By Sean Jackson
On Sunday, August 11th hundreds of protesters gathered outside of the Amazon Books store in Manhattan, demonstrating against the large online retailer for their involvement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Amazon Web Services hosts the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases that allow all of its agencies to track immigrants and other persons of interest.
Currently Amazon is in talks with the DHS to further expand their partnership, which would include an extensive biometric database that stores eye color, tattoos, and more descriptive identifiers.
The protests started on Saturday when anti-ICE protestors shut down parts of the West Side Highway in New York City. The protests, organized by local Jewish leadership, shouted slogans such as “never again” and “close the camps” in front of the store.
Sunday was also Tisha B’Av, which is a Jewish day of mourning and fasting that commemorates the destruction of ancient temples and the persecution of Jews. Demonstrators held signs that conveyed alignment with Jewish history and what is happening currently with detention centers, asking Amazon to break ties with ICE.
Reports from the NYPD said that 44 protesters were arrested on the second day of the protests.
This is not the first incident of Amazon receiving flak for providing services to the DHS. On July 11th demonstrators gathered outside of the annual Amazon Web Services summit in NYC where they rallied for the same reasons.
Deborah Axt, the co-executive director of immigrant rights organization Make the Road New York indicated that Amazon services are essential to ICE working properly, “That’s why immigrants and allies have come together to make sure that Amazon is held accountable. We want them to stop profiting off our lives!”
The protest eventually made its way to the keynote address from Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, where protesters shouted “Amazon, how much longer will you have blood on your hands? Cut ties with ICE!”
The interruption solicited a response from the Vogels in a tweet where he stated, “I let trolls be trolls. But to yesterday’s group who feels that because of my name I, and thus Amazon, must be the next incarnation of WWII Nazi atrocities: I am Dutch. My parents sent to forced labor in Germany and were fortunate to return where many did not. Do your research.”
An Amazon Web Services spokesperson said in a statement that governments and companies should be using their technology, “responsibly and lawfully”, further stating, “There is clearly a need for more clarity from governments on what is acceptable use of AI and ramifications for its misuse, and we’ve provided a proposed legislative framework for this. We remain eager for the government to provide this additional clarity and legislation, and will continue to offer our ideas and specific suggestions.”