Two organizations, The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Color of Change, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security this week demanding the release of a mysterious government document known as the "Race Paper," the Chicago Defender reports.
The existence of the document became public knowledge this week after a series of DHS and FBI documents were released as a part of a Freedom of Information Act request that showed that the FBI engaged in surveillance of Black Lives Matter members. Following a request for the paper, DHS released a copy with all of the words except for the title redacted.
Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color of Change, said it is imperative to find out what the Race Paper says because “the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are at war with black activists.”
Robinson added, “The documents we’ve forced the federal government to release expose how these agencies are demonizing and intimidating black activists – people who are rightly demanding that our country be more just – through coordinated and systemic surveillance.”
Avidan Cover, a professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said, “The very purpose of [the Freedom of Information Act] is to inform the people, check government corruption, and ensure accountability. DHS’s refusal to share any information without adequate explanation about the ‘Race Paper’ undermines the law’s critical principles, so vital to a democracy. Without more, we should be highly skeptical of the government’s invocation of national security as the basis for secrecy when it comes to surveillance, race, and the right to speak, assemble, and protest.”
The activists of CCR and Color of Change point out that surveillance on black movements has been historically harmful, and even deadly. During the civil rights movement, the FBI used surveillance as a way of halting social justice protest and progress. Robinson wants to make sure these same tactics are not used in the 21st century.
“Black communities know all too well how poisonous this kind of surveillance and intimidation is for social justice movements," Robinson said. "During the civil rights era, agents with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program vigorously sought to discredit and destroy black leaders and movements while they did nothing to address the injustices our communities were protesting. We can’t allow the FBI to essentially operationalize COINTELPRO for the 21st century without a fight."
Robinson argues that by learning more about the government's surveillance methods, activists will be better able to ensure surveillance doesn't disturb the mission of progress.
"Up until recently, we’ve known very little about the government’s surveillance of our communities," Robinson said. "But, by forcing the disclosure of more information about these surveillance efforts, including our demand today for the full and unredacted ‘Race Paper,’ we can better understand these attacks on black activism and fight to prevent a new generation of black activists from demonization, incarceration, intimidation, and punishment.