He Sees You When You're Sleeping, He Knows When You're Awake
How many times do we have to say it is wrong to put entire communities under surveillance?
It is not safe to be Black in this country. We know that. It is not safe to be Muslim in this country. We know that, too. We also all know we’re being watched. It is something that we make jokes with each other about all the time.
According to Privacy SOS, documents obtained by the ACLU of Massachusetts revealed that the Boston Police Department (BPD) used a social media surveillance system from 2014-2016. BPD tagged words and phrases deemed suspicious, phrases like #blacklivesmatter and #muslimlivesmatter. It does not come as a surprise to many of us. Many Muslims in the United States have to be careful of what they say so as to not seem suspicious. Our media has effectively vilified a phrase Muslims all use on a daily basis, Allahu Akbar, or God is the Greatest. As a result of this, my mom reminds me not to speak Arabic every single time I am going to board an airplane. My friends with privilege make jokes about “being the bomb” or “blowing up someone’s phone” and I tense up, look around, and make sure no one overheard and took the joke seriously.
School children were not free from this surveillance either. Student posts about the protest against the budget in Boston schools in 2016 were also collected. I cannot express how outrageous this is. This goes against everything this country allegedly stands for. Why is it okay for people expressing their first amendment right to be monitored because of their thoughts and feelings, because of the language they use, the religion they follow, or the racial identity they belong to?
What fear mongers and institutions like the BPD continue to fail to realize is that monitoring conversations for everyday words will not increase their likelihood of foiling crimes. Watching entire groups of people dehumanizes them, creates unnecessary fear, and targets innocent citizens which is against the law. BPD’s watching of Black and Muslim people has not led to the prevention of a single crime. If the statistics have displayed over and over again that most of America’s terrorists are white, and not Muslim, why were they watching Black and Muslim people specifically?
Just because BPD stopped using Geofeedia, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be outraged or this should be swept under the rug. Let me make it real clear: It is wrong to spy on entire communities.