Students at the University of South Florida cried out in silence as they waited for George Floyd to pass. They didn't know that their candlelight vigil was being held before a monument honoring a civil rights leader had been invaded by federal agents.
They didn't know that campus police had asked federal drug cops to wear plain clothes and sit beside them, as they vented their frustration at the increasing number of Black people being killed by police.
Students weren't the only ones being watched.
Last summer, drug enforcement agents were requested to monitor Americans engaging in First Amendment activities as a result of the backlash against Floyd's murder at least 51 times. All levels of government received requests for surveillance from the DEA. They were approved and resulted in the nationwide deployment of agency assets both on the ground as well as in the air. Covert agents, other intelligence tools, and personnel were also deployed. The scope of electronic surveillance remains a mystery.
After the U.S. government was sued by the U.S. government for illegally refusing access to material that revealed the extent of Trump's attempts to monitor protestsauthorities granted under Attorney General William Barr to stop anarchists, far-left extremists using Antifa tactics.
The records were released by Citizens for Ethics (CREW) in a D.C. federal Court. Citizens for Ethics was a watchdog group for government that sued the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security more than a year ago under federal freedom of information laws.
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These records show that the DEA approved covert surveillance of protests in Los Angeles and Newark, St. Louis and Newark as well as in Chicago, Tampa, Chicago, Albuquerque and Tampa. Also, a few smaller cities such as Troy in upstate New York and Plattsburgh are included.
According to the group, the new records show the extent of DEA's surveillance operations over the summer. CREW found at least 51 instances in which agencies enlisted DEA for secret surveillance of First Amendment-protected activities.
One operation saw DEA agents go undercover at the University of South Florida's Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza. Reporters in attendance described the peaceful atmosphere as peaceful, with students gathering around the reflecting pool at the plazas.
Before speaking, the students gathered in silence for 8 minutes 46 seconds. This was the time Floyd died from injuries sustained when a police officer held his knee against Floyd's neck.
In 1982, the MLK plaza was established. It includes a bust, at King's exact height (5'7"), and inscribed with a passage of his I Have a Dream speech. These truths are self-evident. He said that all men were created equal.
Students and faculty run a website that claims the plaza was created to encourage activism by giving students a space where they can freely discuss issues of concern to them. Emails from agency agencies show that the university's police wanted to cover the students secretly.
When reached for comment, neither USF nor its Police Department responded.
The DEA was requested to monitor protests in other cities due to prior looting and violence during the nationwide demonstrations sparked from the police killing of George Floyd. Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was convicted in Floyd's murder and sentenced in June to over 22 years imprisonment.
A Facebook post showing a police officer with a bleeding head went viral on June 1, 2020, as part of the fourth consecutive day of protests in San Antonio. Senior officials claimed that protesters had assembled peacefully for a candlelight Vigil at sundown. They also blamed outside agitators who vandalized businesses and hurled objects at police. According to local news, the majority of those arrested were local residents. According to reports, three other officers were also injured.
Documents show that the DEA Houston office was requested to monitor protests in San Antonio the day after. CBP Air requested the surveillance. This appears to have been in reference to Custom and Border Patrols Air and Marine Operations.
The DEA was requested to provide security agents in certain cities like Richmond and Las Vegas to guard buildings such as a courthouse that was expected to draw large crowds.
Agents were requested to enter Albuquerque and make drug arrests. This was under Operation Relentless Pursuit, a planned surge in federal agents into seven U.S. Cities supervised by Trump Justice Department. The plan was to target cartels as well as street gangs.
The DEA did no immediate respond to a request to comment.
CREW's ongoing freedom-of-information lawsuit against the federal government has revealed that the records highlighted the stark differences between federal law enforcements response 2020's to anti-racism protests, and this year insurrection at U.S. Capitol.
It has been widely criticised that the inadequate response of the police to the Capitol attack was a security and intelligence failure. The Capitol police and other authorities have maintained for years that they did not suspect the Trump rally would turn into violence. Since then, many reports have questioned that assertion.
For example, new documents released by Property of the People under open-records legislation show that federal law enforcement agencies were alerted in advance of the possibility of violence.
The briefing was authored by private intelligence firms and shared with federal law enforcement Dec. 24, two weeks before the Capitol event. It warned specifically about the growing plot to overthrow America's government.
According to the briefing, a supposedly violent rebellion by Trump supporters was always the plan.