Shady is as shady does, and it turns out that undercover officers with the New York City Police Department embedded themselves so deeply into the lives of Black Lives Matter activists, they were able to gain access to text messages meant for a very limited audience.
The Guardian obtained newly released NYPD documents—mostly emails—that show undercover cops were able to pose as protesters even within small, select groups, thus making them privy to extensive details about protesters’ whereabouts and plans.
In one email, an official highlighted that an undercover cop was embedded within a group of seven protesters on their way to New York’s Grand Central Station. In others, officers shared the locations of individual protesters at certain times.
Some of the emails even included pictures of organizers’ private planning-group text exchanges. The information uncovered in the documents, as The Guardian notes, suggests that the officials were either trusted enough to be able to take a picture of the activists’ phones, or were part of the group texts themselves, and that has now raised further questions about NYPD compliance to city rules.
“That text loop was definitely just for organizers; I don’t know how that got out,” Elsa Waithe, a Black Lives Matter organizer, told the news site. “Someone had to have told someone how to get on it, probably trusting someone they had seen a few times, in good faith. We clearly compromised ourselves.”
“I feel like the undercover was somebody who was or is very much a part of the group, and has access to information we only give to people we trust,” said Keegan Stephan, who regularly attended the Grand Central protests in 2014 and 2015 and said that information about the protesters’ location was known only by a small group of core organizers at the time. “If you’re walking to Grand Central with a handful of people for an action, that’s much more than just showing up to a public demonstration—that sounds like a level of friendship.”
The new documents show just how far and deep NYPD surveillance went during the roiling protests over the death of Eric Garner in 2014 and 2015.
Of course, as The Guardian notes, the new information brings up questions about the Police Department’s intelligence-gathering methods.
From The Guardian:
Attorneys say the documents raise legal questions about whether the NYPD was acting in compliance with the department’s intelligence-gathering rules, known as the Handschu Guidelines. The guidelines, which are based on an ongoing decades-old class-action lawsuit, hold that the NYPD can begin formally investigating First Amendment activity “when facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that an unlawful act has been, is being, or will be committed” and if the police surveillance plan has been authorized by a committee known as the Handschu Authority. (That committee was exclusively staffed by NYPD officials at the time.) However, according to the guidelines, before launching a formal investigation, the NYPD can also conduct investigative work such as “checking of leads” and “preliminary inquiries” with even lower standards of suspicion.
Of course, there also didn’t seem to be any information of any such unlawful acts. In the emails, the NYPD uncover agents gave little information about anything noteworthy happening, often calling the demonstrators peaceful, with only one mention of a single arrest.
“The documents uniformly show no crime occurring, but NYPD had undercovers inside the protests for months on end as if they were al-Qaida,” David Thompson, an attorney from Stecklow & Thompson, who helped sue for the records, told The Guardian.
Read more at The Guardian.