Trump Administration Targeted Black Lives Matter in Attempt to Disrupt the Movement

Under Donald Trump, the federal government deliberately targeted Black Lives Matter protesters via criminal prosecutions in an attempt to disrupt and discourage the global movement that overtook several cities last summer after the Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, according to a new report. But it’s not the first time the government has overstepped its boundaries to attack people, especially people of color, who take to the streets in protest, which is an act of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Movement leaders and experts said the prosecution of protesters over the past year continued a century-long practice by the federal government, rooted in structural racism, to suppress Black social movements via the use of surveillance tactics and other mechanisms.

Black Lives Matter mural
[Image via UNC Asheville]
The report, which is titled “Struggle For Power: The Ongoing Persecution of Black Movement By The US Government,” was released by the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 50 activism and advocacy civil rights groups and professional associations representing Black communities, and published in partnership with the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) clinic at City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law. It analyzes 326 criminal cases initiated by US federal prosecutors over alleged conduct related to protests in the wake of Floyd’s murder and the police killings of other Black Americans, from May 31, 2020, to October 25, 2020.

Teenager continues Black Lives Matter protests after cross burning
MARION, VA – JULY 3: Travon Brown, with megaphone, leads the Black Lives Matter Protest march through Marion, Virginia on Friday, July 3, 2020. (Earl Neikirk for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The report also argues that as the uprisings in the summer of 2020 increased, so did police presence, the deployment of federal agents, and prosecution of protesters. It details how policing has been used historically as a major tool to deter Black people from engaging in their right to protest and to weaken efforts to draw attention to issues affecting Black Americans. It also is pushing for passage of the Breathe Act, proposed federal legislation that would radically transform the country’s criminal justice system, and ending the use of joint terrorism taskforces in local communities.

But it’s not just limited to the Black Lives Matter movement; the report also points to the stark difference in how the government handled the Covid-19 protests against local government shutdowns and mask mandates amid the pandemic during the same period. Portland, Oregon, led in the number of charges brought for protest-related activity, making up 29% of federal charges. Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington, DC, and Minneapolis followed.

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