Privacy SOS

The BPD files: “infighting” among the anti-war left constitutes criminal activity?

Should the pro-peace left "stop its anti-war actions during the election year in an effort not to harm the Democratic Party"? Will "infighting" about this issue within United for Justice with Peace "hold the numbers down" at their demonstrations? 

These are among the vital public safety questions posed in a Boston Police Department "Intelligence report" filed March 11, 2008. The report is labeled "Criminal Act: Groups-Extremists" and describes two peace groups active in the City of Boston: United for Justice with Peace and the Smedley Butler Brigade, the local chapter of the national organization Veterans for Peace. The report does not include one word about any violence, criminal activity, or conspiracy to break the law. And it is only one of many similarly mundane reports that the ACLU of Massachusetts and the National Lawyers Guild Massachusetts chapter uncovered in a lawsuit against the department. 

The BPD's spying on First Amendment protected speech violated the law as well as the department's own guidelines. The police never should have written reports like the one dated March 2008. Making matters worse, it retained those files long after its guidelines required them to be deleted. But the Department hasn't said much in the wake of our damning findings on its Intelligence Unit's spying activities directed against completely non-violent political activists. The BPD's defense of its actions? An "error in the computer software." No joke.

Computer glitch jokes aside, the BPD offers us a defense of its actions that can only be described as tragically dishonest. From the only written statement it has issued in the wake of our report:

Absent an articulable, reasonable suspicion of actual, or attempted planning, organizing, financing or commission of criminal activity the BRIC does not gather or retain information on first amendment protected groups and events. 

Can anybody find any descriptions of such illegal activity in this report, which describes "infighting" in the Boston anti-war community? Didn't think so.

Instead of issuing mealy-mouthed excuses and offering demonstrably false platitudes about its spying, the Boston Police Department should apologize to our clients and to the city. Not only does the Intelligence Unit's spying threaten our democracy by chilling the speech of dissidents, it also threatens our safety by diverting scarce police resources away from solving actual crimes.

We deserve better from our police department. 

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© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.