In the most un-surprising, surprising news thus far, it seems like the Chicago police department has been monitoring the actions and online communication of protests groups and community organizations after a white cop named Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri shot Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager. The Chicago Police Department has had plans to have undercover officers spy on protest groups, of which the Chicago Sun-Times got a copy. This news comes as we see Mayor Rahm Emanuel deal with the heavy criticism surrounding the city’s procedures and unpopular failures with police shootings.
In October, the records show Ralph Price, the police department’s top lawyer, agreed to a plan to send undercover cops to “monitor” meetings of four additional groups including Black Lives Matter activists, churches, and philanthropic organizations, and the Black Youth Project 100.
A month later, after the police released the dashcam video of a Chicago cop killing Laquan McDonald in response to court orders, a top aide went to the command center of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications in order to keep a close watch on the protests that the Black Youth Project 100 had been organizing.
That was the seventh investigation that the police department opened since 2009 to oversee groups who were exercising their free-speech rights (i.e. protest groups). The department requires investigators to justify their inspections with a “First Amendment Worksheet” which outlines the proposed inquiry, which is supposed to be allowed only when there is a “reasonable law enforcement purpose.”
After the nationwide protests following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the police in Chicago scoped out and paid careful attention to Black demonstrators and kept notes of events by which Reverend Jesse Jackson led. In all seven cases, members of the groups have spoken out against City Hall or its allies. Some of the protestors do not think anything has changed substantially.
“I always operate under the assumption that someone is looking at us,” says DeAngelo Bester, co-executive director of the Workers Center for Racial Justice, one of the groups the police investigated last fall.
The Workers Center for Racial Justice’s objective is to give access to jobs, for which Bester believes that it is wasteful to spy on law-abiding protestors.
“The Chicago Police Department and Emanuel administration try to justify the harsh treatment [by cops] in black communities by saying there’s so much violence,” he says. “Meanwhile, they’re spending the time and resources to surveil groups exercising their First Amendment rights.”
The watchdog operations last fall began from plans announced by the Black Youth Project, the Workers Center and Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, which is a coalition of neighborhood groups and churches known as SOUL, to protest the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, held between October 24 and October 27 at McCormick Place.
According to the police commander Leo Panepinto, the chiefs’ association learned that the protestors planned to “disrupt” the conference. He wrote that “the methods, scale, and actions such groups to take to cause their disruptions are not identified and may include unlawful conduct.”
He never explained why the four organizations listed were chosen but he was granted permission to send undercover officers to their meetings.
According to Adam Collins, the mayor’s spokesman, the mayor’s “office has no involvement in the investigatory decision-making of the police department.” Collins said that Joe Deal, the deputy chief of staff for the mayor, “frequently” oversees city operations out of OEMC “to manage street closures, to protest people’s first amendment rights and to ensure the safety of people gathering.”
(Photo Credit: Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times)