During Pride Month, we must remember how harassment, surveillance, and violent crackdowns characterize the history of U.S. policing. A new ACLU report documents the continued disparities LGBTQ+ communities face – a stark reminder to hold police accountable.

Historical Oppression

In the mid-twentieth century, COINTELPRO was a national effort by the FBI to surveil, disrupt, dismantle, and violently suppress Black, Brown, feminist, and anti-war political movements. A little-known fact from that era was the coordinated effort by local, state, and federal law enforcement to surveil, identify, and blackmail LGBTQ+ Americans across the country. Law enforcement not only disrupted LGBTQ+ political organizations but also rampantly abused and surveilled LGBTQ+ individuals merely trying to survive in a homophobic society.

The illegality of gay clubs and cruising made them exceptionally vulnerable to exploitation, surveillance, and abuse by local police. Gay bars in major cities across the country, including in Milwaukee, were raided sometimes as often as weekly by law enforcement. Pride Month began as a memorial for a riot against this harassment at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.

In Milwaukee, Harold Breier served as police chief from 1964 to 1984, one of the longest tenures for a police chief in Milwaukee's history. Breier's police department consistently raided LGBTQ+ social gathering areas and violently beat the inhabitants. Breier also used law enforcement to surveil and entrap members of the LGBTQ+ community. Breier and his police department were able to surveil, harass, assault, and infiltrate multiple marginalized communities and political movements over twenty years in Wisconsin. Imagine what he could have done with the tools available to the Milwaukee Police Department today.

Surveillance Threats Today

In our current political climate, access to gender-affirming care, abortion care, contraceptives, and gay marriage could once again be criminalized in Wisconsin.

Gender-affirming care is constantly under attack, including during the 2023-24 Wisconsin Legislative Session. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, reproductive freedom is no longer federally guaranteed. No abortion care was available in Wisconsin from June 24, 2022, to September 18, 2023. Wisconsin also never codified the right to same-sex marriage into state law.

Imagine if abortion, gender-affirming care, contraceptives, and gay marriage became illegal. With the Milwaukee Police Department's inventory of facial recognition, cell phone tower simulators, social media surveillance, and other tools, their surveillance and data collection pose a risk to Wisconsinites who want to use condoms, get an abortion, or receive healthcare for their transgender child.

We need oversight and accountability of the Milwaukee Police Department's usage of surveillance technology. To prevent a doomsday scenario of law enforcement surveilling and criminalizing activities that we take for granted today, we must call for community control over police surveillance.