Documents reveal possible surveillance of protesters by local law enforcement

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - New documents obtained by WMC Action News 5 investigators show local law enforcement may have been keeping an eye on local activists.

The documents show how several state and local law enforcement agencies kept tabs on protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement, including collecting social media posts to keeping track of when and where local protests were planned.

Much of the correspondence took place in July 2016 following the I-40 bridge protest and Dallas police officer ambush.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security, investigators received 30 pages that show indications of possible surveillance of BLM supporters and protesters.

"It raised some real free speech chilling effect concerns," Constitutional Law professor Steve Mulroy said.

An email from the Shelby County Sheriff's Office describes where potential Memphis protests were set to happen.

The Tennessee Fusion Center update to law enforcement personnel expressed being "concerned" after some Memphis protest leaders urged supporters to stop posting updates on social media, because it "limits public safety officials' ability to anticipate, allocate, and deploy necessary resources."

There are also details in the update of local protest fliers being taken down after the organizer had contact with Memphis police.

"People are afraid to speak their minds because they think the government is watching them," Mulroy said.

Mulroy said the type of activity described in the documents deters the average citizen from exercising their first amendment rights.

"Keeping people from speaking their minds about what is otherwise something legal to say is exactly the opposite of what we want under the first amendment," Mulroy said.

The documents also mention that the protests have been non-violent to date.

A City of Memphis spokesperson sent a statement in response that said in part, "This is an issue before the court and the city has no comment on pending litigation at this time."

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