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ACLU Report Suggests Disturbing Pattern of Police Surveilling Protests to Identify People Peacefully Protesting Police Brutality

It is reasonable that the California Highway Patrol (“CHP”) would use helicopters equipped with surveillance cameras to track fleeing felons—or even use them to scan crowds of protestors to detect criminal activity. But surveillance footage obtained by the ACLU reveals a disturbing pattern of CHP using cameras in an apparent attempt to identify people who were peacefully protesting police brutality.

In Placerville, CHP’s detailed footage of several dozen protestors assembled in front of the El Dorado County courthouse shows the camera zooming in on the faces of organizers thanking and hugging the peaceful, sign-holding participants. At a protest in front of the Riverside County courthouse, CHP’s cameras zoom in on the faces of people speaking, handing out water, making signs, participating in die-ins, and even those who were dancing.

The Riverside protest was so quiet that one newspaper described it as a “vigil.” The loudest sound was the whirring of the CHP’s helicopters overhead. The protestors took a symbolic silent nine-minute knee in memory of George Floyd. Afterward, the protestors returned to the local park, with some protestors cleaning the streets as they dispersed.

Despite the peaceful nature of these protests with absolutely no signs of criminal activity, the helicopters continued to circle with camera operators zooming in on faces for reasons left undocumented in the reports obtained by the ACLU.

The ACLU requested surveillance footage of protests of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders as well as the protests related to other COVID pandemic restrictions. But in hour after hour of footage provided by the CHP, the only protests surveilled were those against police brutality, not the protests of pandemic policies.

CHP targeted the protests because the protests targeted police. The majority of the protestors were people of color. Desecrating the nine-minute tribute to a Black man killed by a white cop with roaring helicopter rotors shattering the peaceful silence was merely another means of intimidation. But searching the identities of the protestors for future harassment or mistreatment borders on criminality. 


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