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Memphis Police Spying on Activists Is Worse Than We Thought

As ACLU lawyers prepare for an upcoming trial with the Memphis Police Department, the things they’ve learned about the law enforcement agency’s spying habits have “surprised” them.
Demonstrators gather in Memphis, Tennessee, earlier this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Demonstrators gather in Memphis, Tennessee, earlier this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Shawn Escoffery

When the ACLU of Tennessee filed a lawsuit against the Memphis Police Department in March 2017, its lawyers accused the police department of spying on local protesters in violation of a consent decree. The lawsuit was based on the existence of a “City Hall Escort List” created by Memphis police* and mostly filled with names of Black Lives Matter activists to be flagged by police if ever on City Hall grounds. However, after deposing key police officials and collecting hundreds of pages of documented evidence, ACLU lawyers learned that this was just a fraction of what was going on. Based on court documents the ACLU filed this week in the case, they also found out about these actions:

The ACLU of Tennessee filed a motion this week asking the judge to render a decision based on all the information gathered, instead of going to trial, which is currently scheduled for August. These operations are questionable enough on their own, but police surveillance of protesters has been forbidden in Memphis since a 1978 consent decree, after the police department was accused of carrying out similar spying functions on civil rights activists dating back to 1968, when Martin Luther King was in the city advocating on behalf of sanitation workers.