New reporting reveals federal forces—including at least six sniper teams, an elite Border Patrol tactical unit, FBI aerial and ground surveillance, and National Guard troops—were deployed to George Floyd’s funeral in suburban Houston earlier this year, with some of the agents authorized to shoot to kill in the event of serious civil unrest.
VICE on Thursday publishedhighly confidential government documents obtained via a public records request from the ACLU of Texas showing how federal and local authorities braced for “rioting and looting” at the peaceful June 9 burial of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit banknote on May 25.
“The records show local and federal officials were ready and willing to open fire, even as the nation was undergoing a reckoning over systemic racism and excessive use of force by police in the aftermath of Floyd’s death,” VICE reported.
As Floyd’s horse-drawn hearse made its way to his final resting place in Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in Pearland, records show that at least half a dozen “sniper teams” were at the ready on nearby rooftops, with authorization to use deadly force in the event of violent unrest below.
At the same time, an FBI surveillance plane monitored events from the sky while federal “overwatch units” monitored the mourners for “agitators.” The Texas Department of Public Safety and “multiple” unspecified agencies also monitored the event with aircraft and drones, the documents show.
The U.S. military and federal government faced widespread criticism for using aircraft, including drones, to spy on protests sparked by Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and other cities earlier this year.
More than 60 members of the elite, militarized U.S. Customs and Border Protection unit BORTAC—whose camouflage-clad agents in unmarked vans snatched demonstrators off the streets of Portland, Oregon during this summer’s racial justice protests—were among the federal forces deployed to Floyd’s funeral. Their stated mission was “to prevent property loss or damage,” according to one of the documents.
Mainstream critics have called BORTAC President Donald Trump’s secret police force—and even a sign of advancing fascism.
In Pearland, National Guard troops were present on standby in a “ready posture as a last line of defense,” while local law enforcement also deployed “light tactical military vehicles” at selected intersections to “protect against vehicle-borne attacks” during the funeral procession.
The “rules of engagement” detailed in the leaked documents show the CBP tactical unit was “geared up and ready to deploy” for events as minor as “verbally aggressive language” or throwing empty water bottles. “Less-lethal” force was authorized for more serious incidents, including brick-throwing.
For even more aggressive behavior, the documents state that “deadly force is authorized anytime.”
The large, militarized federal presence was requested by Pearland city officials, according to the documents. Pearland spokesperson Joshua Lee told VICE that city police requested the federal presence, and that the “mission of all personnel was to provide a safe environment for the Floyd family to conduct their service in peace.”
“Just because nothing happened doesn’t mean there weren’t credible threats,” Lee explained. “We plan for a variety of potential outcomes to be as prepared as possible.”
Shaw Drake, policy counsel for the ACLU of Texas Border Rights Center, said the documents “paint a chilling picture of federal agents unleashed in our cities.”
“CBP is a rogue agency that has operated with violent impunity in border communities,” Drake said in a statement. “Now they are being deployed as a federal police force to cities across the country in collaboration with local police.”
“CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the country, and also the least accountable,” Drake added. “It’s disturbing to see they made preparations to tear gas or kill people who were mourning another death at the hands of police. CBP has no place in our communities, period.”
Madhuri Grewal, federal immigration policy counsel at the ACLU, added that “it is not lost on us that CBP deployed snipers and federal agents to surveil and potentially use military-style force against people mourning George Floyd, who died because police officers killed him.”
“Congress pumps billions into CBP annually, and this is what the agency is doing with our taxpayer dollars,” Grewal said in a statement. “At a time when our nation is calling for an end to police brutality, our government is responding to communities grieving the relentless murder of Black people at the hands of police with more police and overmilitatization. It’s shameful and inhumane.”