeRay Mckesson, whose social media activities reportedly were monitored by the Department of Homeland Security said . “Some of this surveillance is meant to scare us and potentially to figure out what people’s next steps are. But what we’re doing is right.”