By Anne Lowe

FREE SPEECH — A report released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union has shed new light on law enforcement agencies' continuing penchant for censoring, obstructing or spying on the practice of First Amendment rights. Californians are particularly frequent targets.

The report lists numerous incidents spanning 33 states where law enforcement played a role in harassing or spying on Americans who were exercising their freedom of speech and assembly; instances range from the infiltration of religious centers to using excessive violence on peaceful demonstrations.

ACLU identified 22 of these incidents in California alone, and all of them have occurred after 2000.

Highlights from California’s files:

  • FBI Infiltration of Islamic Center. An FBI agent testified in court in 2009 that an informant had been planted at an Islamic Center in Irvine, California.
  • Los Angeles Police Department Reporting Policy. LAPD Special Order #11, dated March 5, 2008 includes a list of 65 behaviors LAPD officers “shall” report. The list includes such innocuous, clearly subjective, and First Amendment?protected activities as, taking measurements, using binoculars, taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value,” drawing diagrams, taking notes, and espousing extremist views.
  • Santa Cruz Police Infiltration of New Year’s Parade. When the city of Santa Cruz decided to cancel their annual “First Night” New Year’s Parade, community activists decided to create their own parade, the Do It Yourself (DIY) New Year’s Parade. Police found out about parade plans in late October 2005 and decided to spy on the group by infiltrating their parade planning meetings. Police Chief Howard Skerry promised a complete investigation but tapped Deputy Chief Vogel—the very person who authorized the infiltration—to determine whether the authorization was appropriate. Not surprisingly, Vogel’s report cleared the Santa Cruz Police Department of any wrongdoing.
  • Undercover Agents Monitor Cal State Fresno Lecture on Veganism. On November 10, 2004, the California State Fresno student group Campus Peace and Civil Liberties Coalition (CPCLC) hosted an on?campus lecture by a speaker formerly employed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The lecturer addressed approximately 60 people about the benefits of a vegan diet. Six of those 60 attendees were undercover police officers—three from the county sheriff’s department and three from the campus police department.
  • California Anti?Terrorism Center Bulletin on Anti?War Protest. On April 7, 2003, the California Anti?Terrorism Information Center (CATIC) issued a bulletin warning of violence by demonstrators at an anti?war demonstration at the Port of Oakland. Police responded in an excessive manner, firing wooden dowels at protesters and injuring over 50 people. The public disclosure of that bulletin, a significant follow?up investigation by the Oakland Tribune, and advocacy by the ACLU led Attorney General Bill Lockyer to commission a review of the agency.
  • Sacramento Police Department Videotapes Peaceful Protestors. On February 15, 2003, peace and justice organizations held a demonstration in Sacramento to protest the then?impending war in Iraq. Approximately 10,000 people attended the peaceful demonstration. The Sacramento Police Department provided security for the event. They also sent a police department employee to videotape the demonstration. Sacramento police confirmed that taping of the protest was at least partially intended to modify protesters’ behavior.
  • Los Angeles County Terrorism Officials Steal Classified Files. A group of military reservists and law enforcement officers led by the co?founder of the Los Angeles County Terrorism Early Warning Center (LACTEW) engaged in a years?long conspiracy to steal highly classified intelligence files from the Strategic Technical Operations Center (STOC) located at the U.S. Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, California and secret surveillance reports from the U.S. Northern Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Some of the stolen files “pertained to surveillance of Muslim communities in Southern California,” including mosques in L.A. and San Diego, and revealed “a federal surveillance program targeting Muslim groups” in the United States
  • LAPD Assault Disrupts Bicycle Protest of BP Oil Spill. An LAPD officer, claiming to be at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue to ticket cyclists who failed to stop at red lights, kicked at a passing bicyclist during a protest ride against BP's role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.