More than 35 civil rights groups mobilized on Wednesday to demand the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) release an unredacted copy of its mysterious “Race Paper” after the document was used to justify federal surveillance in Black communities.
The advocacy organizations have made several attempts to obtain a copy of the controversial DHS memo, including filing a Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit in 2016.
A heavily redacted version of the internal document was released but left key questions unanswered. The NAACP, Free Press, Color Of Change, the Brennan Center For Justice, American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights were among the groups that called out DHS in a letter that expressed concern the document may viciously paint protesters of color as criminals and extremists.
“We are concerned that biases and inaccuracies reflected in the “Race Paper” could result in unconstitutional law enforcement activities throughout the country that disproportionately impact activists, protesters, and communities of color,” the groups wrote.
The safety of protesters and activists of color, in particular, could be comprised because of the “Race Paper” message of Black criminalization, the groups also said. They were very aware of the government’s lengthy history of monitoring activists, including the illegal COINTELPRO program in the 1960s that targeted Black organizations and leadership in an effort to suppress dissent. The program was “seen as a stain on the history of federal law enforcement and resulted in robust reforms meant to protect against similar future abuses,” read the letter.
An FBI report on “Black Identity Extremist” groups that was released last year also drew major criticism from several activist groups.
DHS claimed violent extremists co-opted racial justice groups. However, the civil rights groups which wrote the letter weren’t buying it. Racism can’t be justified and labeling people “Black Identify Extremist” doesn’t fly, especially at a time when racist incidents have been sparking outrage across the nation.