ACLU Sues FBI for Surveillance Records of Black Activists
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ACLU Sues FBI for Surveillance Records of Black Activists

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the FBI on Thursday to gain access to classified files, which referenced the targeting of Black activists.

The lawsuit enforces the ACLU right to information about a 2017 FBI Intelligence Assessment that suggests, without any evidence, that Black people who rally and fight for justice are “Black Identity Extremists” and they pose a “threat.” The assessment asserts that these same people are domestic terrorists.

This document has been widely distributed to law enforcement agencies around the country as well. Not only does this report jeopardize the lives of Blacks advocating against injustice and brutality but there’s a more pressing concern — government surveillance of Black people and Black-led organizations based on anti-Black stereotypes and First Amendment-protected activities.

The FBI’s creation of the “Black Identity Extremist” is the latest example in a history of efforts to discredit, harass, disrupt and thwart the efforts of Black activists who advocate against white supremacy and racial injustice.

The ACLU’s lawsuit is calling out the FBI’s attempt of turning activism into terrorism. The federal government released 320 pages or a little over half of the information in the files on February 22 but there were heavy redactions.

The agency even tried to “enact” multiple exemptions under the FOIA. However, the complaint takes issue with the heavy redaction of the documents and claims that the FBI failed to provide “any description of the withheld information sufficient to permit [the ACLU and CMJ] to determine whether [the FBI] properly withheld information under the specified FOIA exemptions.”

The ACLU released in its analysis the deficiencies the report had in reference to the redacted information.

“The public deserves to know whether the FBI is wasting valuable resources to target those who object to racism, police violence against Black people, and injustice in America,” Malkia A. Cyril, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Media Justice (CMJ), said, in a statement.

FBI spokeswoman Tina Jagerson said Thursday that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Nate Jones, director of the FOIA Project of the National Security Archive at The George Washington University, said the FBI “goes out of its way” to conduct bad and incomplete searches when faced with a regular records request.

“They follow the law when they’re sued,” Jones said.

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