Last week, the FBI field office in New Orleans issued an alert to law enforcement in Louisiana with the inflammatory headline, “Violence Against Law Enforcement Officers and Riots Planned for 8-10 July,” claiming protests against the killing of Alton Sterling would be violent. The sources for the intelligence were unnamed social media posts, which had not been vetted for credibility. But the alert prompted the Baton Rouge police department to crack down on Black Lives Matter protests.
More than 100 peaceful protesters were arrested by police on Saturday. Police repeatedly swept into the crowd like a paramilitary force dressed as robots, giving no audible instructions and snatching people for arrest. More were arrested on Sunday by police who moved in wearing riot gear and plastic face masks, and banged their batons against riot shields in threatening unison.
By 12am on Sunday, July 10, the city was under a virtual lockdown. Businesses closed down early in response to the police actions in the streets.
The crackdown was so vicious that four groups: North Baton Rouge Matters; Black Youth Project 100; New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice; American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana; and the Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, are suing the Baton Rouge police department, asking for an immediate restraining order.
But the FBI was not named in the lawsuit. The agency is free to continue to throw fuel on the fire and stoke distrust and fear of the Black Lives Matter movement by any means necessary.
Under the guise of “community outreach, the FBI is harassing activists before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The Dissent NewsWire reported on visits the FBI made in June, now Washington Post reports that in the last several days, the FBI has been visiting prominent Black Lives Matter activists around the US and questioning them about their plans for the upcoming convention. Activists have been visited by the FBI in Cleveland, San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, and St. Louis. In some cases, the FBI agents have told activists point blank not to go to Cleveland.
Many Black Lives Matter activists have taken to social media to detail their encounters with the FBI. Samuel Sinyangwe, an organizer with Campaign Zero, described on social media how an FBI agent visited his home in New York City. According, to Sinyangwe he received a call from a blocked number. The caller on the other end was an FBI agent, who had tried to visit Sinyangwe at home only to discover he was out. Even though Sinyangwe’s apartment complex requires a key card to enter, the agent was able to get inside the building and slip a business card under his door. According to Sinyangwe, the agent first asked him if he had plans to go to Cleveland and then proceeded to warn him against going. The agent also requested to meet in person with Sinyangwe. Sinyangwe told his followers over Twitter, “ But the fact that the FBI is discouraging protesters from attending is unacceptable. And their tactics were classic intimidation.”
The Post article was published the same day that President Barack Obama hosted a summit on police reform that included some activists associated with Black Lives Matter. DeRay Mckesson, himself arrested during protests in Baton Rouge, reportedly raised the issue of FBI intimidation of activists with Obama. Yet, the FBI under Obama has so far continued to do what it has always done–spy on and harass activists.
Obama’s presidency has witnessed FBI surveillance and infiltration of Occupy Wall Street, anti-NATO protests, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and increased infiltration of Muslim communities. The FBI has also increased its attempts to entrap activists, concocting fake plots and then enticing individuals to participate in them. After the individuals agree to participate in the FBI designed plot, they are arrested and jailed. Obama has shown little interest in seeing that the FBI respects the First Amendment.
However, the problem is not just any one president or party. The FBI’s patterns and practices have been at odds with the First Amendment since its very inception. While activists should not be surprised that the FBI is attempting to intimidate Black Lives Matter activist, they should not accept this behavior. Social movements in the past have put the government on the defensive and forced some reforms onto the surveillance state. That is why BORDC/DDF has brought together over sixty groups and thousands of activists to call on Congress to investigate the FBI.