Protestors have continued to brave city streets—despite being shot with rubber bullets, tear-gassed and brutalized. Yet, they are soon to face another obstacle due to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) stronger authoritative capabilities, granted by a Senior Justice Department Official on Sunday.
Within the two-page memorandum, the DEA requested a Non-title 21- Authority pursuant—granting power to conduct searches, implement covert surveillance, make arrests and share intelligence across the lines of federal agencies. This puts all protestors, peaceful or otherwise, at risk.
(For perspective, this unprecedented action taken against U.S. citizens is aligned with how the federal government treats possible terrorist threats under the Patriot Act.)
“Drug enforcement agents should not be conducting covert surveillance of protests and First Amendment protected speech,” said Hugh Handeyside, a senior attorney for the ACLU. “That kind of monitoring and information sharing may well constitute unwarranted investigation of people exercising their constitutional rights to seek justice. The executive branch continues to run headlong in the wrong direction.”
So far, two lawmakers—Democratic Reps. Jerry Nadler (chair of the House Judiciary Committee) and Karen Bass (a member of the committee)—have spoken out publicly against the move. In a letter sent to Barr and Timothy Shea, the acting administrator of the DEA, they call the expansion of the agency’s powers “antithetical to the American people’s right to peacefully assemble and to exercise their Constitutional rights without undue intrusion.”
In defense of the action, Attorney General William Barr focused on the violence and vandalism occurring during the protests. He blamed “anarchistic and far-left extremists” for “[hijacking] … the voices of peaceful protests” and said “the violence is planned and organized”—without evidence. The action justifies the deployment of U.S. Marshals; FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the DEA.
Shea, one of Barr’s known allies, made the request last month for the DEA to go beyond the agency’s normal mandated course of action: namely, enforcing drug-related federal crimes. This request was in turn granted by Barr, putting a great deal of power and authority into Shea’s hands.
Barr claims these measures are a necessity to “support local efforts to enforce federal law.” Yet, he failed to clarify what course of action will be taken, to what extent these agencies can be involved, and how this would affect the non-violent protestors.
But three separate DEA sources privately told BuzzFeed News, “they are troubled by the memo and see it as an example of the Justice Department potentially abusing its power in an attempt to smear the protests and crack down on protected First Amendment activity.”
Taking extreme measures against the protestors is not a foreign concept, considering the president resurfaced the Insurrection Act, which has not been utilized since 1992. The act grants the U.S. military the ability to infiltrate domestic neighborhoods under the guise of restoring peace to the nation.
Trump’s leadership has paved the way for other government agencies to enact extreme measures against its citizens. In his statement issued on June 1, he said, “I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters.” Although claiming to be an ally of the peaceful protestors, U.S. citizens have witnessed the severe injuries inflicted upon high numbers of non-violent protestors, youth and elderly citizens at the hands of the military and police force.
As protestors move forward with advocating justice for George Floyd, they must understand: Their privacy is subject to violation. The measures to be taken by the DEA have not been clarified as to what warrants the search, surveillance and arrest of American citizens. These operations are at the discretion of the DEA officers.