Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Activists sue the city over undercover cop infiltrating anti-sweatshop protests at DCUSA

This is a strange story -- activists have sued the city over undercover police infiltrating their protests, including in Columbia Heights.

The group, United Students Against Sweatshops, protests outside stores that haven't signed onto a convention about working conditions in Bangladesh, such as Children's Place in DCUSA, and deliver letters to the store talking about the issue. (The convention was written after the Rana Plaza factory collapse earlier this year.)

USAS sued the city over an undercover police officer who they say has infiltrated their group. City law states that undercover officers can't infiltrate advocacy groups without approval from top police officials, and it must be as a last resort and with a proven threat of violence.

A few times the protests were broken up by the police, and organizers began to get suspicious. Then a friend of Lacy MacAuley, who was involved with the protests, suggested she check out a now-deleted Twitter account, @snufftastic, which had a lot of funny tweets and some about being an undercover police officer. MacAuley looked and realized that @snufftastic was a frequent attendee at protests around the city who she knew as "Missy," pictured above at a DCUSA protest and from her Twitter.

MPD Chief Cathy Lanier said she believes the city has obeyed the law.

There's a very detailed (and pretty fascinating) story about the whole saga on a site called In These Times, including more on how the protesters connected Missy with the police using other forms of social media. (Note to undercover officers: perhaps you shouldn't tweet, post on Facebook and have a Tumblr about your undercover operations.)

It's a strange situation, though. What's the harm in allowing groups to protest if they're peaceful and in public space? They aren't advocating any kind of violence against these businesses. I've also seen groups protesting outside DCUSA because some of the stores sell the Soda Stream machine, which the groups claim is made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank that they're opposed to. Are groups like that infiltrated on by undercover cops? What about the other spontaneous protests we see in the area from time to time, like the Trayvon Martin ones? Or even other groups that don't even protest? The drum circle? Maybe that's going too far, and I'm not somebody who is against the police at all, but it rubs me the wrong way.

Obviously the police need to be able to operate and gather information on potential crimes -- but to me a protest about sweatshops doesn't seem like the highest priority. Maybe they're worried these will escalate into the kind of violence that happened in the World Bank and IMF protests in the past, where protesters attacked banks.

Interestingly, the law the group sued under was passed in 2004 after mass arrests at the 2000 and 2002 anti-World Bank and IMF protests, where scores of people, including bystanders and reporters, were arrested en masse. I was at GW for the 2000 protests, when campus was shut down and thousands of people marched all over, followed by police officers in riot gear, and even a police armored personnel carrier. There were rumors of violence by anarchists in downtown DC, but they mostly seemed to be untrue. Some violent protests and mass arrests did happen in Adams Morgan in 2005 too, with lawsuits about police arresting bystanders there.

Those were a weird few years in DC. I guess MPD is trying to make sure that, or even something bigger like the Battle in Seattle, doesn't happen again? Otherwise, I don't get it.

Photo from Gawker, via In These Days

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Andrew, please note the correction Soda Stream machines are not ALLEGEDLY made in Israeli Settlements, they ARE made in Israeli Settlements. Please don't buy into the faux tendency of U.S. Media to be "fair and balanced" vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict obscure actual facts. And hooray for Jewish Voices for Peace and others who bravely protest Bed Bath and Beyond.