Federal spy planes monitored protests over killing of George Floyd

Democrats in Congress have called out the government's use of surveillance planes to watch Americans protesting for police reform.

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Signs left by protesters on the fence that is preventing them from getting into Lafayette Park across the street from the White House during protests over the death of George Floyd on June 7, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Nearly three dozen Democrats are calling for the immediate end to the use of Federal surveillance planes flying over protest cities. 

Several government spy planes have reportedly been spotted in Washington, Minneapolis and Las Vegas, monitoring Americans protesting the police killing of George Floyd, according to CNN. A small Cessna Citation jet is one of several aircrafts, both piloted and unpiloted, that have been tracked by the outlet.

Witnesses with a military background reported seeing a Cessna Caravan and Cessna 182 circling Washington multiple times on protest nights. 

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A protester wearing a face mask and a glove holds a placard during the demonstration against the police brutality and to demand justice following the summary killing of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis. (Photo by Adam DelGiudice/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Lawmakers are demanding to know whether the planes were used for “surveilling of Americans engaged in peaceful protests.”

“The use of aerial surveillance is deeply disturbing, especially as we’re seeing so much misconduct against protesters across the country,” said Jake Laperruque of the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight. 

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut tweeted about one of the flights over Washington. “I have questions,” he wrote, adding that it was the “first time I can find that this aircraft, normally used for war zones/disasters/narcotics, has been used to gather intel at a protest.”

Democrats in Congress have called the government’s surveillance of advocates for police reform a “deep and profound” violation of the First and Fourth Amendment.

“Aerial surveillance can be used to identify and track individuals in a number of ways, so it’s certainly improper to deploy this powerful surveillance tools to monitor protesters,” Laperruque added. “Even if abuse isn’t occurring, the mere risk could significantly chill free speech.”

The first appearances of spy drones allegedly began in Minneapolis on May 29, days after Floyd’s death and near the location he was killed.

The Department of Homeland Security reportedly detailed in a letter to Congress that the aircraft “was preparing to provide live video to aid in situational awareness at the request of our federal law enforcement partners in Minneapolis,” but returned to base in North Dakota when it was no longer needed, according to the CNN report.

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