Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are only a few days left in our critical Mid-Year Campaign and we truly might not make it without your help.
Please join us. If you rely on independent media, support Common Dreams today. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Mourners watch as George Floyd's horse-drawn hearse makes it way to his final resting place in Houston Memorial Gardens in Pearland, Texas on June 9, 2020. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

People watch as the horse-drawn hearse containing the remains of George Floyd makes its way to the Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery on June 9, 2020 in Pearland, Texas. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Docs Show US Agents, Including Sniper Teams With 'Shoot to Kill' Authorization, Deployed to George Floyd Funeral

The ACLU of Texas, which obtained the documents, said they "paint a chilling picture of federal agents unleashed in our cities."

Brett Wilkins

New reporting reveals federal forces—including at least six sniper teams, an elite Border Patrol tactical unit, FBI aerial and ground surveillance, and National Guard troops—were deployed to George Floyd's funeral in suburban Houston earlier this year, with some of the agents authorized to shoot to kill in the event of serious civil unrest. 

VICE on Thursday published highly confidential government documents obtained via a public records request from the ACLU of Texas showing how federal and local authorities braced for "rioting and looting" at the peaceful June 9 burial of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit banknote on May 25.

"The records show local and federal officials were ready and willing to open fire, even as the nation was undergoing a reckoning over systemic racism and excessive use of force by police in the aftermath of Floyd's death," VICE reported.

As Floyd's horse-drawn hearse made its way to his final resting place in Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in Pearland, records show that at least half a dozen "sniper teams" were at the ready on nearby rooftops, with authorization to use deadly force in the event of violent unrest below. 

"It is not lost on us that CBP deployed snipers and federal agents to surveil and potentially use military-style force against people mourning George Floyd, who died because police officers killed him."
—Madhuri Grewal, ACLU

At the same time, an FBI surveillance plane monitored events from the sky while federal "overwatch units" monitored the mourners for "agitators." The Texas Department of Public Safety and "multiple" unspecified agencies also monitored the event with aircraft and drones, the documents show.

The U.S. military and federal government faced widespread criticism for using aircraft, including drones, to spy on protests sparked by Floyd's killing in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and other cities earlier this year. 

More than 60 members of the elite, militarized U.S. Customs and Border Protection unit BORTAC—whose camouflage-clad agents in unmarked vans snatched demonstrators off the streets of Portland, Oregon during this summer's racial justice protests—were among the federal forces deployed to Floyd's funeral. Their stated mission was "to prevent property loss or damage," according to one of the documents. 

Mainstream critics have called BORTAC President Donald Trump's secret police force—and even a sign of advancing fascism.

In Pearland, National Guard troops were present on standby in a "ready posture as a last line of defense," while local law enforcement also deployed "light tactical military vehicles" at selected intersections to "protect against vehicle-borne attacks" during the funeral procession.

The "rules of engagement" detailed in the leaked documents show the CBP tactical unit was "geared up and ready to deploy" for events as minor as "verbally aggressive language" or throwing empty water bottles. "Less-lethal" force was authorized for more serious incidents, including brick-throwing.  

For even more aggressive behavior, the documents state that "deadly force is authorized anytime."

The large, militarized federal presence was requested by Pearland city officials, according to the documents. Pearland spokesperson Joshua Lee told VICE that city police requested the federal presence, and that the "mission of all personnel was to provide a safe environment for the Floyd family to conduct their service in peace."

"Just because nothing happened doesn't mean there weren't credible threats," Lee explained. "We plan for a variety of potential outcomes to be as prepared as possible."

Shaw Drake, policy counsel for the ACLU of Texas Border Rights Center, said the documents "paint a chilling picture of federal agents unleashed in our cities."

"CBP is a rogue agency that has operated with violent impunity in border communities," Drake said in a statement. "Now they are being deployed as a federal police force to cities across the country in collaboration with local police."

"CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the country, and also the least accountable," Drake added. "It's disturbing to see they made preparations to tear gas or kill people who were mourning another death at the hands of police. CBP has no place in our communities, period."

Madhuri Grewal, federal immigration policy counsel at the ACLU, added that "it is not lost on us that CBP deployed snipers and federal agents to surveil and potentially use military-style force against people mourning George Floyd, who died because police officers killed him."

"Congress pumps billions into CBP annually, and this is what the agency is doing with our taxpayer dollars," Grewal said in a statement. "At a time when our nation is calling for an end to police brutality, our government is responding to communities grieving the relentless murder of Black people at the hands of police with more police and overmilitatization. It's shameful and inhumane." 

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Watching US With Horror, European Groups Push Leaders to Strengthen Abortion Rights

"This is an important moment for leaders across Europe who are committed to reproductive rights to lead by example and galvanize action in their own countries," said one campaigner.

Jake Johnson ·

Progressive Delia Ramirez Defeats Billionaire PAC Money to Win Illinois Primary

"Billionaires and their super PACs are spending millions to defeat progressive candidates," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, who endorsed Ramirez. "They have the money, but we've got the people."

Jake Johnson ·

'Witness Intimidation. Clear as Day': Jan. 6 Panel Teases Evidence of Cover-Up Effort

"Add witness tampering to the laundry list of crimes Trump and his allies must be charged with," said professor Robert Reich.

Jessica Corbett ·

'Bombshell After Bombshell' Dropped as Jan. 6 Testimony Homes In On Trump Guilt

"Hutchinson's testimony of the deeply detailed plans of January 6 and the inaction of those in the White House in response to the violence show just how close we came to a coup," said one pro-democracy organizer.

Brett Wilkins ·

Mark Meadows 'Did Seek That Pardon, Yes Ma'am,' Hutchinson Testifies

The former aide confirmed that attorney Rudy Giuliani also sought a presidential pardon related to the January 6 attack.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo