Los Angeles punts on federal surveillance grant

Photo Credit: Larissa Puro/USC Institute for Global Health

Photo Credit: Larissa Puro/USC Institute for Global Health

LOS ANGELES — The city of Los Angeles delayed the acceptance of a federal grant, which, opponents claim, would have funded the surveillance of Muslim Americans, July 3. City Council members, however, will likely reconsider the federal grant at a later date, once certain additional information is obtained.

            Officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offered Los Angeles a $425,000 federal grant as part of a Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) pilot program. Los Angeles was one of three cities identified to participate in the DHS pilot program; Boston and Minneapolis were the other two cities.

            Opponents to the CVE grant and pilot program have steadily argued it unfairly targets Muslim American communities for terrorist surveillance. DHS and city officials, however, claim the CVE program intends to prevent future terrorist attacks through community building.

            A Los Angeles Times op-ed published in March 2017 stated the CVE program was well intentioned but poorly executed.

            “The underlying concept is that by engaging community stakeholders in dialogue and sharing information about the risk of extremism and radicalization, we can develop strategies that prevent people from embracing ideologies that advocate violence. The beating heart of CVE is collaboration, but the current effort has actually dissuaded collaboration by stoking alienation,” Erroll Southers wrote in his March 21, 2017 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

            DHS officials, however, published a report in February 2015 outlining the framework for Los Angeles’ CVE program. The report primarily focused on the city’s Muslim American community.

            “The concepts presented in the Los Angeles CVE Framework are designed to address a broad spectrum of extremist ideology that promotes violence and criminal activity. This document, however, highlights foundational partnerships with American-Muslim communities because these communities are leading efforts to develop some of the most innovative prevention and intervention programs in the region,” the report, entitled “The Los Angeles Framework for Countering Violent Extremism” stated.

            Mayor Eric Garcetti, in an Oct. 25, 2017 memorandum to City Council members, stated the CVE Grant Program would help Los Angeles develop “preventable solutions to violence by promoting youth programming, mentorship, education, family support and social services.”

            “Funding under the CVE Grant Program will help address these goals by developing proactive measures to build resilience and strengthen civil society led preventions of underlying factors that contribute to violent extremism,” Garcetti wrote in his memorandum. “Through this grant, the city aims to build healthy communities through preventative programs to reduce factors that contributes to hate, bias and violence in the social domain, outside of the law enforcement space.”

            A few community organizations were specifically identified in Garcetti’s memorandum, each one potentially receiving funding from the city of Los Angeles under the CVE grant program.

            The ILM Foundation, for example, was earmarked in Garcetti’s memorandum for $26,000; the faith-based organization organizes community events, including some during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

            Also allocated for funding in Garcetti’s memorandum was Tiyya Foundation, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit assisting refugees. Garcetti requested $45,000 be allocated to Tiyya.

            The memorandum also asked $30,000 to be directed to Not In Our Town to enable communities “to address White Supremacists extremism, hate, bias, and to strengthen narratives of cohesion and promote positive social responses.”

            Several members of the public signed up to speak out against the city’s possible acceptance of the DHS grant.

            Kristy Lovich, a “culture/domestic worker” and MFA candidate at UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts, expressed her opposition to the CVE grant to the council via email.

            “I am writing to express my absolute opposition to the $425K to implement Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program in Los Angeles. I firmly reject any funds and programs that promote a dehumanizing narrative that Muslims are a national security problem,” Lovich wrote. “Policies like CVE put our communities at real risk under this racist, Islamophobic regime.”

            ACLU SoCal’s Twitter page identified the CVE program as “another effort to vilify and target Muslims in our communities.”

            Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Los Angeles) has steadily explained CVE programs as specifically encouraging Muslim American communities to report “suspicious” behaviors and expressions from within its own to law enforcement.

            “While we, like the vast majority of Americans, strive to live in communities free of violence and extremism, we cannot in good conscience sanction programs that are discriminatory and appear so rife with the possibility of subjecting members of our communities to unwarranted scrutiny and abuse,” an Asian Americans Advancing Justice statement in 2014 said.

            “Many community members we have spoken with are deeply concerned about the past actions of law enforcement in Southern California … which leads them to believe that any CVE program will specifically target, stigmatize, and infringe upon the protected rights of Muslim community members in Southern California,” the 2014 statement continued.

            Council member Mitch O’Farrell and Council President Herb Wesson signed off on a motion, July 3, sending the CVE funding item back to committee for additional scrutiny. The motion seeks greater and more specific detail on contractual terms associated with the grant. What is the required scope of services? What specific data must be collected under terms of the grant? The council's Public Safety Committee will perform the re-review. 

            The committee re-review must also return to City Council members with “any instructions and conditions imposed by the Department of Homeland Security based on this grant acceptance.”

            Such questions, of course, should have been asked at the outset – Los Angeles has been working on this grant since Sept. 2, 2016. DHS awarded Los Angeles the grant in July 2017; the grant’s performance period was Aug. 1, 2017 to July 31, 2019.

            Acceptance of the grant is currently put on hold. It is unclear when the Los Angeles City Council will reconsider the grant acceptance.