ACLU Investigation Uncovers Footage from Widespread Aerial Surveillance of Racial Justice Protests

California Highway Patrol Recorded Protesters from the Skies in Dozens of California Cities after Murder of George Floyd

Media Contact:, (415) 621-2493

Article Media

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the ACLU of Northern California released findings from a year-long investigation into California Highway Patrol’s aerial surveillance of the 2020 protests following the murder of George Floyd. In response to reports from concerned community members who witnessed helicopters and planes hovering above demonstrations, the ACLU of Northern California sent a series of public records requests to CHP in the summer of 2020 and spring of 2021.

Aerial surveillance footage obtained by the ACLU and released today illustrates how CHP recorded marches, vigils, and protests in cities across the state, including Berkeley, Oakland, Palo Alto, Placerville, Riverside, Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Luis Obispo.

“The public needs to know that the California Highway Patrol used advanced surveillance aircraft to record people who marched against racism and police violence,” said Matt Cagle, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “People have the right to speak out without being spied on. We need action from our lawmakers to stop police from using surveillance technology to prop up the status quo.”

The recordings show CHP using high-powered video to spy on community members exercising their First Amendment rights – at times zooming in closely and lingering over people speaking at vigils, kneeling, participating in die-ins, making signs, and even handing out water and dancing.

CHP’s own flight logs list aerial deployments in 25 cities and counties during the 2020 protests for racial justice. The flight logs describe CHP’s aerial deployments with entries such as “No Justice, No Peace Protest,” “Aerial Surveillance for George Floyd Protest” and “Patrol for Protests.”

This widescale aerial surveillance appears to be part of the tens of millions of dollars that CHP reportedly spent in late May and early June 2020 policing protests against police brutality.

“Californians calling for racial justice and protesting police violence should not be in the crosshairs of CHP surveillance,” said Jennifer Jones, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “CHP aiming its surveillance arsenal at activists is yet another example in a long history of police trying to intimidate and undermine Black-led movements for justice.”

In light of today’s findings, the ACLU is calling for swift action from elected officials to investigate and address police surveillance in California and make sure this surveillance cannot continue and will be working with California lawmakers to further strengthen laws like AB 1215 that protect our rights and support movements for social justice.

Watch the footage:

Read the blog post:

Learn more:

Main Article Content