@Journalists, Stop Moving Like Snitches
Ongoing reports of journalists being targeted by police should make journalists open to frank conversations about how some of us have aided the surveillance state.
📝 Monthly Round-Up
We Must Fight Surveillance to Protect Black Lives, Algorithmic Justice League — Per its website, AJL combines art and research to illuminate the social implications and harms of AI. In this urgent letter, AJL has compiled resources to help organizers fight against surveillance.
Tech Companies Caring About Black Lives Matter Is Too Little, Too Late, Chris Gilliard — I’m sure you’ve seen the plethora of tech companies coming out with their mediocre statements about ongoing protests. In this article, Gilliard writes about why that’s all bullshit.
Digital Resources For A Movement Against Police Violence, Rhizome — Okay, I don’t think everyone on staff is Black or a person of color. I also didn’t look very hard. Nevertheless, this came on my timeline because of a Black staffer, so it counts. The article is what it says on the tin.
Yes, I’m late.
When I launched NAZAR, I didn’t expect Minneapolis police to murder George Floyd later that night. Ongoing protests made me reconsider my scheduled content. And by reconsider I mean, scratch everything so I can respond to what’s going on now.
Before I dive in, let me remind everyone that I am a journalist. I know how difficult this job can be — especially now. However, I was a community organizer first and, if you can’t tell by this project, surveillance is often on my mind. As my city erupted, I watched while journalists posted full-face and body pictures of protesters — often Black youth — across social media.
These pictures get tens of thousands of retweets on Twitter, never-mind the amount of page hits accumulated on whatever articles use them. There are photos of Black youth standing in front of the busted-out windows of the 3rd precinct; photos of people after they’ve been assaulted; and more. There are no attempts to protect protesters’ identity, never mind the readily available tools to do so — hell, if you’re a journalist you should have Signal and they added a face blurring tool — and I want to fight.
My problem isn’t just that these photos are blasted out as-is — although they shouldn’t be — but how amidst criticism and calls for consideration, many journalists are defending their decisions to post them. Last Thursday, a reporter with the Star Tribune (the publication is ass, I say this as a Minnesotan), tweeted, “Folks: I’ve received some requests to delete photos here [because] they show protesters’ faces. That’s a hard no. I appreciate where your heart’s at. But us reporters are out there for the sole purpose of documenting these (public) events, not to erase them.”
The reporter ended up deleting their tweets claiming people started doxxing them. I’m not naming names because I don’t feel like dealing with more of a flood of fragile white journalists than I’m already predicting. But the overall irony isn’t lost on me. It’s fair to not want to be doxxed. However, there is no concern for the Black people who are journalists open up to harm. Instead, that reporter invoked the same excuse of so many other journalists: this [read: exposing you. read: not caring. read: only engaging with Black rage within the context of how it can benefit me (a Pulitzer or a paycheck)] is our job.
Ongoing reports of journalists being targeted by police should make journalists who are otherwise unaware start actively thinking about the surveillance state. We should also be open to frank conversations about how some of us have aided it. Because in all likelihood, the assault, the targeting — it will not end with each protest. It will continue outside of it for years to come through surveillance that can, thanks to new technologies and ever-expanding budgets, take place anywhere. If that frightens you as a journalist, you should give two fucks about the Black people many of you are exposing to the same harm. (And note: the fact that popular technologies like facial recognition and white people in general can’t tell Black people apart means you’re not only opening up protesters to harm but every other Black person in its systems in that area.)
Instead, journalists fall back on the tired “it’s my job”, “this is industry standard”, blah blah. Worse, national correspondents demand positive proof of surveillance before they even begin to consider our warnings. Those demands reveal how little a number of journalists know about surveillance. As journalist Shamira Ibrahim noted, “[A]sking for proof positive of surveillance is the wrong way to go about this if you understand the industry and the players in any way.”
Let’s be real: we know surveillance is going to target Black people. On the heels of the FBI’s Black Identity Extremists, you should expect that the government will be scoring everything and anything online to go after Black protesters. You must also consider Minneapolis’ love affair with surveillance and its specific anti-Black Islamophobic roots. There are a number of Black Muslim youth on the frontlines for whom surveillance takes on an additional layer of concern. Rather than act proactively, many journalists would rather sit around and wait for positive proof.
Doing so means you will be years behind in conversations. You can’t figure out all the surveillance tech or strategies being used by just going to Google. While Buzzfeed documented a plethora of surveillance technology police have in and around Minneapolis — and now other agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration are invited to the party, too —, anyone whose briefly followed surveillance will say you should operate with the assumption that there’s more going on than you know.
Now sure, police and federal agencies can get information on people outside of your vulture-ass photos. Thing is, I’m sure police can find both my address and my phone number. That doesn’t mean I’m tweeting them out and I’d slap you upside the head if you tried it. Because at the end of the day, you don’t need to make the surveillance state’s job any easier.
Journalists are able to protect their “valued” sources with fake voices, obscuring their entire face / body, and etc. The insistence on endangering protesters is a clear sign that journalism does not value Black people — we are not sources, we are keys to cute lil prizes at best, tools to use and be thrown aside later. And that is the conversation here. There is no room for people to barge in with talks of objectivity (a myth). It is not objective to support the state in its surveillance of Black people.
For some establishment journalists, the questions become: What does it mean if my job — and the way I insist it must be performed — does nothing more than aid the surveillance of Black people? What does it mean I am so out-of-the-loop with ongoing surveillance discussions that I demand proof of surveillance rather than acknowledge that its insidious nature means I must act proactively, first, and search for answers later?
Thing is, the answers aren’t hard to find. If you refuse to reconsider your practices in the face of rapidly expanding surveillance infrastructure, be honest about seeing your job as to either outright aid or ignore the surveillance state so long as it has yet to touch you. If you know the danger your work poses and continue with it, you are not providing coverage. You are causing harm. Because who the fuck cares about coverage if you’ll get Black people tracked or put on lists?
I’ll make it clearer: All this shit means is you’re a snitch. And people are going to start treating you as such.
Today, I’m focused on uplifting community-led / grassroots efforts out of Minneapolis.
Masjid An-Nur / Al Maa’uun — This is my favorite masjid in the entire Twin Cities. It’s the only one where I went in and felt at home. Ten years ago, Masjid An-Nur incubated Al Maa’uun, a nonprofit now fundraising to provide food, basic household supplies, and medications to those in need.
Defend Glendale — Public housing has been under attack in Minneapolis for years. This community organization has worked to defend it. Now, they’re fundraising to supply necessary cleaning supplies for residents of Scattered Site Public Housing in the city.