Protesting may still be “legal” in America, but that doesn’t mean that authorities won’t do everything in their power to stop it. Should the police be able to contact your boss to get you in trouble for participating in a political protest?
An anonymous Oakland activist says that after participating in a protest against Department of Homeland Security activity, police contacted his employer and provided photographic evidence of his attendance. Following the police intervention, the activist’s boss fired him.
Ostensibly, the protester (known as @Anon4justice on Twitter) was fired for calling in sick to work when he instead attended a protest. However, the fact that the police initiated contact certainly played a role in his boss’ decision to terminate employment. Not only are the police implicitly saying that @Anon4justice was up to no good, but the boss must feel pressure to sever his ties with someone who appears to have a tenuous relationship with law enforcement. Even supposing the firing was exclusively motivated by the protestor playing hooky, since when is it the police’s job to monitor the whereabouts of a business’ staff?
If the police had legal grounds to arrest @Anon4justice, they could have nabbed him at some point while monitoring him or later at home after they collected all of his personal data. Instead, they circumvented those pesky “Constitutional rights” by finding another way to get him into hot water.
The reason for the protest itself is particularly relevant in order to understand why @Anon4justice would be targeted. @Anon4justice was voicing dissent against the presence of Urban Shield, a DHS-funded program that helps to militarize police and other agencies under the guise of fighting “terrorism” in his city. Notably, protest raid simulations are included among the program’s disaster drills. It is but one in an ongoing series of examples that show how the government now views the right to assemble as something tantamount to a “disaster.”
While @Anon4justice exercised his First Amendment rights, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (which organized Urban Shield in Oakland) demonstrated that they were willing to go not only above and beyond but also outside of the call of duty in order to seek revenge on an individual who dared to question their shady practices. As we’ve already learned, police are especially keen to crack down on protests that oppose them.
What’s equally frightening is how the photographic evidence of @Anon4justice’s participation was collected. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security awarded Oakland $7 million to establish a “Domain Awareness Center” to conduct mass surveillance on its citizens, purportedly to reduce crime. A data center collects footage from cameras and sensors all over the city.
If it sounds similar to the NSA, that’s because it is. The “Domain Awareness Center” is just a new twist on the surveillance state: supposedly implemented to protect, but actually threatens citizens’ freedoms. It is freely collecting lots of data on mostly innocent people to use it for… well, no one is sure exactly. But as an Oakland resident asked in a New York Times piece on this new surveillance program, “What happens when someone doesn’t like me and has access to all that information?”
As @Anon4justice can testify, that information can be used to ruin your livelihood.
The lesson is a scary one: oppose mounting police militarization and surveillance and the authorities will use those same tools to harm and intimidate you. The American people have been complacent for too long, and now it might be too late to do anything about it.