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Black Lives Matter Activist Pressures MPD for Surveillance Data

WASHINGTON INFORMER — Core organizer April Goggans often posted online about a marked police car parked in front of her home and other instances of alleged intimidation.

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By Sam P.K. Collins

Years ago, as Black Lives Matter DC railed against the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), core organizer April Goggans often posted online about a marked police car parked in front of her home and other instances of alleged intimidation.

Her lawsuit against MPD, two years in the making, revolves around a 9,000-page dossier that police department officials refuse to release.

The outcome of the civil suit, predicted to end in early April, boils down to the question of what constitutes as “monitoring and surveillance” as expressed by Goggans in her initial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Once again, interpretations of that term was the focal point of a hearing this month in D.C. District Court.

“The Metropolitan Police Department has 9,000 pages of documents it knows contains April’s name, Twitter handle, and street address,” said Andrew Mendrala, supervising attorney and teaching fellow at Georgetown Law Civil Rights Clinic.

“But the original FOIA request for documents used the term ‘monitoring and surveillance.’ MPD said that because none of these pertain to an official investigation of specialized divisions of MPD that conduct large-scale monitoring and operations, they do not show ‘monitoring’ of Ms. Goggans, and MPD is not required to turn them over,” Mendrala said.

Goggans’ June 2017 FOIA request outlined 14 points. The first five asked for documents concerning Goggans, records and communication about her, policy manuals and directives on how to approach political activists, details of officer trainings about the right to political free speech, and communication between MPD and the Executive Office of the Mayor (EOM) about Goggans or Black Lives Matter.

The other nine items concerned records about monitoring Goggans, including any communication between MPD, EOM and other parties, about Goggans, an active member of Black Lives Matter, and records from when officers parked in front of her home.

From the onset of the lawsuit, MPD’s legal team maintained that MPD fulfilled Goggans’ original request.

During a December court hearing, MPD’s lawyers argued that the only correspondence falling within that definition had been from Goggans to MPD in which she discussed monitoring and surveillance. They later said the department had no legal obligation to release what it considered irrelevant information, like that found in Officer Daniel Flinn’s notebook.

An official in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, speaking on background, reiterated that point, saying that Goggans’ team didn’t expand its definition of “monitoring and surveillance” until after litigation started.

Earlier this month, as a large group of Black Lives Matter supporters watched, Goggans’ attorneys argued that a more reasonable broadening of the MPD’s interpretation of “monitoring and surveillance” allows for the release of pertinent information that would substantiate Goggans’ claims of police surveillance, including the names of officers involved.

Judge William Jackson listened as Goggans’ attorneys recounted hurdles in the FOIA process, including an eight-month struggle to add Goggans’ name to the searches, and questions about the degree to which MPD searched for Goggans versus Black Lives Matter.

Jackson at times appeared annoyed, but lighthearted, as he struggled to understand what Goggans’ attorneys didn’t receive from MPD. Toward the end of the hearing, the attorneys acknowledged that MPD searched for Black Lives Matter and Goggans’ name.

MPD didn’t return The Informer’s request to define “monitoring and surveillance.”

Goggans, who carries a decade of organizing experience in southeast D.C., counted among the activists who took to the streets in the aftermath of Terrence Sterling’s police-involved death in 2016. Last year, after the release of footage from a controversial stop-and-frisk incident in Northeast’s Deanwood neighborhood, she and other members of Black Lives DC designated the community as a liberation zone.

In her role as core organizer, Goggans has also advocated for the full implementation of Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act, legislation designed to expand community-based violence interruption services throughout the District.

Black Lives Matter groups nationally have been embroiled in similar legal battles, with local police departments for data collected about activist groups.

In November, a federal court judge in the Southern District of New York ruled that individual Black Lives Matter activists could sue the Clarkstown Police Department for their information. Last month, a New York state judge ordered the New York City Police Department to answer a FOIA request about its alleged use of phone signal interruption technology.

Mendrala noted what he described as the certain uniqueness of Goggans’ case.

“The case is a bit of an unusual dodge that MPD is making by saying that they have all of these documents we asked for but MPD decided they actually aren’t what we’re asking for, so they won’t give them to us,” he said. “They’re hiding behind a bureaucratic use of language that no reasonable person could be expected to understand or use when making a request.”

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.

Bay Area

Vallejo Police Chief Issues Statement After Chauvin Verdict

“Creating a systemic culture that embraces the core values of dignity, safety, respect, and compassion is our charge in leadership and a call to action for us all. The status quo isn’t acceptable. We can and must do better. We will do better.”

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“Today, justice was appropriately served. Police officers should be guardians of the communities we are sworn to protect and serve. Our task is to embrace the principle of safety with respect — respect for human dignity, respect for the sanctity of life, and respect for what our communities are demanding of us.

“As a law enforcement executive, I acknowledge it is my obligation to lead with purpose and urgency. Policy change isn’t enough. Creating meaningful cultural change is imperative.

“Creating a systemic culture that embraces the core values of dignity, safety, respect, and compassion is our charge in leadership and a call to action for us all. The status quo isn’t acceptable. We can and must do better. We will do better.

“Those of us entrusted with the responsibility of law enforcement must build trust where we have it, restore trust where we’ve lost it, and earn trust where it never existed. These responsibilities should only be entrusted to those who have a record of successful accomplishments consistent with these values.

“This is what our citizens and communities want, this is what they deserve, and this is what we must deliver.”

Vallejo Chief of Police Shawny Williams

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Activism

California Elected Officials, Civic Leaders React to George Floyd Verdict  

“The hard truth,” Gov. Newsom said in an April 20 statement, “is that if George Floyd looked like me, he’d still be alive today.” Newsom made the remark after a Hennepin County jury found Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 45, guilty in the murder of George Floyd.

Photo by: Antonio Ray Harvey.
Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-LA), Tecoy Porter, President of National Action Network Sacramento, Western Region, Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), vice-chair of the CLBC, Senator Steven Bradford (D-LA ), chair CLBC, Assemblymember Chris Holden ( D-Pasadena) Assemblymember Kevin McCarty ( D-Sacramento) and Secretary of State Shirley Weber. Photo by Antonio Ray Harvey.

“The hard truth,” Gov. Newsom said in an April 20 statement, “is that if George Floyd looked like me, he’d still be alive today.” Newsom made the remark after a Hennepin County jury found Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 45, guilty in the murder of George Floyd.
The jury convicted Chauvin on two counts of murder, homicide and one of manslaughter for pinning his knee on the neck of Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds on May 25, 2020.

The California governor joined other Golden State officials to speak out about the verdict and the enduring problems of police violence against unarmed citizens, particularly African American suspects.

“No conviction can repair the harm done to George Floyd and his family, but today’s verdict provides some accountability as we work to root out the racial injustice that haunts our society,” the governor continued. “We must continue the work of fighting systemic racism and excessive use of force. It’s why I signed some of the nation’s most progressive police reform legislation into law. I will continue working with community leaders across the state to hear concerns and support peaceful expression.”

Sen. Steve Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, took to Twitter to comment on the verdict.
“I’m overwhelmed to tears over this verdict: Guilty. #GeorgeFloyd did not have to die that day. His family is still healing from this trauma. We must continue to fight for justice in this country, for all of us,” he tweeted.

Earlier in the day, the California Legislative Black Caucus held a press conference to address police brutality and lethal force by peace officers in California and across the country.

“There may be calls about a crisis. There may be calls about an emergency, but they are not calls intended to initiate death. They are not calls for lethal force. They are calls for issuing de-escalation and resolution.” said Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles).

Kamlager, along with her colleagues – including Assemblymember Mike Gipson, who Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) appointed Chair of the Select Committee on Police Reform – spoke at the briefing. They called on their peers to pass the C.R.I.S.I.S. Act, or Assembly Bill (AB) 2054, legislation that proposes for communities to rely on social workers to intervene in some public safety incidents instead of police officers.

The bill was first introduced last year but died in committee.

California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber also attended the Black Caucus press conference.

“You know it’s really hard after 410 years in this country to continue to raise the same issues over and over again,” Dr. Weber said. “When I look and begin to analyze it I realize that all we’re asking is to have what everybody else has…to be treated fairly – to be treated as a human being, to be treated just.”

President of the NAACP California-Hawaii Conference Rick L. Callender said justice was served in the Chauvin case.

“It was very clear that our very right to breath was on trial,” Callender told California Black Media. “For too long, African Americans have been subjected to the knee of injustice choking us out – in so many different ways. This verdict demonstrates that a badge is never a shield for accountability.”

Speaking from San Diego, Shane Harris, founder and president of the People’s Association of Justice, a national civil rights alliance that started in California, said the Floyd verdict represents a starting point for re-imagining policing in America through federal legislation.
“The reality is that there is a Derek Chauvin in a police department near you, and the question is whether our local, state and federal governments will step up to protect the next George Floyd from being killed in our country,” he said. 

“Chauvin had multiple complaints against him during his career on the Minneapolis Police force, but the city and the department failed to act,” he said “We will not have an Attorney General like Keith Ellison in every state going forward to press for justice like he did, which is why I call on the U.S. Senate to urgently bring the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 to the Senate floor now, pass the legislation and send it to the President’s desk to sign immediately.”

After 12 hours of deliberations – as people across the country and around the globe waited in anticipation – the jury returned with the verdict that held Chauvin responsible for second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
The jury consisted of six Black or multiracial people along with six White individuals. Chauvin’s attorney requested bail, but the presiding judge denied it, and Chauvin was taken into custody.

Under Minnesota laws, Chauvin could receive a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.

California Congresswoman and Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) drew some criticism on social media for a statement she made regarding the verdict. Her critics chided the Speaker for thanking Floyd for his “sacrifice,” a man who they point out was unwittingly murdered by a police officer.

Standing with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in front of the U.S. Capitol, Pelosi said, “Thank you George Floyd for sacrificing your life for justice. For being there to call out to your mom, how heartbreaking was that, call out for you mom, ‘I can’t breathe.”

“But because of you and because of thousands, millions of people around the world who came out for justice, your name will always be synonymous with justice,” the Speaker said.

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Activism

Chauvin Trial Shows Need for Broad Focus on Systemic Racism

Officer’s Conviction Necessary but Not Sufficient, Greenlining Institute Says

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OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – In response to the announcement of the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin on all three counts in the killing of George Floyd, Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann released the following statement:
“Today we experienced a small measure of justice as Derek Chauvin was convicted and the killing of George Floyd was recognized as the criminal act it was. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that one conviction of one cop for a killing the whole world witnessed on video will change a fundamentally racist and dysfunctional system. The whole law enforcement system must be rethought and rebuilt from the ground up so that there are no more George Floyds, Daunte Wrights and Adam Toledos. But even that is just a start.
“Policing doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Systemic racism exists in policing because systemic racism exists in America. We must fundamentally uproot the disease of racism in our society and create a transformative path forward.”
To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit www.greenlining.org.

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