Memphis police have been violating a consent decree by spying on activists. A federal judge ruled that the Memphis Police Department violated a consent decree between the ACLU and the City of Memphis by spying on protesters through the department’s political spying program.
The Memphis police department conducted “political intelligence,” using the Office of Homeland Security for the purpose of spying on activists, and the department intercepted electronic communications and infiltrated groups using fake social media accounts.
Memphis has 1,000 surveillance cameras and makes use of license plate readers on the roads throughout the city. While police have denied using these tools to track protesters, emails presented by the ACLU show that they were trying to track down images of protests for storage.
For years, the Memphis police systematically gathered political intelligence on people who were not suspected of any crimes. When the spying was uncovered in 1976 the mayor attempted to burn all of the records.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit, and a consent decree was reached in 1978 that forbid the Memphis police from spying on activists. As the Black Lives Matter movement emerged the surveillance machine started up again. Police kept watch on activist leaders, these were not people who were suspected of any crimes, they were activists. Among those targeted was the mother of a young man who had been killed by a Memphis police officer.
The ACLU explains:
“Evidence collected during the case revealed that the Memphis police had engaged in extensive surveillance of individuals and organizations engaging in protected political speech, including creating a fake Facebook profile to “friend” protesters’ accounts and gain access to private messages; distributing “joint intelligence briefs” on protesters to the U.S. Military, the Department of Justice, the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security, AutoZone, FedEx, St. Jude’s and more; and sending plainclothes officers to covertly monitor protests and community events like church services, a tree planting ceremony in memory of a teen killed by Memphis police and a Black-owned food truck festival.”
Friday, federal judge Jon McCalla ruled this gathering of political intelligence violated the 1978 agreement and the “evidence clearly and convincingly shows that Memphis’ Office of Homeland Security was operated for the purpose of political intelligence.”