Enemies of the State: Government Surveillance in Communities of Color

Government Monitoring Is A Way of Life for Communities of Color

By Tracie Powell

Immigrants, Hispanics, blacks and Muslim Americans are used to living under the watchful eye of the government. It’s simply a way of life, which may explain why communities of color seem to be unfazed by news reports about government spying on citizens. Or maybe they’ve just forgotten their history.

Advocacy organizations are setting out to remind these communities why they need to be more engaged in fighting against government surveillance. Media advocates are seeking to broaden the conversation, linking the NSA leaks to stop-and-frisk laws that hurt African Americans and racial profiling that targets Latinos. 

“In the 1950s and 1960s, the FBI spied on leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. to try to discredit and destroy the civil rights movement. Anti-immigrant policing policies have empowered law enforcement throughout the U.S. — but especially in the Southwest — to target Latinos, who are subject to sweeping deportations and a prejudicial criminal justice system,” Josh Levy, campaign director for advocacy organization Free Press, writes in today’s Talking Points Memo. “Similarly, police in New York City and elsewhere use stop-and-frisk practices to racially profile African-Americans and other people of color. And since 9/11, the FBI has infiltrated Muslim-American communities, particularly in New York.”

Even still, according a recent study released by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, more than two-thirds of blacks (66%) believe the leak of classified information about National Security Administration phone and internet surveillance serves the public interest., compared to about half of whites (51%) and Hispanics (50%).

Surveillance of communities of color was the focus of a panel discussion last week, in which there was agreement that government monitoring is nothing new in America, or around the globe, which is why these communities seem indifferent to constant news reports on the subject. The discussion, hosted by Free Press, took place on the eve of the Stop Watching Us Rally held in Washington, D.C. late last month.

In order for communities of color to understand why they should care more about threats to their private communications, the panelists argued that not only will advocates need to focus on reforming the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act, they will also need to broaden efforts to include reforming local law enforcement’s reliance on racial profiling, stop and frisk and other discriminatory tactics.

A video of the panel discussion is below. It runs 1 hour and 27 minutes: