August 18, 2021

Movement for Black Lives Releases Report Detailing U.S. Government Persecution of Protestors Supporting Racial Justice

The report details how the federal government deliberately targeted supporters of the movement to defend Black lives during the summer of 2020 uprisings in order to disrupt and discourage Black organizing

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Movement for Black Lives, alongside the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) clinic at City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, released a detailed report outlining the federal government’s attempt to disrupt and suppress those who took to the streets in defense of Black lives throughout the summer of 2020. The report Struggle for Power: The Ongoing Persecution of Black Movement by the U.S. Government — finds that as the uprisings increased, so did the unilateral deployment of federal agents, largely uninvited by local or state officials. By charging racial justice protesters with federal crimes that carry harsher penalties for conduct that normally would have been prosecuted in state courts, if at all, the government not only acted on hostile rhetoric from the most senior federal officials, but it also perpetuated a long history of attacking Black-led organizing and movement-building. 

“In the spirit of Black August, we must acknowledge that this is not the first or the last time the federal government has utilized coordinated attacks on Black activists as a means to suppress our right to protest,” said Dr. Amara Enyia, Policy and Research Coordinator for the Movement for Black Lives. “Historically, Black protestors have more often than not been met with governmental oppression and accompanying police violence as a result of our unwillingness to accept the systemic disregard for and mistreatment of Black lives. Quite frankly, nothing in this report is surprising, but provides further evidence that, despite persistent attempts to silence Black voices, our collective activism continues to strengthen and grow, and our progression towards Black liberation terrifies the federal government.”

As noted in the report, to disrupt the 2020 uprisings in defense of Black lives, the federal government spread anti-BLM propaganda and cast protestors as “violent radicals” in order to seize power in local communities and charge protestors with inflated federal indictments that carry significantly harsher penalties than local charges. 

Struggle for Power: The Ongoing Persecution of Black Movement by the U.S. Government analyzes 326 criminal cases from August 31, 2020, to October 25, 2020, when federal charges were filed against protestors. Topline findings of the report include:

  • 92.6% of the cases could have been charged under equivalent state or local law.
  • The federal penalties for 88% of cases were clearly harsher. 
    • Federal charges very often carry greater sentences than state criminal charges for the same conduct and result in convictions at an astoundingly high rate, increasing the number of political prisoners at the hands of our carceral system.
  • 72 cases (22.1%) involved charges with mandatory minimum sentences. 
  • Demographic breakdowns were only available for 89 of the 326 criminal cases, however, fifty-two percent of the defendants identify as Black, and of the Black defendants, 91% were male.

“This report highlights just how vigorously the federal government attempted to disrupt the necessary work of those in the struggle for Black liberation,” said Princess Masilungan of CLEAR. “The findings only confirm what Black organizers and movement leaders already understood: The federalization of protest-related charges was a deliberate and cynical effort to target and discourage those who protested in defense of Black lives. Everyday Americans are now facing prison sentences in more distant locations, higher maximums and mandatory minimums, and no chance of parole as a result of exercising their First Amendment rights. Incarceration often leads to income and job loss along with the separation of families. It not only harms the individual but also their families, organizations, and communities.”

Following the uprisings in the summer of 2020, several states and localities across the United States continue to introduce stronger laws and punishments that will unfairly target protesters of color. In 2021, more than 80 anti-protest bills have been introduced, with eight states passing legislation. 

In light of the report’s findings, the Movement for Black Lives and CLEAR are calling on Congressional leaders to take action through the passage of the BREATHE Act, demanding amnesty for all prisoners involved in the uprisings, and calling for the abolition of the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF)

“As the findings in this report are taken into consideration, I urge activists and allies across the nation to be emboldened by the fact that despite repeated attacks, our movement is making progress. In the face of fascism, we refuse to relent but rather, we will continue to push and build the power of Black organizing,” added Dr. Enyia. Read the report here.