Homeland Security used aircraft to surveil BLM protests in 15 cities

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Black Lives Matter protests continue in the United States.

Sarah Tew / CNET

A report from the New York Times revealed on Friday how the Department of Homeland Security used drones, helicopters and planes to monitor Black Lives Matter protests across the country. The plane recorded approximately 270 hours of surveillance footage from 15 cities and was broadcast live in a customs and border control room, according to the Times report, which CBP confirmed. CBP is an agency of Homeland Security.

CBP used Predator drones in Minneapolis – where protests began after the death of the unarmed black man George Floyd while he was detained by Minneapolis police – and in Del Rio, Texas. The drones had no facial recognition capabilities and were unarmed. They were requested by an immigration and customs official, according to the Times report.

Black Lives Matter protests continue in the United States and around the world as people demonstrate against the recent deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and against systemic racism.

CBP also used planes, including helicopters and airplanes, in 13 other cities: New York; Chicago; Washington DC; Cream Philadelphia; Detroit; El Paso, Texas; Miami; Aurora, Illinois; Buffalo, New York; Dayton, Ohio; El Centro, California; San Luis, Arizona; and Uvalde, Texas. CBP has confirmed that 5.6 hours of drones have been recorded out of the total 270 hours of video surveillance.

The plane provided “situational awareness, maximizing public safety, while minimizing the threat to personnel and property,” the CBP said in a May 29 statement.

Earlier this month, 35 Democrats in Congress demanded that the CBP, along with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the National Guard Bureau, cease permanently monitoring peaceful protests. They said that the use of Predator drones to collect live video feeds from protests was an excessive range of power.

Members of Congress have said that monitoring these protests violates the right to protest the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment, which is designed to protect Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The FBI said it did not monitor activities protected by the First Amendment. Rather, it is “identifying, investigating and disturbing individuals who incite violence and engage in criminal activity”. Likewise, the National Guard Bureau said it had used a plane “to provide situational awareness” to National Guards stationed in Washington, DC, on the night of June 2-3.

Correction, 4:51 p.m. PT: This story initially distorted the number of cities where drones were used to monitor the protests. They were used in two cities.

Black Lives Matter. Visit blacklivesmatter.carrd.co to find out how to donate, sign petitions and protest safely.


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