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Invasion of privacy  versus national security


The dirty tricks used in the King era are alive and well in the present millennium

Americans are hot wired for fear. This has been embedded from the start, as the second amendment avocation of gun ownership as an adjunct for self defense was, perhaps guided by the recent memory of autocratic tyranny that drove the founding fathers away from their European homeland. Since then the nation’s evolution has been prompted by fear; fear of the natives whose land was initially appropriated, fear of internal dissension among those who “settled it,” and later fear of foreign intruders by citizens whose ancestors arrived just a few generations before.

Now, as the latest inauguration of Martin Luther King Day is upon us, the fear that this apostle of peace generated during his era might be compared and contrasted to the present. With the passage of time, methodology and technique become subtle and more refined, while the objective remains essentially the same.

A benevolent subversive

“...(In December of 1963) the head of the Domestic Intelligence Division (William C. Sullivan) recommended the promotion of a new "national Negro leader" who could "overshadow King and be in the position to assume the role of the leadership of the Negro people when King has been completely discredited."

—from the Final Report - Book III: Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, dated 23 April 1976.

In his time, King aroused fear in the bosom of the leadership of the very nation he sought to humanize. This apprehension grew as he received accolades and his global profile increased as the nation’s most prominent civil rights leader. History remembers the blatant animosity he received from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who called King the “most notorious liar in the country,” at a 1964 press conference. Lesser known are the covert manipulations of his minion William C. Sullivan, of the domestic intelligence division.

Sullivan engineered the recording of King’s extramarital fornications and delivered them to Coretta Scott King, then encouraging the the disgraced minister to commit suicide. Years later he admitted as much before the Frank Church Senate investigating committee of 1975:

"Never once did I hear anybody, including myself raise the question, is this course of action which we have agreed upon lawful, is it legal, is it ethical or moral?" he recalled. The committee uncovered scores of violations of privacy and individual rights by government agencies under the banner of national security.

Sullivan himself was in favor of finding another, alternative Black leader who could be easily manipulated once King was neutralized or removed.

Surveillance as a method of social control

It bears remembering that King’s family has been tracked by the powers that be for most of the 20th century. His maternal grandfather, the Rev. A.D. Williams attracted the attention of authorities as pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, and through his establishment of that city’s first chapter of the NAACP. Utilizing the approach of two seemingly dissimilar Black leaders, W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, he encouraged his congregation to purchase their own homes and start their own businesses. His efforts to register his flock to vote was frowned on in some circles of the greater community.

The path he blazed was well established for his grandson, who ascended to the pulpit of Ebenezer and garnered the scrutiny of the government in his own rite of passage.

That said, it may be argued that surveillance of the Black presence has been in place since the first Africans set foot in the New World of the 1600s. The existence of a people fundamentally different from those who control them, a people despised yet essential in transforming a hostile environment into an economically viable source of income, warranted monitoring, not necessarily of a compassionate sort.

Sheer co-incidence or acts of repression?

“Swatting”-a colloquial term for filing a false police report. This is considered a act of criminal harassment, increasingly used via “prank calls” recently to direct emergency services at the homes of public figures.

The legacy of hysteria in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast gave civil liberties a huge set back, as law enforcement authorities were given carte blanche to do what needed to be done to safeguard the country. Such arcane terms as due process and Miranda Rights were thrown out the window

Pan-Africanist and womanist activist Dr. Melina Abdullah is an academic and educator perhaps best known for her position with the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM). From this vantage point she's been given ample opportunity to witness-and be the target of-maltreatment at the hands of the powers that be. She personally was the subject of two 2020 crack calls summoning the LAPD to her home residence. The first specifically involved a claim that people were being held hostage at Abdullah’s home.

Her children sequestered inside, Dr. Abdullah came out, her hands up to face a contingent of police cars and officers in tactical gear, their firearms locked and loaded. The call was later traced, possibly to a group of teen-aged hooligans. She considers this an act of terrorism, and has a lawsuit pending.

Regardless of the validity of the compliant, she maintains it was not accidental and the police acted improperly, perhaps targeting her specifically due to her presence as an outspoken advocate for police reform.

Abdullah maintains that increased polarization not-with-standing, there are no circumstances wherein the police should be given free reign under color of authority.

“The right to privacy is explicitly for periods when there is dissent,” she says.

More tellingly, she considers this as a small clog in a larger effort to discourage free discourse and the right to protest. In this she cites examples like activist/media commentator Marc Lamont Hill, who was dismissed from CNN after an address before the United Nations that was deemed antisemitic.

Her colleague at BLM, Sheila Bates shares her own twisted experiences involving the local police force in Torrance, Calif., formerly “a sundown town (in which the patronage of people of color is discouraged after dark),” and a place not known for it's hospitality to Black folks in the millennium.

Bates representing BLM came to Torrance in the wake of the police-related shooting deaths of Michelle Lee Shirley in 2016, Christopher DeAndre Mitchell in 2018. During the course of protesting these events, Bates states she has been arrested and in the course of taken into custody, physically assaulted, resulting in bruises and other physical injuries.

“I had go to the hospital multiple times for treatment,”she says.

She believes but cannot confirm that the department has been conducting surveillance on her connected to these events, and believes harassment is focused on protest groups on the left end of the political spectrum.

“Conservatives do not experience these things in the same way- we saw that play out on Jan. 6th.”