Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Emails raise more questions about PPD, the red squad, homeland security and the repression of Occupy Phoenix

As we continue to go through the emails released by the Center for Media and Democracy detailing Phoenix Police, Tempe Police and FBI collusion in spying and disrupting Occupy Phoenix, many troubling questions arise.

For instance, who was in the driver's seat during the police response to the ALEC protests of 2011?  It seems clear from the emails that at least some PPD officers were serving as off-duty private security for ALEC while others were working on-duty.  They were coordinating, perhaps as one might expect, but this cooperation raises real questions about the role of a police force that likes to claim that its presence at protests is to facilitate the exercise of constitutional rights.  Clearly PPD doesn't look like an unbiased actor given these facts, a conclusion that no seasoned activist would dispute.

These records also show clearly that PPD was working with banks and, through the FBI fusion center, private security firms like Infragard.  Many questions about these relationships will surely be answered as we dig deeper into these thousands of emails.  But as of now, the answers don't look good for PPD and other police agencies.

Still other emails raise questions about not just the independence of the PPD, but also of whether there was appropriate oversight of such police protest staples as the community relations unit (affectionately known by local activists as the "red squad"), just what it's actual role is in the era of anti-terrorism and even whether it ought to exist at all.

This team plays a central role in the released messages which show it several times to be very important on the ground links for funneling information to police anti-terrorism officials and the FBI fusion center, and for carrying out their plans.  Such a relationship validates the "red squad" monicker that activists have given the unit.  Time and again the community relations unit proves itself to be an integrated part of the overall spying apparatus.

One recurring source of serious concern centers around the role played by Detective Chris Wilson, at the time assigned to the Phoenix PD community relations unit.  As we have previously reported, Detective Wilson, now revealed to have been using his contacts and authority as liaison to the Phoenix LGBTQ community to target and sexually abuse underage boys, is frequently cited in these documents as a source of information and as someone who can use his community contacts to get details on protesters and their plans.  

In the documents features above and below, Brenda Dowhan of the PPD and an alphabet soup of various other anti-terrorism related units responds to a February 2nd request by Tracey Woods of the Glendale PD for "a list of Occupy Phx members with pics".   Woods email in turn was in response to an initial message from Dowhan warning that underage occupiers, known to "openly consume drugs and alcohol" and "create a riotous atmosphere", might attend a fundraiser for a gay pride scholarship at the Mighty Cup & Spoon in Glendale. Incidentally, among Dowhan's other duties was to monitor Facebook and other social media.

Dowhan refers Woods to Wilson, who she says "has contacts with the LGBT and can obtain more information on their plans for the night".  Here we not only see the direct relationship between the community relations unit and the homeland security behemoth, but also how Det. Wilson's directives from above to spy on and interface with elements within the LGBTQ community put him directly in contact with the community he was later to admit victimizing.  This is of course particularly disturbing given the November memo from Det. Wilson's direct supervisor on the community relations unit, Sgt. Mark Schweikert, alleging that Wilson had protection from powerful individuals in the police and city government, and that Wilson was as a result difficult to manage.

But we must resist the tendency to chalk this up to a single bad apple.  In fact, what these emails reveal is that the "red squad" was key in the repression, surveillance, and disruption Occupy Phoenix, not to mention the role it played in creating the opportunity and authority necessary for Wilson to abuse his young victims.  Further, it suggests strongly that it has become a key element of the larger anti-terror infrastructure, a vital part of the information funnel and repressive machinery of homeland security that increasingly targets domestic activists as part of its ever-expanding mandate.

As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  And this is precisely the model on which anti-terrorism operates, a form of policing to which community relations has become wedded.  Assets unused for fighting terrorism instead must be justified by hyping threats.  Likewise, resistance must be framed as terrorism.  And the red squad was situated at a crucial juncture in that system.  Such a relationship creates a chilling effect with regard to the exercise of the very rights it claims to protect and makes a very good case for the total dismantlement of the unit.

This is part 4 in our ongoing series analyzing recently released police and Federal documents detailing their surveillance and infiltration of Occupy Phoenix and anarchists in the Valley.

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