Two organizations representing persons of color have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requesting release of the agency’s alleged “blacked-out” memo referred to in government documents as the “Race Paper.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Color of Change, the groups suing, first uncovered the existence of the “Race Paper” via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to DHS, which sent them a fully redacted version with only the name of the attachment visible. Advocates argue that the existence of the “Race Paper,” among other documents they obtained, confirms the targeted surveillance that many Black activists and organizers around the country have reported, and raises alarming questions about the agency’s approach to Black people engaging in protected First Amendment activity.
“The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are at war with Black activists,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change. “The documents we’ve forced the federal government to release expose how these agencies are demonizing and intimidating Black activists – people who are rightly demanding that our country be more just – through coordinated and systemic surveillance.”
The redacted “Race Paper” is reportedly the latest in a slew of documents the groups have obtained that reveal how DHS and the FBI have both monitored and surveilled the Movement for Black Lives and pushed a state-sanctioned narrative that criminalizes Black protesters. The documents the groups received consist of a number of emails from the DHS sub-agency, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, each with an attached, fully redacted, version of the “Race Paper.”
Another set of DHS and FBI documents revealed in November 2017 show how federal agencies characterized Black protesters as “Black Supremacist Extremists” and portrayed protected First Amendment protest activity as violence-inciting as a justification to surveil activists. The documents were in stark contrast with the agencies’ communications regarding white supremacist groups, whom they deemed as engaging in “lawful” protest activity. Between May and December of 2017, DHS and the FBI turned over hundreds of pages of emails, reports, policies, and surveillance documents to the Center for Constitutional Rights and Color of Change as a result of the FOIA request, many partially or fully redacted. Briefing guides are available online.
“Black and brown activists and the public in general should not be left to speculate as to why DHS prepared a document called the ‘Race Paper,’ circulated multiple versions of it, and called for in-person meetings to discuss its contents, but now fights to keep every word from seeing the light of day,” said Omar Farah, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.