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ACLU Suing FBI to Obtain Surveillance Records on ‘Black Identity Extremists’

[1]By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The ACLU is locked in a battle with the FBI. It wants information about the bureau’s “Black Identity Extremists” program. It says the bureau is resisting, so it’s suing.

On the ACLU blog, Nusrat Choudhury [2], deputy Director  of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program and Malkia Cyril [3], executive director for the Center for Media Justice,  write:

At a time when violence by white supremacists is on the rise, the FBI appears to be targeting Black people in a secret intelligence program concerning so-called “Black Identity Extremists”— an inflammatory term for a group that doesn’t even exist. The bureau’s practice echoes earlier, shameful government surveillance programs that sought to discredit civil rights and Black power activists who were critical to advancing racial equality — and it echoes modern-day spying that impacts immigrants and Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities.

That’s probably why the government doesn’t want us to get information about this program.  It is also why the ACLU and the Center for Media Justice are taking the FBI to court [4].

In August 2017, the FBI issued an intelligence assessment [5] that designated “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers” a new domestic terror threat. Disseminated to more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies, the intelligence assessment claims, without evidence, that Black people involved in unrelated police killings shared an ideology that motivated their actions. It also focuses on Black people who, in the bureau’s own words, “perceive[] racism and injustice in American society.”

The intelligence assessment is built on anti-Black racial stereotypes. It is so deeply flawed [6] and of such “poor analytic quality [7]” that even some law enforcement acknowledge [8] that no group of so-called “Black Identity Extremists” even exists.

The intelligence assessment sparked an avalanche of concern from elected officials [9], Black activists, and Black-led organizations, including the Center for Media Justice [10] and Color of Change [11]. The dissemination of a racialized threat label to law enforcement nationwide holds the potential to spark baseless police harassment of Black activists who protest police and state violence. And we know that programs that diminish already weakened mechanisms for police accountability can lead to harm and death [12] for Black people stopped by police. There are too many stories of Black men, women, and transgender people that underscore this truth.

In 2018, the Center for Media Justice [13] and ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request [14] for records to inform the public about how the “Black Identity Extremist” label is being used. Still, the FBI continues to keep critical information secret [15] without any valid justification, and it has even refused [16] to search [17] for entire categories of records.