In from Color of Change.
My name is April, and I am a Core Organizer with Black Lives Matter DC. And because I am standing up for Black lives, I am now under police surveillance.
A few hours after sending emails about being under police surveillance, I was targeted by an officer at the 7-11 near my house. I made sure to avoid him while in the store but when I left he was waiting for me, standing right outside the door. As I turned to walk to my car he yelled sarcastically, “Have a good evening Ms. Goggans” and then began to hostilely bully, threaten and harass me.
Knowing law enforcement is watching you is not thrilling or full of action like many well-known movies. It is omnipresent. It dictates how you move in the world, it makes you second-guess your associates, friends, co-workers and people you walk by on the street. Nothing is the same after you are sure “they” are watching you. There have been times I haven’t answered the door, my phone or gone to certain events because of the emotional labor and mental alertness it would take to be out in the world, even if only briefly.
This is the power of the military-grade surveillance tool that police across the country are using and have used against me – the Stingray. These devices can monitor everything you do on your phone or be used to block your cell service. These Stingrays are being deployed daily by police to vacuum up the personal data of entire neighborhoods.
The first time I saw “the truck” was in early spring. I was representing BLM while participating in an action with a local organization a few blocks from my home. A group of wealthy developers had purchased tickets for the “gentrification bus” to ride through predominantly Black, working class neighborhoods to scope out property to buy and develop there. We blocked the bus until it had to literally back out of our neighborhood. It was an exhilarating win until it disappeared down the street. Before we could react, a dozen police units rushed into the area, jumped out of their cars and started escalating, threatening, and antagonizing us. Then we saw “the truck.” We didn’t know what it was but knew we hadn’t seen it at any protest before.
We had been livestreaming the entire event on Facebook, documenting the police as they started pushing people, even throwing a mother and son on top of cars. But as soon as “the truck” showed up my phone kept losing the cell signal and our livestream cut out. I felt the hair on my arms stand up, I knew that “the truck” had something to do with it – it was carrying a Stingray. I immediately thought about all of the personal information they could access from my phone. And not just mine – but my daughters, my parents, and friends that I love dearly. I was sick with worry. Would they use that information to hurt them? I had no answer and no way to find out. I felt violated, unprotected, alone, like the perfect target.
This was the first time we caught police using Stingrays to intimidate us, to shut down our ability to share what was happening with the world, and it wasn’t the last.
In late July, BLM DC joined other groups to occupy the Legislative Office of the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in DC. After about an hour of the occupation, “the truck” pulled up. It was parked there for the rest of the day. Before it showed up, I had been able to easily text, tweet and livestream the event. But once “the truck” parked, it was next to impossible for me to use my phone to send anything all day.
Now, every time I see “the truck” pull up to our events I have the same visceral reaction. It’s like opening a wound. Just like the first time, I felt violated, unprotected, alone. I had to remind my comrades to watch out for me as I moved throughout the day and I tried not to go anywhere alone. After the action with the gentrification bus, everyone now recognizes “the truck,” and each time, for a moment, you can see them trying to process the same fears I do.
Stingray devices and police surveillance are tools of fear, tools of intimidation. Just because we are standing up for Black lives does not give the police right to warrantlessly shut down or monitor or cell phone communications. Last week, Color Of Change filed a complaint with the FCC on police use of Stingrays, and if the FCC follows through it could end Stingray use across the country. But the FCC will only take up the complaint and take strong action against Stingrays if they hear from all of us. Don’t let police continue to spy on us and cut off our communications, demand the FCC act!
Until Justice is Real,
–April – Black Lives Matter DC
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