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As expected, the community “symposium” held by LAPD on Thursday April 26, 2012 was nothing more than a PR event and a failed attempt to sell the intelligence gathering program called “Suspicious Activity Reporting” (SAR) to concerned communities.

Although the “symposium” was billed as a community event, it was clear from the attendance that LAPD did not do any meaningful outreach. With approximately 70 people in attendance in addition to a dozen LAPD personnel, majority of participants were from the Stop LAPD Spying coalition – with over 60 coalition members and supporters coming to the pre-symposium rally and press conference and more than 40 attending the “symposium”. At the rally, Kim McGill from Youth Justice Coalition reminded us “From the attack on Union leaders at Liberty Hill to the Red Squads spying on political dissidents, from the trial of the Hollywood 10 to the mass criminalization of youth through the creation of mass gang databases, SO 1 and 11 are a part of a long tradition of building on a long history of spying on LA’s communities by LAPD.” The coalition carried and displayed at the “symposium,” the 90 year timeline of LAPD spying and infiltration activities including the infamous Red Squads as a stark reminder of LAPD’s sordid history and its connection to the present SAR initiative.

With speeches, video clips and power point presentation, LAPD Deputy Chief and Commander of the Counter Terrorism Division Michael Downing and his SAR team continued to provide justifications for the continuation of Special Order (SO) 1 and its previous version (SO 11). At one point community members expressed frustration and pointed out the insulting nature of spending community time in watching “training videos.” Yet when answering critical questions such as budget, the overall impact and the department’s insistence on maintaining policies that criminalize non criminal behavior, are a pretext for opening secret files on people, gather unlimited data and legitimize police spying and infiltration, Michael Downing remained vague and flat out dismissive of community concerns repeatedly claiming that these policies met “Federal Standards” without answering important issues such as budgetary impact and program “effectiveness”.

With bulk of the left over time spent on discussing technicalities of these Special Orders, many in the audience especially the youth felt ignored and disrespected, while trying on several occasion to express their emotion and experiences of feeling terrorized by the police. One young person asked if a SAR can be filed on Police Officers.

What was further revealing and disturbing was the claimed “partnerships” with some organizations in attendance that LAPD touted not just in passing but as an ongoing process to vet these policies. Such tactics were decried by other community members pointing out that LAPD’s policy to grant certain groups “gatekeeper” status was unacceptable and will be challenged and confronted. Some of the organizational representatives whom LAPD claimed to have their blessing, got defensive and angry with the community, instead of channeling their frustration towards the Special Orders and realizing they were being used by the LAPD.

Many in the audience left feeling that “these Suspicious Activity Reports and Special Orders are a way for the LAPD to create a problem, real or not, and then find their solution to it. It justifies their spying, abuse and violence- it’s not right.” The creation of this policy was clear in the vagueness of their responses and dismissiveness of community concerns. If anything LAPD furthered the community’s resolve to expose, challenge and dismantle these policies that criminalize daily activities, infringe on our privacy and are a waste of resources.

The Stop LAPD Spying coalition continues to grow and build support against SARs. The pressure continues and more actions will be happening until they really hear us and rescind these orders!

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”