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April 25, 2023

SJP and Prisab co-host Stop LAPD Spying Coalition talk about LAPD and IDF surveillance

U.S. police and Israeli apartheid surveillance share logics of “othering,” technologies of legitimization, organizers said

Undercurrents staff
Photo by Sunny Jeong-Eimer

On April 2, organizers from the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition spoke at an event co-hosted by the 5C Prison Abolition Coalition and Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine about connections between US police surveillance and the policing that upholds Israeli apartheid.

The event was part of SJP’s Palestine Freedom Weeks programming, following the re-launch of SJP’s campaign for Pitzer to suspend its study abroad program with Haifa University in Israel.

Surveillance algorithms, surveillance bureaucracy

Police surveillance systems rely on the creation of an “other” from marginalized groups, especially Black, Brown, and indigenous communities, said Hamid Khan, an organizer with the coalition.

“The Savage Native, the criminal Black, the illegal Latino, the manipulative Asian, the terrorist Muslim, the demon trans. There are all of these narratives…that then justify that violence,” Khan said.

Khan traced the development of police surveillance from the enslavement of Black Americans to the technological, algorithmic, and bureaucratic systems that make up today’s “stalker state.”

“It’s not just the police, it’s the public sector, private sector, corporations, social media, law enforcement, [and] international agencies” that surveil people, Khan said.

Predictive policing algorithms then predict zones where crimes are likely to happen with historical data. But ultimately the algorithms only serve to legitimize the same logic of “othering” as targeted surveillance, Khan said.

One of the first predictive policing products, PredPol, was developed by two UCLA professors and piloted with the LAPD, and created most of its hotspots on the outskirts of Skid Row, a predominantly Black community. Places such as the Crenshaw Mall, known as a cultural hotspot and safe space for the Black community, were also part of the designated crime zone.

Photo by Sunny Jeong-Eimer

The LAPD also created Operation LASER, which uses a point system in addition to location zones to target policing. Individuals could accumulate points based on past offenses, but also from vague labels like being gang affiliated or having a field interview card. There are individuals younger than four years old marked as “gang affiliated” in the bulletin, exposing how the system is abused to reproduce historical targeting, said coalition organizer Matyos Kidane.

“We consistently push back against the construction of the algorithm ecology to sophisticate [targeted police] violence, to mask it,” Khan said.

Akhil Gopal, another coalition organizer, discussed how “surveillance bureaucracy” is another way that targeted police violence is legitimized, including by allegedly progressive organizations like the ACLU, who communicated with the LAPD to help them create a “constitutional” surveillance policy, according to emails obtained by the coalition through public records requests.

More broadly, academic institutions often play a role in sophisticating and justifying racist police violence, as well as investing in companies that produce technology for surveillance, Kidane said.

Photo by Sunny Jeong-Eimer

Policing and the IDF

Gopal also mentioned that both the US military and police have trained and continue to train with the Israeli Defense Forces, exporting local policing tactics such as the kneeling that killed George Floyd.  

In the reverse direction, US police departments incorporated counterterrorism and counterinsurgency-style surveillance programs into daily policing under the guise of national security , Khan said.

One of the policing frameworks shared by the US and Israel is Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), a philosophy of policing that targets specific “extremist” groups.

The IDF uses CVE to target young Palestinians to prevent future Palestinian liberation movements from happening. This philosophy of policing was implemented by the LAPD through “Targeting Violence and Terrorism Prevention Program” grants, resulting in the creation of a program called “Providing Alternatives to Hinder Extremism Path,” which has a committee of 500 adults such as teachers, local legislators, counselors, and faith leaders that try to identify youth that present violent behaviors that could possibly lead to future crimes and report them to the threat assessment teams that are composed of intelligence agents from the FBI and CIA.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have used the framework to justify surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists by labeling them as “Black Identity Extremists,” according to Al Jazeera, and advocates have repeatedly criticized CVE for targeting and discriminating against Muslims.

Khan, who has spent 35 years organizing with the LA Taxi Workers Alliance, said he personally faced discrimination and received multiple visits from the FBI, which he attributes to his Pakistani background.

“Based on our own lived experiences and what we were organizing against, it was very clear that the common things that weave through this are state violence, economic violence, gender violence, and various other things,” Khan said.

A solidarity-focused event

Claremont SJP co-organized the event with the 5C Prison Abolition Collective in an intentional effort to build solidarity between abolition and Palestine liberation efforts on campus.

“We wanted to bring together like two major organizing groups on campus for an event for Palestine Freedom Week to both educate people about how the Israeli military directly oppresses and inflicts a lot of violence on Palestinians, and how a lot of their practices mirror those of the military and police here in the US,” said Miriam Farah CM ’23, a Claremont SJP organizer. “That is why we wanted to reach out to a local organization…[and] shed light on how the issue of the occupation of Palestine is not just a distant one, but one that has very mature connections to Los Angeles.”

Nala Berry PZ ’24, a 5C Prison Abolition Collective organizer, said that Palestine liberation is “deeply intertwined with abolition.”

“It’s about how we can organize as people to make sure that everyone’s needs are met, and that includes the decolonization of Palestine,” Berry said. “We need to be constantly thinking about the overlapping impacts of our communities.”

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Thanks for reading Undercurrents

Undercurrents reports on labor, Palestine liberation, prison abolition and other community organizing at and around the Claremont Colleges.

Issue 1 / Spring 2023

Setting the Standard

How Pomona workers won a historic $25 minimum wage; a new union in Claremont; Tony Hoang on organizing

Read issue 1