On November 30, 2020 Six Square—Austin’s Black Cultural District learned (through an investigative report published by Mara Hvistendahl of The Intercept) that our Juneteenth 2020 event was surveilled by Austin Police Department’s Austin Regional Intelligence Center (ARIC). ARIC is a local fusion center—a collaboration between local police, the FBI, and the private sector formed after September 11, 2001—to monitor individuals, events, and organizations suspected of having links to domestic terrorism. We believe our event caught ARIC’s attention because our theme was one of resilience and resistance: “Stay Black and Live.”
This information became public after a data breach made some of ARIC’s (along with other fusion centers across the United States) documents—so called BlueLeaks—accessible to the wider public. With help from our community, we were able to obtain ARIC’s BlueLeaks related to Six Square. Having reviewed these documents ourselves, we can confirm that over the summer, as the movement to affirm and celebrate the value of Black life gained traction in Austin, our Juneteenth event was flagged by ARIC as a possible threat to our community’s safety.
Those of you familiar with the work we do at Six Square understand our mission: to preserve and celebrate the cultural contributions of Black Austin, particularly within the six square miles that were once this city’s “Negro District.” We practice our mission through cultural programming that foregrounds Austin’s Black artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. In the nearly year since COVID arrived in the United States, we’ve heightened our commitment to our mission, not only through our programming, but through our COVID19 relief grants—which to date, have redistributed over fifty five thousand dollars in emergency relief. During our Juneteenth event—which we hosted with our community partner, the Carver Museum, we centered Black life and joy during a period in our nation’s history otherwise rife with grief. We invited poets and musicians to uplift our spirits virtually and our staff, despite the pandemic, handed out free plates of soul food to community members and viewers.
We are dismayed and disappointed that our cultural programming and commitment to preserving and celebrating Black Austin’s cultural contributions were surveilled by Austin Police Department for possible risk of insurgency. This community is our home and we are dedicated to ensuring that Austin continues to be a vibrant and safe city. So, too, do we feel compelled to acknowledge, notably during Black History Month, that we are in good company: the history of state-sanctioned surveillance against BIPOC coalitions and cultural organizations is a robust one.
In spite of the peril this scrutiny has typically visited upon Black leaders and organizations, we remain undeterred in our mission and vision. We will continue to partner with Austin’s Black artists, venues, and creatives; we will continue to plan and bring to fruition inspirational programming aimed at Black viewers; and we will continue providing COVID19 relief to those members of our community who have been impacted by the pandemic and whose art sustains all of us through this difficult time. This Black History Month, we invite our community to stand with us in our mission and as we continue working toward an inclusive, safe, and thriving Austin.
Pamela Benson-Owens, Executive Director
& the Six Square Team