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What Happens When Police Surveil Black Journalists And Activists?

A police officer in a mine resistant vehicle waits for a labor march in Memphis, Tennessee, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 2018.
A police officer in a mine resistant vehicle waits for a labor march in Memphis, Tennessee, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 2018.

Police in the United States place criminals and their affiliated organizations under surveillance so that they can gather the information that may lead to an arrest. So why are they also watching Black organizers and journalists?

In 2018, journalist Wendi C. Thomas was in a courtroom in Memphis, Tennessee. She was listening to a police officer give testimony about using fake Facebook profiles to infiltrate activist circles and keep tabs on reporters close to organizers when she heard her own name mentioned.

Thomas tried to get the department to tell her what it was she had done to warrant surveillance, but she’s never been able to get a straight answer. Her story is not uncommon. There’s a long history of police officers in the United States spying on activists and journalists exercising their First Amendment rights.

How common is it for police officers to target journalists of color? Why are they doing it? And is doing so even legal?

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