Dozens of racial justice and civil liberties groups on Wednesday demanded the Department of Homeland Security release an unredacted version of their so-called "Race Paper," an internal memo which the department has leaned on to justify surveillance of racial justice activists.
"We are concerned that biases and inaccuracies reflected in the 'Race Paper' could result in unconstitutional law enforcement activities throughout the country that disproportionately impact activists, protesters, and communities of color," wrote the groups, which included Free Press, the Brennan Center for Justice, Color of Change, and the NAACP.
The memo and the efforts it covers, the groups and other critics say, are part of the government's attempts to portray anti-racist groups like Black Lives Matter as dangerous, surveil black communities, and suppress dissent.
Rather than focusing on the real threat of white nationalists and Neo-Nazis, the government has demonized and criminalized Black activists protesting injustice — this is part of a long history of protecting white terrorists while attacking Black communities they target
— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) March 19, 2018
According to the groups, the memo—officially titled Growing Frequency of Race-Related Domestic Terrorist Violence—"may improperly suggest that constitutionally-protected Black political speech should be considered an indicator of criminal conduct or a national security threat."
"There is zero evidence that Black activist movements fighting for racial justice and against police brutality have been co-opted by violent terrorists." —Sandra Fulton, Free Press
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Racial justice advocates have made repeated attempts to gain information about the DHS's memo, with Color of Change filing a FOIA request in 2016, only to receive a copy of the document that was entirely redacted.
But while DHS has claimed it aims to target violent extremists who have co-opted racial justice groups, the groups behind Wednesday's letter say no such dynamic exists.
"There is zero evidence that Black activist movements fighting for racial justice and against police brutality have been co-opted by violent terrorists," said Sandra Fulton, government relations director for Free Press. "Yet DHS has constructed a surveillance regime based on this unproven theory that improperly targets Black people's constitutionally protected speech and associations. And now the agency is refusing to provide more information about its dishonest and discriminatory tactics."
The groups' letter compares DHS's current efforts to surveil black activists to the government's targeting of civil rights advocates in the 1960s under the COINTELPRO—part of a chapter that is now seen as "a stain on the history of federal law enforcement" which "resulted in robust reforms meant to protect against similar future abuses."
"Withholding these documents only fuels public distrust of DHS while fanning the flames of racism in our society. Given our country's long history of discriminatory policing, the content of this potentially inflammatory document should not remain hidden from public view," wrote the groups.