Coalition Urges Boston Police Department to End Collaboration in Abusive Federal Programs Including CVE

A coalition led by Muslim Justice League, ACLU of Massachusetts, Council on American-Islamic Relations Massachusetts, Digital Fourth, Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, and Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston calls on the Boston Police Department to respond to the letter sent to them on June 20, 2017 with the following demands: that BPD end participation in so-called “countering violent extremism” programs; change its privacy policy to forbid the collection and sharing of information about people not suspected of crimes; cease collaboration with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force; and endorse the Safe Communities Act. Over two dozen civil rights, civil liberties, religious, and advocacy groups (see below) have endorsed these demands.

In May 2017, the coalition met with BPD Commissioner William Evans and his staff to share our concerns and recommendations regarding current policies and practices including a new “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) project funded by the Department of Homeland Security. The draft application for the new project, titled Youth and Police Initiative Plus (YPIP), was uncovered through a public records request. YPIP cites debunked and stigmatizing radicalization theories that target Somali youth; deeming them a potential threat due to the social and economic trauma they experience as immigrants and refugees. The application lists “unaccountable times and unobserved spaces” as a potential “risk factor” for Somali youth in Boston, implying that for Somali youth, privacy is dangerous.

Law enforcement should not target, investigate, or collect and share information about people not suspected of criminal activity whether that is through “soft surveillance” programs like CVE, Joint Terrorism Task Force investigations that do not require a criminal predicate, or intelligence collection through the Boston Regional Intelligence Center. “CVE programs are just one of a number of local-federal law enforcement collaborations that surveil, stigmatize and endanger targeted populations—including Muslims, immigrants, Black and Latinx folks, political dissidents, and others,” noted Shannon Al-Wakeel, executive director of the Muslim Justice League. “If the harms of these collaborations were not already clear, the new Administration’s actions make unmistakable their incompatibility with safe, inclusive communities.”

Read the full letter here and see the demands and endorsements below.

The groups demand BPD:

  • Focus violence prevention efforts on reducing all violence that victimizes communities, and avoid involvement in outreach programs that suggest lawful behaviors or ideas protected by the First Amendment (such as information seeking, political speech, mistrust of law enforcement, or religious beliefs and practices) are precursors to crime.
  • End involvement in community outreach programs (called by any name, and funded by any means or not at all) that credit false and stigmatizing theories about predispositions toward violence or “extremism,” including the Youth and Police Initiative Plus.
  • Develop—through a publicly advertised process with opportunity for formal public input—and publicize stringent rules for separating community outreach initiatives and social services initiatives from intelligence gathering operations.
  • Modify the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) privacy and civil liberties policy to institute a criminal predicate requirement for surveillance, intelligence collection, and information sharing. Doing so will go a long way towards ending surveillance based on political opinion, race or religion, which tars BPD’s image, wastes public resources, and harms community trust.
  • Cease collaboration with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). BPD should not engage in suspicionless investigations, either at the local or federal level. Yet the FBI does not require a criminal predicate for JTTF investigations. Reporting by the Guardian newspaper shows the result of this policy problem: a BPD officer tasked to the JTTF was involved in improper surveillance and targeting of the political activity of a Boston-based Dakota Access Pipeline protester in North Dakota. These kinds of surveillance operations harm community trust, chill political speech, and do nothing to advance public safety.
  • Endorse and publicly support the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act (S.1305, H. 3269). We appreciate the Commissioner’s statements in support of defending immigrant communities’ safety in Massachusetts. An important step toward defending immigrants’ safety against family separation; expulsion to face possible persecution, trafficking, famine and/or disease; and abuse by local actors who would exploit their immigrant status is passage of the Safe Communities Act. The Act would bar Massachusetts agencies from contributing towards a discriminatory “Muslim Registry,”enhance due process rights for immigrants, and ensure police resources are spent protecting communities—not harming them by involving them with Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

The following organizations have endorsed the demands: African Community Economic Development of New England (ACEDONE), ACLU of Massachusetts, Asian American Resource Workshop, Black & Pink, Boston Workmen’s Circle for Jewish Culture & Social Justice, Brazilian Womens Group, Chelsea Collaborative, Council on American-Islamic Relations MA, Defending Rights & Dissent (formerly BORDC), Digital Fourth, Families for Justice as Healing, Harvard Anti-Islamophobia Network, IfNotNow Boston, Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action, Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Massachusetts Pirate Party, Massachusetts Refugee and Immigrant Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), Muslim Justice League, National Lawyers Guild-Massachusetts Chapter, No Drones Eastern Mass, No Drug Arrests Collective (NDAC), Stuck on Replay, Student Immigrant Movement (SIM), Suffolk Muslim Law Students Association, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)-Boston, Unitarian Universalist Massachusetts Action Network, & Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.