Memphis, TN — Because cops using taxpayer dollars to spy on their political opponents with cameras and other intelligence gathering devices is a ominous practice, the city of Memphis enacted a consent decree in 1978 barring cops from doing just that. But cops being cops often act as though they are above the law and the following case out of Memphis may prove that notion.
Antonio Cathey is a union organizer who works full time for Fight for 15, the labor movement calling for $15-per-hour wages for fast food workers. Cathey is also a police accountability activist who has had his share of questionable encounters with the Memphis police department for attempting to hold them accountable.
In 2018, 50 heavily armed officers: local police, sheriff’s deputies, some from other agencies, many of whom shielded their identity with black ski masks, raided Cathey's home to take a single roach from an ashtray and issue him a citation. That was two years ago. Fast-forward to 2020 and cops reportedly still have it out for Cathey.
This week, Cathey noticed a an unusual "High Voltage" box placed on a power pole outside of his home. When a fellow activist climbed up the pole to inspect and open it, they found a camera inside. There was nothing high voltage about it.
“It was right there. Right up under that light” said Cathey to FOX 13, noting that the camera was pointing directly at his home.
FOX 13 confirmed that the camera belongs to the Memphis Police Department. Because the box was on a power pole, they contacted Memphis Light, Gas, and Water (MLGW) and inquired about it. MLGW confirmed it was indeed put there by Memphis police and against normal protocol.
FOX 13 said they had to send five emails to MLGW just to get the following response.
“The camera in question was actually an MPD covert camera they installed temporarily and did not go through the normal attachment process. MPD would normally handle a covert camera installation through MLGW, however these cameras were only temporary for MPD and can be put up quickly and removed quickly by MPD as well.”
Cathey told them it was pointing directly at the house where he and fellow activists meet.
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“I am pretty sure they were most definitely surveilling me and other activists that meet on this street with me” said Cathey, adding, “they are not only doing this to me. They are doing it other activists, known activists loud activists."
Apparently, this is not an uncommon practice by the Memphis police. Other activists showed FOX 13 video what they allege were police surveilling them at their jobs and homes.
As stated above, this is completely illegal because it is prohibited by the federal consent decree.
FOX 13 emailed the Memphis Police department repeatedly since this camera was discovered and no one has replied. Naturally, citizens and even city council members are worried about their local cops spying on citizens for disagreeing with them politically.
Councilman JB Smiley. Jr said, “our citizens of city need to know. Was this related to an ongoing police investigation or was this simply spying or surveilling people because of their political beliefs?”
Activist Hunter Demster, posted the photos of the device on his Facebook page saying:
In the middle of the night, The Memphis police or the Feds put up this inconspicuous box outside local activist and lead organizer of Fight for $15, Antonio Blair, registered address. No markings outside of the box except "High Voltage". The camera is hidden behind black glass. As you can see, it is a pretty powerful 20x zoom camera directed straight at his house.
He was also targeted on the first day of the ACLU trial against the City of Memphis regarding police surveillance(They were found guilty). Antonio and the Fight for $15 had a lawsuit against the Memphis Police Department for intimidation/Civil rights Violation as well.
The day after he made the post to Facebook, the camera disappeared.
In regard to the potential response by police, Demster says he's not buying anything they say: “I can already tell you I am not going to buy whatever story, whatever PR they are about to push.”