Police spies tracked Occupy JP, Whole Foods protests

June 6, 2014
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A controversial Boston Police spy agency tracked the local Occupy JP events, Whole Foods Market protests, and a vigil for the suicidal son of acclaimed marathon bombing hero Carlos Arredondo, recently released secret documents reveal.

The Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) documents, dating to 2011, put a new context on the Boston Police’s unprecedented, widely criticized arrest of peaceful Whole Foods protesters that year. And they show a spy agency obsessed with anything it thought related to the Occupy Boston movement—even citing a benefit concert at JP’s Midway Café down to the ticket prices.

JP resident Robin Jacks, one of the activists who organized the 2011 Occupy Boston camp, appears repeatedly in the files. In an email to the Gazette today, she blasted BRIC as distracted and creepy.

“Why were we BRIC’s targets? What is the point of any of this? How did this monitoring help the city? BRIC’s silence on this speaks volumes,” Jacks said.

BRIC, an anti-terrorism agency, is already controversial for spying on such legal, non-terroristic public events while failing to know anything at all about the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. It is one of many state and federally funded “fusion centers” around the country widely derided—including by a bipartisan U.S. Senate committee—as incompetent, wasteful threats to civil liberties.

“I feel a lot less safe than I did before the documents came out,” Jacks said. “I feel as though BRIC detectives see me as a source of data or, worse, as a criminal, rather than a Bostonian that they were supposed to be protecting. When I think about the fact that [marathon bombing suspect] Tamerlan Tsarnaev had just returned from Russia and was presumably beginning his plot to bomb the city, I am even more outraged.”

An ACLU/National Lawyers Guild lawsuit in 2012 revealed that BRIC spies branded a 2007 anti-war event at a JP church as a “criminal act” by “extremists,” as the Gazette previously reported. Among the attendees were Carlos Arredondo’s wife Mélida, and Felix D. Arroyo, a former Boston city councilor and current candidate for Suffolk County Probate Court clerk who is also the father of the City’s current chief of Health & Human Services.

That bizarre spy file was just the tip of the iceberg. Many completely legal JP events appear in hundreds of BRIC documents recently obtained and released last week by the Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. The documents are part of the Partnership’s report “One Nation Under Surveillance,” about how fusion centers nationwide targeted the Occupy movement, available at justiceonline.org.

Those include an Occupy Boston organizing meeting at JP’s Spontaneous Celebrations, home of the popular Wake Up the Earth Festival, and an Occupy Boston concert performed elsewhere by JP’s Whitehaus Family art collective.

When a localized version of the Occupy movement called Occupy JP sprang up, BRIC showed intense interest. Frequently citing Gazette reporting, it tracked many Occupy JP events.

“An offshoot of Occupy Boston calling themselves Occupy JP will have a second GA [General Assembly] meeting at Spontaneous Celebration,” one BRIC report notes, incorrectly characterizing the group’s relationship with Occupy Boston.

Another BRIC report repeats a Gazette article about Occupy JP intending to camp in Monument Square, and notes that then Mayor Thomas Menino was scheduled to appear there for a holiday tree-lighting ceremony.

But, the report adds, “There has been no chatter relative to Occupy JP”—“chatter” being spy terminology for overheard conversations or messages. The report says an “analyst” would continue to monitor “open sources,” meaning websites, social media and, apparently, the Gazette.

Yet another BRIC report on Occupy JP quotes a Gazette article about its founders ties to Occupy the Hood, a socialist group and the Whole Foods Market protests. Indeed, BRIC was obsessed with tracking the Whole Foods protests as well, even when they admittedly had nothing to do with Occupy Boston.

Whole Foods’ entry into Hyde Square that year was a hotly controversial issue, sparking intense debate about gentrification. In June 2011, anti-Whole Foods protesters were arrested for unfurling banners at a JP meeting held by the grocer. The move was highly unusual in a neighborhood known for robust activism, and where police usually don’t show up in force at meetings at all. The criminal charges against the protesters were eventually dismissed.

The BRIC documents do not cover the period of those arrests. But they do show BRIC monitoring Whole Foods protests intently later that year.

The “Analyst’s Notes” about a protest planned for Whole Foods’ Oct. 31, 2011 opening read: “The above protest event at the Whole Foods had been scheduled previously and independently from Occupy Boston; however, it was announced during today’s student walkout/zombie march in solidarity with Occupy Boston that a small group from OB would be joining protests at the opening.”

A Christmas caroling protest at the store that December merited a BRIC spy report, even though the document admits, “The BRIC has not seen any OB chatter relative to this event.”

Then there was the Dec. 20, 2011 vigil at JP’s First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist for Brian Arredondo, who had committed suicide.

“Analyst’s Notes: This event is in remembrance of Brian Arredondo [who] committed suicide yesterday,” the BRIC report flatly notes, adding that some people affiliated with Occupy Boston planned to attend.

Brian was one son of Carlos Arredondo, a nationally known peace activist who lives in Roslindale, but is familiar in JP, where he frequently sets up issue-oriented displays in Monument Square. Carlos’s other son, Alex, grew up in JP and was a Marine who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. The JP post office is dedicated to Alex. Brian’s suicide was attributed by the family to lasting grief over Alex’s death.

Carlos and Mélida Arredondo were active in both Occupy Boston and Occupy JP. A fuller picture of police spying on them is emerging. Besides the 2007 JP anti-war event, Carlos also recently won a settlement from the city for his 2009 arrest outside Boston Police headquarters—the home of BRIC—while displaying an American flag during the funeral of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.

BRIC’s work failed to give any warning about last year’s Boston Marathon bombings. Carlos Arredondo, in attendance as part of a fundraiser, became an internationally known hero of the disaster when he ran to the rescue of victims.

In general, it is illegal for the police to monitor or keep records on any legal activity. None of the activities in the BRIC reports were illegal or overtly violent, nor were they particularly secret; most, if not all, of the information came from published material. Many of the JP activities did not involve Occupy Boston at all.

In the documents, BRIC admits that most of the activities in the report are legal and protected by the First Amendment’s guaranteed rights of speech, assembly and protest. But, BRIC claims, it “safeguards” those rights and compiled the reports only for “operational planning in the interest of assuring the safety and security of the demonstrators and the public.”

Jacks, the Occupy Boston organizer, called that “completely bogus.” She and others directly contacted the Boston Police Department’s events division to be transparent and make sure the Occupy Boston protests were safe, she said. BRIC never contacted Occupy Boston for such information or cooperation, she said.

“Instead of treating me like a citizen and a human being, they vacuumed up my words and spat them back out into this bizarre report,” Jacks said.

“We all occupied Boston because we love this city, because we were tired of seeing our loved ones being evicted from their homes, losing their jobs, because we wanted—and still want!—to make this city a better place for everyone,” Jacks continued. “BRIC apparently found this to be criminal. A year-and-a-half later, two locals bombed the marathon and [three] people died.”

(from left) Activists Carlos and Mélida Arredondo in December 2011 at their Occupy protest display outside JP’s First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist that drew the attention of Boston Police spies. (Gazette File Photo by John Ruch)

(from left) Activists Carlos and Mélida Arredondo in December 2011 at their Occupy protest display outside JP’s First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist that drew the attention of Boston Police spies. (Gazette File Photo by John Ruch)