By Rania Khalek
"Just by the very nature of [the United States] being a settler-colonialist and capitalist nation, race and social control are central to its project," Ahmed said. "Anytime we see any levels of policing--whether it's day-to-day policing in the streets, surveillance by the police or internet surveillance--social control, particularly of those that resist the existing system, becomes an inherent part of that system."
But, he warned, "These policies are not going to be limited to one particular community. They're going to continue to expand further and further" because "the surveillance has a purpose, which is to exert the power of the state and control the potential for dissent."
Seema Sadanandan, program director for ACLU DC, acknowledged the collective resentment felt by people of color who are understandably frustrated that privacy violations are only now eliciting mass public outrage when communities of color have been under aggressive surveillance for decades.
"The Snowden revelations represent a terrifying moment for white, middle-class and upper-middle-class people in this country, who on some level believe that the Bill of Rights and Constitution were protecting their everyday lives," Sadanandan said. "For people of color from communities with a history of discrimination and economic oppression that prevents one from realizing any of those rights on a day-to-day basis, it wasn't a huge surprise."
But Sadanandan argued that NSA surveillance still "has particular concerns for communities of color because of their unique relationship to the criminal justice or social control system, a billion-dollar industry with regard to, for example, border patrol or data mining as it's applied to racially profile." Sadanandan warned that NSA surveillance more than likely would strengthen that system of control.
By Josh Levy
But while the NSA was the rally's official target, many of the speakers discussed events that predate the agency's post-9/11 spying programs. In fact, the mass surveillance of innocent people has been a problem for years.
Communities of color, immigrants and Muslim Americans have experienced the destructive effects of surveillance--in all its forms--for decades. In the 1950s and '60s, the FBI spied on leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. to try to discredit and destroy the civil rights movement. Anti-immigrant policing policies have empowered law enforcement throughout the U.S.--but especially in the Southwest--to target Latinos, who are subject to sweeping deportations and a prejudicial criminal justice system.
Similarly, police in New York City and elsewhere use stop-and-frisk practices to racially profile African-Americans and other people of color. And since 9/11, the FBI has infiltrated Muslim-American communities, particularly in New York.
Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA's programs shocked us all. But given that millions have lived with these kinds of unconstitutional intrusions for years, we need to recognize that the surveillance state operates online and offline and affects everyone.
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Below: "Protesters march against NSA mass surveillance in Washington, DC, on Saturday, October 26, 2013." (Rania Khalek)