A report released by the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) on Wednesday, Aug. 18, found the federal government targeted Black Lives Matter activists in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death last year in an effort to “disrupt and discourage Black organizing.”
M4BL released the report in conjunction with the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) clinic at City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law.
Findings show that the government attempted to suppress the movement by deploying federal agents, often uninvited by local governments in an effort to seize power.
“Protest-related prosecutions by federal authorities generally did not correlate to population size, as one might expect, but rather to the deployment of federal law enforcement to police protests,” the report says.
Officials reportedly charged racial justice protesters with inflated federal crimes that carry harsher penalties for conduct that normally would have been prosecuted in state courts as a result of rhetoric from senior officials, including President Donald J. Trump and Attorney General William Barr.
Officials also spread anti-BLM propaganda and characterized activists as “violent radicals.” The report also notes that this was not the first time the federal government acted to disrupt a Black-led movement.
“In the spirit of Black August, we must acknowledge that this is not the first or the last time the federal government has utilized coordinated attacks on Black activists as a means to suppress our right to protest,” said Dr. Amara Enyia, Policy and Research Coordinator for the Movement for Black Lives.
“Historically, Black protestors have more often than not been met with governmental oppression and accompanying police violence as a result of our unwillingness to accept the systemic disregard for and mistreatment of Black lives.”
An analysis of 326 cases including federal charges from August to October 2020 showed that nearly 93 percent of cases could have been charged under equivalent state or local law. Federal penalties were clearly harsher in 88 percent of cases, the report says. Of the 89 cases that listed the defendant’s race, 52 percent were Black.
Oregon’s largest city of Portland leads in the number of charges brought for activity related to the demonstrations, making up 29 percent of federal charges. Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., and Minneapolis follow.
Protesters were by far most often charged with arson, which prosecutors used to capture a wide range of acts including setting fires, adjusting a cloth that was said to aggravate the fire or “conspiring” to commit an arson through possession of a Molotov cocktail. Civil disorder and assaulting an officer were the next most common charges.
“Quite frankly, nothing in this report is surprising, but provides further evidence that, despite persistent attempts to silence Black voices, our collective activism continues to strengthen and grow, and our progression towards Black liberation terrifies the federal government,” Eniya continued.
“This report highlights just how vigorously the federal government attempted to disrupt the necessary work of those in the struggle for Black liberation,” said Princess Masilungan of CLEAR. “The findings only confirm what Black organizers and movement leaders already understood: The federalization of protest-related charges was a deliberate and cynical effort to target and discourage those who protested in defense of Black lives.”
M4BL is a group of 150 activists, organizers, academics, lawyers, educators and more, who work together to pursue Black liberation, equity and justice through the establishment of a political home for Black people to learn, organize and take action.