Black Lives Matter at Netroots Nation: Failing to Recognize the Power of Protest

Screen shot from Netroots Nation 2015’s live stream of the presidential forum

A number of people in attendance at the Netroots Nation presidential forum with Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders grew upset when black organizers took the stage and launched a protest. There were complaints about the organizers being disrespectful, obnoxious, and impolite.

It was supposedly not constructive. However, less than twenty-four hours later, O’Malley apologized for saying, “All Lives Matter,” and Sanders’ campaign sent messages in support of “Black Lives Matter.” This demonstrates that there are real advantages to protest, particularly at political gatherings like Netroots Nation.

However, a significant faction of Netroots Nation attendees, including some press in attendance, do not appear to recognize the value of this kind of protest in forcing change.

Tia Oso, a national coordinator for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in Phoenix, took the stage in the middle of O’Malley’s interview with undocumented activist Jose Antonio Vargas. She immediately contextualized the act of protest by acknowledging that Arizona was built on indigenous land and the border was drawn by white supremacists, who believed in “Manifest Destiny.”

She marked the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of an NYPD police officer, who put him in a chokehold and made him cry out, “I can’t breathe!”

The crowd of black organizers led a chant of, “Say Her Name!”, as Oso acknowledged Sandra Bland, a young black woman and anti-police brutality activist who was found dead in a jail cell in Texas. They shouted out names, like Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Kyam Livingston, Natasha McKenna, and Tarika Wilson, forcing the crowd to remember—and notice—their lives.

Oso stated, “We shouldn’t have to do this. We asked [Netroots Nation] to create space for black activists to connect. They said no so we did it ourselves.”

Following the acknowledgment of black women killed by police and prison guards, the organizers chanted “If I Die in Custody” and shared what they wanted the world to demand of authorities.

Patrise Cullors, who is with the Ella Baker Center and also a lead organizer of Black Lives Matter, declared, “Every single day folks are dying, not being able to take another breath. We are in a state of emergency. We are in a state of emergency.”

“And, if you don’t feel that emergency, you are not human,” Cullors added.

Cullors demanded that O’Malley and Sanders address the fight for black and brown lives. She pleaded with the candidates to speak out against police unions, who are “battering our names after their law enforcement” officers kill their people. She begged the candidates for action plans or concrete proposals for dealing with this crisis.

After the protest, the dominating news headline was that O’Malley had said something at a liberal conference that left-wing activists did not like. He said, “All Lives Matter,” and why should that be such a problem.

The disruption was cast as a sign of division in the Democratic Party. How are candidates going to deal with this? And, since Hillary Clinton declined to participate in the Netroots Nation presidential forum, does this show that she was smart to avoid this ruckus altogether? (more…)

Podcast: Right-Wing Attacks on Outspoken Muslims & Anti-Muslim Racism in the UK

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Abdullah al-Andalusi

Telegraph writer Andrew Gilligan has a history of right-wing attacks against radical Muslims in the United Kingdom and smear them in his reporting. Gilligan’s latest attack was against Abdullah al-Andalusi, an Islamic lecturer and writer.

Al-Andalusi was the target of Gilligan’s slimy attack because he has worked for the public sector in the UK. Gilligan questioned whether Muslims should be permitted to work civil service jobs and tried to gin up additional fear by shamefully distorting al-Andalusi’s previous writing to make him seem like an Islamic State sympathizer. He is this week’s guest on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast.

Astonishingly, despite the fact that al-Andalusi has a public persona and six years of lectures, writings, and television appearances, Gilligan still managed to cut-and-paste sentences from an article denouncing the Islamic State in order to argue al-Andalusi supported the Islamic State.

Al-Andalusi had crossed the line in the eyes of reactionaries in the British press when he compared ISIS practices to previous atrocities committed by British or US armies in the Middle East. However, as he points out, he is not the first person to put forward this analysis condemning any entity, including Western governments, which commit crimes against humanity.

He explains during the interview how he is cast as some kind of terrorist sympathizer because he is Muslim, even though others like writer/lecturer Noam Chomsky have also made similar arguments.

“That kind of discrimination is the epitome of the kind of unequal treatment and consideration Muslims are given vis-à-vis non-Muslim citizens,” in the United Kingdom, al-Andalusi adds. He goes on to address programs, such as PREVENT, and other tactics by the British government to address Islamic extremism and describes how these policies fuel and are reinforced by anti-Muslim racism.

During the discussion portion, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola discuss the Chattanooga shooting, Saudi Arabia rounding up over 400 people suspected of involvement in Islamic State plots, the Iran nuclear deal, Obama’s NAACP speech, and Sandra Bland.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Also, below is a player for listening to the podcast. You can listen to the podcast this way by clicking on the player. And please follow the show on Twitter at @UnauthorizedDis.

Judge: CIA, Pentagon May Still Neither Confirm Nor Deny Records Exist on US Citizens Killed by Drones

A federal judge has ruled the CIA and Defense Department (DOD) do not have to confirm or deny whether they have records on the “factual basis for the killing” of either Samir Khan or Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who were killed in two separate drone strikes in September and October of 2011.

In the same decision, which contained top secret information and was heavily redacted, Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District of New York also ordered the CIA, DOD and Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to disclose portions of documents with facts about US drone operations already “officially acknowledged.”

These facts include:

(1) US government uses drones for “targeted killings” overseas;

(2) DOD and CIA have an “intelligence interest in the use of drones to carry out targeted killings”;

(3) DOD and CIA have an “operational role in conducting targeted killings”;

(4) information about the legal basis (constitutional, statutory, common law, international law, and treaty law) for engaging in the targeted killings abroad, including specifically the targeted killing of a US national;

(5) US government carried out the “targeted killing” of Anwar al-Awlaki

(6) FBI was investigating Samir Khan’s involvement in jihad

The development was the latest in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in October 2011, which sought documents on the “targeted killings” of Anwar Al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan.

Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in a drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011. Weeks later, Abdulrahman was killed in a drone strike in Yemen on October 14.

In April 2014, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a January 2013 decision by the district court. The government was ordered to release a memo related to the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki. The memo was released in June. The same appeals court ruling additionally ordered the government to list documents and make a case for why each document should remain secret.

McMahon examined over 100 documents and determined the CIA had to release parts of three documents. The OLC had to release the parts of three documents and one full document. None of the documents the DOD was required to submit for review had to be disclosed.

McMahon allowed the government agencies to invoke attorney-client privilege and the deliberative process privilege for a number of the documents, which advocates for reform of FOIA have referred to as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption.

The CIA and Defense Department were permitted to continue to “stand on its Glomar” with respect to information on the drone strikes, which killed Khan and Abdulrahman. This means neither agency has to acknowledge to the ACLU that it has documents related to any decision to target and kill these individuals. (more…)

SeaWorld Employee Who Infiltrated PETA Actions Put on Paid Leave as PETA Plans to Expose More Spies

SeaWorld Employee Infiltrator Arrested at Protest

When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) exposed a SeaWorld employee as a corporate spy who had infiltrated the organization’s meetings and protests, the theme park’s initial response was to accuse PETA of hypocrisy. SeaWorld pointed to the fact that PETA encourages undercover investigations, as if the two were somehow remotely similar.

But, as this story has gained traction and as PETA prepares to expose more alleged SeaWorld spies, the theme park has had to adjust its response and place the employee accused of infiltration on paid leave.

On July 15, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby announced an investigation led by Ron Olson of the law firm, Munger, Tolles, & Olson.

“The allegations made yesterday against a SeaWorld employee are very concerning,” Manby said in a statement. “These allegations, if true, are not consistent with the values of the SeaWorld organization and will not be tolerated.”

How come this was not SeaWorld’s initial response when media organizations were asking for comment on PETA’s accusations, which included clear evidence of infiltration? Is it because SeaWorld has encouraged some of its employees to engage in such dirty tricks?

PETA alleged Paul T. McComb claimed to be “Thomas Jones” and showed up at PETA protests against SeaWorld. He operated a Twitter account as “Thomas Jones,” where he posted messages attempting to incite protesters to “burn” SeaWorld “to the ground” or rush the gates at a future action.

During a protest where PETA activists engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience and blocked a float in the 2014 Rose Parade, “Jones” was arrested with other activists. He subsequently disappeared, and there is no record of charges ever being filed against him.

PETA contends it has been targeted by more SeaWorld spies in addition to McComb and does not believe the suspension and investigation will amount to anything more than a cover-up.

“Suspending your own agents is an old trick, which usually comes with a backroom deal of compensation and a promise to bring them back when things die down, which is unlikely to be the case with this beleaguered business,” PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk said in a statement. “Furthermore, we do not believe that SeaWorld limited its espionage efforts to McComb’s activities. It has hired protesters to attend SeaWorld rallies, and PETA is currently looking at two more men we believe were SeaWorld agents hired to infiltrate PETA as ‘volunteers,’ and the list may grow.”

Newkirk indicated more names and photographs of other people it believes infiltrated demonstrations and “volunteer activities” will be released. (more…)

Obama Tries to End Israel’s Temper Tantrum Over Iran Deal By Offering Country More Weapons

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President Barack Obama’s administration has offered to increase US military aid by nearly fifty percent in order to calm Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, who are livid as a result of the Iran nuclear deal.

“The fact that Netanyahu’s temper tantrum about the Iran deal could go towards an increase in aid is disturbing, especially as we know that US aid is being used to kill civilians in Gaza and the West Bank,” Naomi Dann, media coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace, told Common Dreams.

Discussions around what the US could give to Israel to help it tolerate the Iran deal have been ongoing for months. Israel has apparently requested “between $4.2 billion and $4.5 billion a year for the next 10 years,” which is an increase from around $3 billion a year, according to The New York Times.

Israel uses the billions to purchase US military hardware, including jets and missile defense equipment. It helps fund the country’s “Iron Dome” project.

As Rania Khalek described, a potential package could involve the purchase of “3,000 Hellfire missiles, 12,000 general purpose bombs, and 750 bunker buster bombs that can penetrate up to 20 feet, or six meters, of reinforced concrete.”

The bombs are exactly the weapons Israel uses when attacking Gaza and deliberately targets civilians, including children.

Netanyahu claimed in an interview with Steve Forbes, “I think if the deal goes through we’re in danger of war, and it might be the worst kind of war we can imagine. Because this deal will open the way for Iran not to get a bomb but many bombs. Within a decade it will be free to enrich uranium on an unlimited basis. And it will be able to make the fissile cord for dozens of bombs–indeed, hundreds of bombs–which it can then put on the hundreds of ICBMs it already has.”

“Under this deal Iran is going to get $100 billion to $300 billion, which it will be able to use to fund its terrorism and its aggression in the region–its aim being to destroy Israel,” Netanyahu added. “Given Iran’s history of aggression, I’d say that this double bonanza of a guaranteed pathway to a nuclear arsenal and a jackpot of money to continue its aggression actually makes the danger of war, even nuclear war, a lot greater.”

Netanyahu’s doomsday scenario stems from opposition to the fact that Iran will be allowed to continue to have peaceful nuclear program and sanctions against the country will be lifted for complying with a rather intrusive inspection regime. (more…)

New Campaign by First Look Media Will Help Ensure Chelsea Manning Has Funds for Legal Appeals

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How Chelsea Manning sees herself

First Look Media and the Freedom of the Press Foundation have launched a matching fund campaign to support United States military whistleblower Chelsea Manning, as she appeals her conviction and challenges how the military prosecuted her.

The media organization’s Press Freedom Litigation Fund will match $50,000 in donations. Journalist Glenn Greenwald will match $10,000 in donations. The Freedom of the Press Foundation will manage the fundraising campaign. [As of 11 am ET on July 16, over $28,000 had already been matched.]

All funds raised will ensure that Manning will be able to mount a strong appeal, which is expected to be filed before the year is over. It will also reduce the stress and anxiety Manning experiences as she worries about whether she can afford an appeal.

“Being in prison while trying to figure out how I will pay for my legal appeal has been a great source of stress and anxiety,” Manning stated. “I’m so honored that a new campaign is supporting me in my effort to vindicate my legal rights, and I am truly grateful to anyone who is helping.”

Nancy Hollander, lead counsel for Manning, shared, “My law partner, Vince Ward, Chelsea’s detailed appellate counsel, Cpt David Hammond, and I are working our way through the longest written record in military history and take on this fight willingly.”

“Chelsea has the right to have someone stand between her and the awesome power of her own government when all that power is directed at her. Vince and my work for Chelsea is sustained by thousands of her supporters, who stand with her to challenge our justice system to honor the rights of all people who put themselves at grave personal risk to protect and defend others,” Hollander added.

Hollander noted that it was nearly two years since Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the “heroic act of truth-telling to protect innocent civilians.”

As extensively covered by this journalist here at Firedoglake, the sentencing verdict was issued on August 21, 2013. Manning received far greater punishment than individuals in the military, who have committed war crimes by killing innocent civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan. She also received greater punishment than soldiers or officers responsible for torture.

From the video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack, which showed soldiers gunning down innocent civilians and two Reuters journalists, to military incident reports in Afghanistan, which revealed the operations of an assassination squad known as Task Force 373, to military incident reports in Iraq, which included details of an order instructing US and UK forces to look the other way if Iraqi forces engaged in torture, Manning had classic whistleblower intentions when she chose to provide this information to WikiLeaks.

Yet, the US military prosecuted Manning as if she was a spy who “aided the enemy,” specifically al Qaeda terrorists. She was convicted of several violations of the Espionage Act. (more…)

Obama Finally Acknowledges Mass Incarceration But Proposes Reforms That Leave Failed ‘War on Drugs’ Intact

Obama at NAACP 106th Annual Convention

For the first time in President Barack Obama’s administration, he used the phrase “mass incarceration” in a speech and appropriately called attention to the disproportionate impact incarceration has on black and Latinos in the United States.

The president also proposed several policy solutions that could potentially diminish the level of widespread injustice millions, especially nonviolent drug users, have endured. However, Obama declined to call for an end to the “War on Drugs” and proposed solutions would leave most of this destructive and failed strategy intact.

Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it,” Obama declared during remarks at the NAACP’s 106th Annual Convention in Philadelphia. 

Obama highlighted statistics that were probably all too familiar to those who have read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

…The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Think about that. Our incarceration rate is four times higher than China’s. We keep more people behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined. And it hasn’t always been the case — this huge explosion in incarceration rates. In 1980, there were 500,000 people behind bars in America — half a million people in 1980. I was in college in 1980. Many of you were not born in 1980 — that’s okay. (Laughter.) I remember 1980 — 500,000. Today there are 2.2 million. It has quadrupled since 1980. Our prison population has doubled in the last two decades alone…

Those are stunning statistics the country should not ignore. It is hugely important that a US president finally talked about this issue openly.

Obama also said, “In recent years the eyes of more Americans have been opened to this truth. Partly because of cameras, partly because of tragedy, partly because the statistics cannot be ignored, we can’t close our eyes anymore. And the good news — and this is truly good news — is that good people of all political persuasions are starting to think we need to do something about this.”

There has been a lot of critical activism on the issue of mass incarceration in the past five to six years. Individuals and organizations engaged in that struggle, coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement of the past year, have forced those in power to confront policies that dehumanize and devalue black lives. As Occupy changed the framework of discussion about economic inequality, Black Lives Matter created a space for Obama to talk about a set of issues too often labeled as Black issues and ignored by white America.

“Over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before. And that is the real reason our prison population is so high,” Obama added. “In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime. If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society. You have to be held accountable and make amends. But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid.”

Obama had put out a “drug control strategy” that aimed to provide treatment for nonviolent drug users instead of simply putting them in jail. But never had he presented all the statistics showing the human and economic cost and connected how the government treats nonviolent drug users to mass incarceration.

Ahead of a planned visit to a federal prison, Obama stated, “We should not tolerate conditions in prison that have no place in any civilized country. We should not be tolerating overcrowding in prison. We should not be tolerating gang activity in prison. We should not be tolerating rape in prison. And we shouldn’t be making jokes about it in our popular culture. That’s no joke. These things are unacceptable.”

The president even highlighted his own Justice Department, noting that the Department now spends one-third of its budget on incarceration. (more…)

In US, Black Children in Poverty Now Outnumber White Children in Poverty

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Screen shot of chart from Pew Research Center

There are three times as many white children in the United States, but for the first time since the United States Census began collecting data in 1974, data appears to indicate that there are now more black children in poverty than white children in poverty.

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of impoverished black children in 2013 was 4.2 million. The number of impoverished white children was 4.1 million and decreased about 700,000 since 2012.

The poverty rate for black children was at 38.3% in 2013 and is slowly returning to the level it was at in 1976.

“Black children were almost four times as likely as white or Asian children to be living in poverty in 2013, and significantly more likely than Hispanic children,” the Pew Research Center found.

Twenty-seven percent of the black population are children, however, 38% of blacks in poverty are children. Similarly, Hispanic children make up 33% of all Hispanics but 42% of Hispanics in poverty are children.

Meanwhile, the number of white children in poverty is slowly decreasing and are not overrepresented. “Children make up roughly equal shares of the white and Asian populations and of whites and Asians living in poverty.”

The fact that the poverty rate for black children is holding so steady is a story that receives very little attention in the media, and it is partly why Pew Research Center analyst Eileen Patten and a colleague chose to highlight these latest statistics

“The fact that the trajectory has been different for blacks than for these other groups, that caught our attention,” Patten told the New York Times. “We were surprised the story had not been told like this since this data had been around for a while.”

The trend is likely related to the fact that black unemployment rates remain so high. However, what is contributing to the steadiness of black children in poverty was outside the scope of statistics compiled for this latest report from the Pew Research Center.

Last year, the Children’s Defense Fund reported a “black baby is born into poverty every two-and-a-half minutes and into extreme poverty every four-and-a-half minutes.” In six US states, “half or more black children are poor,” and in “nearly half” of the US, Black child poverty is 40% or more.

Part of what fuels poverty for black children is the fact that black households typically earn much less than white households. In 2011, a black household earned 94% less than the average white household.

Average annual income for a black family in 2012 was $35,700. A white family’s average annual income, on the other hand, was around $75,500.

SeaWorld Employee Engaged in Corporate Espionage to Disrupt Activism Against Theme Park

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The animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has publicized evidence that a human resources employee at SeaWorld San Diego has posed for the past three years as an animal rights activist to disrupt PETA’s campaign against the theme park.

Paul T. McComb has been showing up at PETA protests against SeaWorld. He has attended organizational meetings. He has claimed to be “Thomas Jones.”

On Twitter, “Thomas Jones” has posted messages typical of an infiltrator. He has suggested protesters may have to “burn” SeaWorld “to the ground.”

“Thomas Jones” posted to Facebook on July 4, 2014, that activists needed to grab their “pitch forks and torches. Time to take down SeaWorld.” He urged surprises at the next protest in a March 2014 message. “Are we going up [to] the gates or something.”

When protesters were arrested for sitting down in front of a SeaWorld float in the 2014 Rose Parade, “Thomas Jones” was arrested with other protesters. However, he disappeared and his name is not on any arrest sheets. He was not apparently charged with committing any crimes like the other protesters, who were booked and released.

The human resources employee calling himself “Thomas Jones” used a post office box in San Diego that is registered to Ric Marcelino, who is the director of security at SeaWorld San Diego.

SeaWorld was asked for an explanation and told Bloomberg, “We are focused on the safety of our team members, guests, and animals, and beyond that we do not comment on our security operations, and, “This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, especially as animal rights groups have become increasingly extreme in their rhetoric and tactics.”

While SeaWorld would not comment on whether McComb worked for the theme park, it did not issue a denial and seemed to implicitly confirm McComb’s employment when it provided a “link to a PETA job posting for an undercover investigator.”

The company spokesperson said, “PETA itself actively recruits animal rights activists to gain employment at companies like SeaWorld, as this job posting demonstrates.”

However, PETA claims individuals do not usually use fake names when conducting investigations, and another difference is that undercover PETA investigators are not typically inciting corporations to engage in illegal actions. PETA’s undercover investigations are not the same as launching a COINTELPRO-style operation against people engaged in nonviolent acts of protest.

It is not the first time that PETA has been targeted by a corporation. Coca-Cola hired Stratfor, a “global intelligence” firm, to investigate activists. The firm’s vice president claimed he might be able to access a “classified investigation” by the FBI into “PETA operatives.” (more…)

Journalist Sues US Government for Records on ‘Kafkaesque Harassment’ by Security Agents During Travel

Laura Poitras, 2010

Laura Poitras is a journalist and documentary filmmaker, who recently won an Academy Award for the documentary on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden called Citizenfour. But, between July 2006 and April 2012, Poitras was “subjected to ‘Secondary Security Screening Selection,” detained and questioned at the United States border on every international flight she took” to the US, according to her recently filed lawsuit.

When traveling from the US, when she was outside the US traveling internationally, and even when she was traveling within the US, Poitras was “occasionally subjected to secondary security screening.” More than 50 times she was given this designation, which allowed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents to subject her to extra scrutiny.

On January 24, 2014, Poitras filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and TSA for “all agency records concerning, naming, or relating to Ms. Poitras.” She also submitted requests to the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Poitras has, to date, received no records in response to her requests and alleges agencies are wrongfully withholding records [PDF].

“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the US border to bypass the rule of law,” Poitras explained in a press release from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy.”

“I am also filing this suit in support of the countless other less high-profile people who have also been subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders. We have a right to know how this system works and why we are targeted.”

One of those individuals, who Poitras may be referring to, is Jacob Appelbaum. He is a journalist, Tor developer, and WikiLeaks volunteer, who has been stopped and harassed at the US border multiple times. (He has also had his personal data connected to services, such as Twitter and Google, targeted as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into WikiLeaks.)

Airport security agents have previously informed Poitras that she had a “criminal record,” even though that is not true. She has been informed her name was in a “national security threat database.” During one stop, she was told she was on the “No Fly List.” Her laptop, camera, mobile phone, and her notebooks have been seized and copied. One time when she attempted to take notes while she was detained by agents, she was threatened with being put in handcuffs. The agents pretended to fear that she might use the pen as a weapon so she could not create a record of their interaction.

Poitras is not the first to challenge this abuse. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) have challenged suspicionless laptop searches by DHS through a lawsuit filed in 2010.

Detaining Journalists, Abusing Families, and Humiliating American Muslims

Abuse by US security agents at the border has become increasingly common. In February 2014, the podcast, On the Media, aired an episode called “Secrecy on the Border.” The episode focused on how Homeland Security violates the rights of people and refuses to provide any explanations. (more…)