On Tuesday, The Guardian reported that the NYPD had infiltrated a group of Black Lives Matter organizers and accessed their communications. "Undercover officers in the New York police department infiltrated small groups of Black Lives Matter activists and gained access to their text messages," the report read, further explaining that the records were produced in response to a freedom of information lawsuit by law firm Stecklow & Thompson.
The news confirms what many activists have feared all along, that authorities have been working meticulously to dismantle the Movement for Black Lives from the inside. Often dismissed as nothing more than conspiracy theory, this fear is in fact rooted in a legacy of similar covert activity by local and federal law enforcement bodies alike that usually only comes to light quietly many years later, if at all. The most obvious example of this being COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram), a series of (often illegal) surveillance and infiltration projects conducted by the FBI aimed at discrediting and disrupting American political organizations. Among the most famous targets of COINTELPRO were Martin Luther King, Jr.–whose phones were wiretapped and reputation pro-actively smeared–and the Blank Panther Party, an organization that was effectively crushed in large part due to these underhanded efforts.
By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer
In 1969, 21-year-old Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, was assassinated in his sleep during a raid by the Chicago Police Department in conjunction with the FBI. Showing remarkable promise as an organizer for racial justice, Hampton was targeted early on in his organizing career for surveillance. Before it was raided, the structure of Hampton's apartment was relayed by a mole planted in his office who also slipped barbiturates in the organizer's drink the night of his murder. Although an investigation found that police fired over ninety shots while the Panthers only shot once (probably in defense), Hampton's death was ruled a justifiable homicide by the inquest.
The four centuries in which American police have been perfecting the violent oppression of Black communities is well-documented. On top of the infiltration of Black freedom movements and organizations, there have been countless studies showing how Black people are more likely to be viewed as older and less innocent than they actually are in courts of law, are more likely to be seen as dangerous, more likely to receive harsher punishment for the same crime, and more likely to be killed by the police. Despite all of this evidence, there is hardly any way to prove misdeeds by authorities because so many find comfort in giving law-enforcement the benefit of the doubt even though they already benefit from the way "proof" is legally established in the first place. The alternative of an abolition-based resistance being so often accepted to be unthinkable, many are content to lay back and "let the law do its job," even though the job of the law has been proven to be undermining Black freedom projects by any means necessary.
This is why abolition-based perspectives and real alternatives to this system of policing are imperative to highlight and propel. The fact is, a world where safety is not built on the backs of Black people is not impossible, and there are many people and organizations working toward that future. At some point, the only people asking for more evidence that this law enforcement system cannot work for Black people will be those who won't be satisfied by any evidence at all. And we should also recognize how, for many, that point has already passed.
*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.