ACLU Releases Footage to Prove Suspected CHP Aerial Spying on Police Brutality Protestors Wasn’t Paranoia

By The Vanguard Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The ACLU of Northern California Wednesday confirmed what many who participated in, or covered as reporters and acted as observers in 2020 already reported – that law enforcement was monitoring their every move during police brutality protests, no matter how peaceful or mundane, throughout California.

The ACLU released findings from a year-long investigation into California Highway Patrol’s aerial surveillance of the 2020 protests following the murder of George Floyd “In response to reports from concerned community members who witnessed helicopters and planes hovering above demonstrations.”

The ACLU of Northern California said it filed a series of public records requests to CHP in the summer of 2020 and spring of 2021, and finally received aerial surveillance footage, noting that it “illustrates how CHP recorded marches, vigils, and protests in cities across the state, including including Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles, Merced, Oakland, Palo Alto, Placerville, Riverside, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Vacaville, and Vallejo.


The ACLU maintains the video evidences the CHP using “high-powered video to spy on community members exercising their First Amendment rights – at times zooming in closely and lingering over people speaking at vigils, kneeling, participating in die-ins, making signs, and even handing out water and dancing.”

Flight logs list, said the ACLU, aerial “deployments in 25 cities and counties during the 2020 protests for racial justice,” describing the protests with entries such as “No Justice, No Peace Protest,” “Aerial Surveillance for George Floyd Protest” and “Patrol for Protests.”

“The public needs to know that the California Highway Patrol used advanced surveillance aircraft to record people who marched against racism and police violence,” said Matt Cagle, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.

He added, “People have the right to speak out without being spied on. We need action from our lawmakers to stop police from using surveillance technology to prop up the status quo.”

The ACLU said the widescale aerial surveillance could have cost taxpayers upwards of $30 million or more.

“CHP aiming its surveillance arsenal at activists is yet another example in a long history of police trying to intimidate and undermine Black-led movements for justice. Californians calling for racial justice and protesting police violence should not be in the crosshairs of CHP surveillance,” said Jennifer Jones, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.

The ACLU, in a statement, said that “From the skies, CHP surveilled and recorded high-definition video of people as they moved, marched, and mourned. CHP watched as we exercised our First Amendment rights: zooming in on people speaking at vigils, handing out water, making signs, and participating in die-ins.”

The ACLU, which has made government surveillance a priority in its legislative actions, insists “Police surveillance is not about safety – especially for communities of color. While the technology advances, the tactics stay the same: police and corporations work together to prop up unjust systems and try to undermine movements for justice.”

Adding, “Last summer, they pulled out the same playbook, aiming their surveillance arsenal at racial justice protesters. It’s long past time we reckon with this destructive legacy and make sure that it can’t continue.”

The ACLU noted that in the past couple years, it has spearheaded drives to anti-surveillance laws and bans in many California communities.

“But this is a systemic problem and it’s time for real action from our elected officials to investigate and stop out-of-control police surveillance in California and strengthen laws that protect our right to march, organize, and speak out for justice,” warns the ACLU, which said it is working to expand AB 1215 to “address police surveillance in California and make sure this surveillance cannot continue.”

Watch the footage:

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