The federal government deliberately targeted Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors through heavy-handed prosecutions, according to the Movement For Black Lives (MFBL).
According to the report, titled the Struggle For Power: The Ongoing Persecution of Black Movement By The U.S. Government, the prosecution of BLM protestors over the last year has continued a century-old practice by the federal government of suppressing Black social movements through surveillance and prison.
“Much of the drive to use federal charges against protesters stemmed from top-down directives from former President Donald J. Trump and Attorney General William Barr,” the report states. “These directives, meant to disrupt the movement, were the primary reason for the unprecedented federalization of protest-related prosecutions seen in 2020.”
The report goes on to detail how policing has been used throughout history as a tool to deter Black citizens from engaging in their right to protest and weaken efforts to draw attention to issues impacting Black Americans. The report also draws a comparison to the government’s Counterintelligence Program, which was designed to “disrupt the work of the Black Panther Party and other organizations fighting for Black liberation.”
Amara Enyia, a policy research coordinator for the MFBL, told the Associated Press that racism is literally built into the federal government, which is why Black social movements are targeted, despite no real threat of violence.
“It is undeniable that racism plays a role,” Enyia said. “It is structurally built into the fabric of this country and its institutions, which is why it’s been so difficult to eradicate. It’s based on institutions that were designed around racism and around the devaluing of Black people and the devaluing of Black lives.”
The report also pointed to how the government handled COVID-19 protests against quarantines, mask mandates, and shutdowns during the same period. A key finding in the report was the use of federal charges against protestors that came from Trump and Barr. Researchers found that in 92.6% of those cases, equivalent state-level charges could have been brought against defendants.
Of cases where state-level charges could have been brought, 88% of the federal criminal charges carried more severe potential sentences than the equivalent state criminal charges for similar conduct.
The report was published in partnership with the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility clinic at the City University of New York School of Law.