Police officers in New York went undercover to pose as Black Lives Matter activists and gained access to text messages between organizers as protests against police brutality escalated in 2014 and 15, according to a trove of documents obtained by the Guardian.
The documents, including emails and screenshots of text message exchanges, were obtained by the newspaper after the NYPD was ordered to release them in a court case brought by a protester in New York.
Text messages included details of protests and names of organizers, while the emails between undercover officers and other NYPD officers included photos and detailed reports of organizers’ movements before, during, and after demonstrations sparked by the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in Staten Island, and the killing of unarmed black men in Ferguson and Baltimore.
“That text loop was definitely just for organizers, I don’t know how that got out,” Elsa Waithe, a protest organizer with Black Lives Matter, told the paper. “Someone had to have told someone how to get on it, probably trusting someone they had seen a few times in good faith. We clearly compromised ourselves.”
The NYPD requires officers abide by a set of guidelines when they surveil protesters, regulations known as the Handschu Guidelines after the plaintiff in a 1970s case that resulted in their development. They require that the police can assert that “facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that unlawful act has been, is being, or will be committed” to justify surveillance. The Guardian reports that none of the documents released this week contain such evidence.
These revelations are especially concerning given moves from state legislatures around the country to restrict protesters. President Donald Trump has on multiple occasions criticized protesters and questioned the legitimacy of their right to demonstrate.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment. We’ll update if we hear back.