Tagged: civil rights

#BlackLivesMatter? — unless you’re Homeland Security


Click to enlargePeter Marshall

The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring the Black Lives Matter movement since anti-police protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, according to hundreds of documents obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents, released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination, indicate that the department frequently collects information, including location data, on Black Lives Matter activities from public social media accounts, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, even for events expected to be peaceful. The reports confirm social media surveillance of the protest movement and ostensibly related events in the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York.

They also show the department watching over gatherings that seem benign and even mundane. For example, DHS circulated information on a nationwide series of silent vigils and a DHS-funded agency planned to monitor a funk music parade and a walk to end breast cancer in the nation’s capital.

The tracking of domestic protest groups and peaceful gatherings raises questions over whether DHS is chilling the exercise of First Amendment rights, and over whether the department, created in large part to combat terrorism, has allowed its mission to creep beyond the bounds of useful security activities as its annual budget has grown beyond $60 billion.

Our government thinks anyone who stands up for equal rights is a potential terrorist.

The surveillance cataloged in the DHS documents goes back to August of last year, when protests and riots broke out in Ferguson the day after the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. According to two August 11th, 2014 reports, a DHS FEMA “WatchOps officer” used information from Twitter and Vine to monitor the riots and reproduced a map, originally created by a Reddit user, of conflict zones…

An April 2015 FEMA memo also shows that the DHS appears to have gathered information on anti-police-brutality protests in Philadelphia “organized by members of the Philly Coalition for Real Justice” and in New York on May Day at “Foley Square, start time 1700… Independent factions are being solicited to join in on a full day of demonstration through various open source social media sites, fliers, posters.”…

Baher Azmy, a legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, however, argues that this “providing situational awareness” is just another word for surveillance and that creating this body of knowledge about perfectly legal events is a problem in and of itself. “What they call situational awareness is Orwellian speak for watching and intimidation,” said Azmy. “Over time there’s a serious harm to the associational rights of the protesters and it’s an effective way to chill protest movements. The average person would be less likely to go to a Black Lives Matter protest if the government is monitoring social media, Facebook, and their movements.”

Although DHS spokesman S.Y.Lee says…that the department “does not provide resources to monitor any specific planned or spontaneous protest, rally or public gathering,” some of the documents show that the DHS has produced minute-by-minute reports on protesters’ movements in demonstrations…

The documents also elaborate on DHS’s response to riots and militant protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American man who in April died from injuries sustained while in police custody…the DHS’ Federal Protective Service placed more than 400 officers on duty in Baltimore after Gray’s death…

Raven Rakia, a journalist who investigates state surveillance and policing, said that the DHS’ decision to monitor Black Lives Matter is hardly surprising, given the federal government’s well documented history of spying on and suppressing black social movements and groups like the Black Panthers. “There’s a long history of the federal agencies, especially the FBI, seeing black resistance organizations as a threat to national security,” says Rakia…

Same as it ever was. A government that isn’t serious about equal rights for all Americans, a Congress afraid of attempts to guarantee voting rights, civil rights, expected in a democratic nation – sets the stage for activists to be an automatic target for suppression.

We all get the bill for police brutality


Click to enlargePat Vasquez-Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal

The death of James Boyd in Albuquerque

The cost of resolving police-misconduct cases has surged for big U.S. cities in recent years, even before the current wave of scrutiny faced by law-enforcement over tactics.

The 10 cities with the largest police departments paid out $248.7 million last year in settlements and court judgments in police-misconduct cases, up 48% from $168.3 million in 2010…

Those cities collectively paid out $1.02 billion over those five years in such cases, which include alleged beatings, shootings and wrongful imprisonment. When claims related to car collisions, property damage and other police incidents are included, the total rose to more than $1.4 billion…

City officials and others say the large payouts stem not just from new cases, but from efforts to resolve decades-old police scandals. In 2013 and 2014, for example, Chicago paid more than $60 million in cases where people were wrongfully imprisoned decades ago because of alleged police misconduct.

For some cities, the data show that cases have gotten more expensive to resolve. Philadelphia police have faced criticism for numerous shootings in recent years. Last year, the city settled 10 shooting cases for an average of $536,500 each. In 2010, it settled eight for an average of $156,937. A city lawyer attributes the rise to a few large settlements, not a pattern of questionable shootings…

The rationales for increased costs – coming from police departments and city lawyers – IMHO are crap. Covering their pasty butts, trying to hide from responsibility.

For most of the police departments surveyed by the Journal, the costliest claims were allegations of civil-rights violations and other misconduct, followed by payouts on car collisions involving the police. Misconduct cases were the costliest for New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and Baltimore…

The data don’t indicate whether cities are settling such claims more quickly, but some recent cases suggest that might be happening, especially in cases involving video.

In April, less than two weeks after a news helicopter captured video of sheriff’s deputies in San Bernardino County, Calif., kicking and beating Francis Pusok , the county reached a $650,000 settlement with him. Mr. Pusok had been trying to escape from the deputies on a horse he allegedly stole. He hadn’t filed a lawsuit at the time of the settlement and still faces charges.

“They wanted this to go away fast,” says Sharon Brunner, a lawyer for Mr. Pusok, who is fighting the charges. A spokesman for the county said the quick payout was made to avoid costly litigation…

The same is true of New York City under their new mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Not all the departments surveyed showed an increase in misconduct payouts. Phoenix, Los Angeles and Baltimore, for example, showed declines. But insurers and lawyers who defend police say current scrutiny of law enforcement is broadly affecting the resolution of lawsuits.

According to Joanna Schwartz’s study at UCLA, which tabulated civil-rights payouts in 44 large police and sheriff departments from 2006 through 2011, Albuquerque, NM, paid out the most per officer—more than $2,000 a year over that time…

Last October, the city agreed to change how its officers use force in a settlement it reached with the Justice Department, which said it found a widespread pattern of excessive and sometimes lethal force by officers.

Albuquerque officials say the city has been bracing for more settlements and has had to allocate funding it could have spent on raises for employees, parks and other municipal projects to cover the payouts in police cases.

There’s no magic source of blue money to cover increased costs from police department screw-ups. Every ounce of social corruption – from racism, contempt for civilians, ignorance of citizens’ rights, disrespect for constitutional protection – adds up as a charge against the whole budget for every municipality.

You and I get the bill.

Apple and Google invited to debate a confidential summit for spies


Click to enlargeDownton Abbey for spies

At an 18th-century mansion in England’s countryside last week, current and former spy chiefs from seven countries faced off with representatives from tech giants Apple and Google to discuss government surveillance in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

The three-day conference, which took place behind closed doors and under strict rules about confidentiality, was aimed at debating the line between privacy and security…

According to an event program obtained by The Intercept, questions on the agenda included: “Are we being misled by the term ‘mass surveillance’?” “Is spying on allies/friends/potential adversaries inevitable if there is a perceived national security interest?” “Who should authorize intrusive intelligence operations such as interception?” “What should be the nature of the security relationship between intelligence agencies and private sector providers, especially when they may in any case be cooperating against cyber threats in general?” And, “How much should the press disclose about intelligence activity?”

The list of participants included:

Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director for law enforcement and information security; Verity Harding, Google’s U.K. public policy manager and head of security and privacy policy; Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director of global privacy; Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s product security and privacy manager; Matthew Kirk, Vodafone Group’s external affairs director; and Phillipa McCrostie, global vice chair of transaction advisory services, Ernst & Young…

From the U.S.:

John McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director and deputy director; Jami Miscik, the CIA’s former director of intelligence; Mona Sutphen, member of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board and former White House deputy chief of staff; Rachel Brand, member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board; George Newcombe, board of visitors, Columbia Law School; David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist and associate editor; and Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books contributor…

The event was chaired by the former British MI6 spy chief Sir John Scarlett and organized by the Ditchley Foundation, which holds several behind-closed-doors conferences every year at its mansion in Oxfordshire in an effort to address “complex issues of international concern.” The discussions are held under what is called the Chatham House Rule, meaning what is said by each attendee during the meetings cannot be publicly revealed, a setup intended to encourage open and frank discussion. The program outlining the conference on surveillance told participants they could “draw afterwards on the substance of what has been said” but warned them “not under any circumstances to reveal to any person not present at the conference” details exposing what particular named individuals talked about…

Investigative reporter Duncan Campbell, who attended the event, told The Intercept that it was a “remarkable” gathering that “would have been inconceivable without Snowden,” the National Security Agency whistleblower.

“Away from the fetid heat of political posturing and populist headlines, I heard some unexpected and surprising comments from senior intelligence voices, including that ‘cold winds of transparency’ had arrived and were here to stay,” said Campbell, who has been reporting on British spy agencies over a career spanning four decades.

He added: “Perhaps to many participants’ surprise, there was general agreement across broad divides of opinion that Snowden – love him or hate him – had changed the landscape; and that change towards transparency, or at least ‘translucency’ and providing more information about intelligence activities affecting privacy, was both overdue and necessary.”

Since none of us were invited to the discussion we’ll have to rely upon “interpretations” leaked over coming weeks. Certainly, some of those attending were on the side of privacy and transparency. Not governed by government-level paranoia or bound by class-dependent arrogance.

Same-sex marriage wins in Ireland referendum 62% to 38%

This would have been “Pic of the day” except that I wanted to make the point this beautiful mural was an effort in support of the YES vote in Ireland for same-sex marriage. Good news all round.

Joe-Caslin-Girl-Mural
Click to enlarge

Artist Joe Caslin completed the 45ft tall installation over the weekend after stirring debate in Dublin with a similar work showing a gay couple hugging.

#BoycottIndiana: Republican law says religion trumps civil rights

swisher, benioff

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff says he has canceled all his company’s events in the state of Indiana after its governor signed into law a bill that makes it legal for individuals to use religious grounds as a defense when they are sued by people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

And in an interview with Re/code, Benioff threatened the state with a “slow rolling of economic sanctions” if the law is not thrown out.

“We’ve made significant investments in Indiana. We run major marketing events and conferences there. We’re a major source of income and revenue to the state of Indiana, but we simply cannot support this kind of legislation,” Benioff said…

Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act today, and said blah, blah, blah, God’s Will, blah, blah, screw civil rights, blah, blah, and the US Constitution!

Benioff said that Salesforce employs between 2,000 and 3,000 people in the state, owing largely to its 2013 acquisition of ExactTarget, an email marketing company based in Indianapolis. Salesforce paid $2.5 billion for it, and Benioff later described the acquisition as a “perfect fit.”

Since 2007, ExactTarget has hosted its most important customer event, called Connections, in Indianapolis. Last year it drew 10,000 people and about $8 million in spending to Indianapolis. Salesforce announced it would move the event to New York in September. Benioff says there are other events that will be canceled as well. “We can’t bring our customers or our employees into a situation where they might be discriminated against,” he said. “We have a large number of employees and customers who would be impacted dramatically by this legislation. … I’m really just advocating on their behalf.”

Bravo, Benioff!

Bigots courting votes from idjits have no place in a democracy that recognizes the civil rights of all citizens.

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Pic of the Weekend

APTOPIX Selma 50th
Click to enlargeAP Photo/Butch Dill

In this aerial view, crowds of people move in a symbolic walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Sunday, March 8, 2015, in Selma, Ala. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,’ a civil rights march in which protestors were beaten, trampled and tear-gassed by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma.

All power to the people!

Celebrate International Women’s Day

On Sunday 8 March, it’s International Women’s Day. To celebrate, Helen Lewis pays tribute to 10 inspirational feminists


Aphra Behn

A playwright, translator and spy, Behn (also known as Astrea) has a good claim to being the first Englishwoman to make a living out of her writing. In the centuries after her death in 1689, her plays were dismissed as indecent because of their focus on female sexuality (“The stage how loosely does Astrea tread/ Who fairly puts all characters to bed!” wrote Alexander Pope in 1737). Recent feminist scholars have rediscovered her writing, and have made the case that the publication of her prose fiction Oroonoko, the story of a slave, was a key moment in the development of the English novel.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” In the most high-profile pop-feminist moment of 2013, Beyoncé included these words – taken from a TED talk given by Adichie – on her single Flawless. In the talk, which has since been published as a book called We Should All Be Feminists, the Nigerian-born author asks: why are girls taught to shrink themselves, to compete for men, to limit their ambitions? She urges her audience to reclaim the word “feminist” and to say: “Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it.”


Nellie Bly

“No one but a man can do this,” Nellie Bly’s editor told her in 1886 when she suggested travelling round the world in less than 80 days. She would need a protector, he said – and how would she ever carry all the luggage a lady would need on such a trip? Bly didn’t worry too much about the first quibble, and travelled light, crushing all her belongings into a single handbag. She made it home in 72 days. That wasn’t the first time the pioneering American journalist had attracted attention through her work – a year earlier, in 1887, she faked madness to go undercover in an asylum, exposing its poor conditions and abusive staff.

The list goes on from there. RTFA to learn about a few folks you may not know. And should.

Angela and Gurley Flynn

Who would I add to the list? Angela Davis – who probably needs no introduction to folks under the age of 80. Occasionally, on her visits to the Northeast, I was one of her bodyguards.

Most especially, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. I met the Rebel Girl in 1963, a year before she died. She was an inspiration to working women and men for decades. She paid for it with time in prison, hatred from fascists, proto-fascists, every flavor of apologist for the religion of corporate hierarchies owning and running our lives.