Hentoff | Ashcroft Defied on City Hall Steps
Ashcroft Defied on City Hall Steps
By Nat 0aHentoff
The Village Voice
Friday 06 June 2003
Telling Ray Kelly to Protect the Constitution
As New Yorkers living in the city most affected by September 0a11, we acknowledge the need to protect our safety, but as people who prize our 0aConstitution and Bill of Rights, we believe it is impermissible to suspend 0afreedom in the name of preserving it.
New York Bill of 0aRights Defense Campaign leaflet, New York City Hall, May 28
On the outskirts of the May 28 press conference on the steps of 0aCity Hall to herald the resolution submitted to the City Council by the New York 0aCivil Liberties Union's Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, there were other 0arallying messages: "Save After School Programs!" "Save Day Care/If It Ain't 0aBroke, Don't Break It!"
The mayor was nowhere to be seen. His Honor is as imperious as 0ahis predecessor, but in a Marie Antoinette way ("Let them eat cake!"). Bloomberg 0ahas been as indifferent to the Bush-Ashcroft raid on the Bill of Rights as our 0asenators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, to whom this Civil Liberties 0aResolution is also being sent.
Sponsoring the City Hall rally were the NYCLU and its New York 0aBill of Rights Defense Campaign, along with more than 25 other organizations, 0aamong them:
The Center for Constitutional Rights, the Asian American Legal 0aDefense and Education Fund, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the 0aPuerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Lawyers Guild, the 0aNew York Public Library Guild, and the New York Immigration Coalition.
A key force in moving this Bill of Rights resolution is City 0aCouncilman Bill Perkins, who is joined by Margarita Lopez, David Yassky, Hiram 0aMonserrate, Charles Barron, Larry Seabrook, and Albert Vann, among other 0asupporting councilmembers.
Conspicuously missing is City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, who 0amay well be running against Michael Bloomberg the next time around. Miller will 0alose votes, rather than gain them, by opposing this resolution. Somebody send 0ahim a copy of the Bill of Rights to contrast with the USA Patriot Act.
The resolution essentially includes the demands to federal and 0astate governments I've cited in previous columns about similar resolutions 0aalready passed in three states and 120 cities, towns, and counties around the 0acountry: End secret detentions; stop finding out what books we buy, or borrow 0afrom libraries; cease ethnic and religious profiling; and stop sending official 0aburglars with badges into our homes and offices to download what's in our 0acomputers.
There are also demands in this city's resolution directed at New 0aYork police commissioner Ray Kelly, who is also in dire need of a copy of the 0aBill of Rights.
One such command is to "refrain from collecting or 0amaintaining information about the political, religious, or social views, 0aassociations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, 0acorporation, business, or partnership, whether such information is obtained by 0aNYPD employees acting alone or in conjunction with state or federal law 0aenforcement officials, unless that information directly relates to an 0ainvestigation of criminal activities, and unless there are reasonable grounds to 0asuspect the subject . . . is or may be involved in criminal conduct."
But right now, Ray Kelly's NYPD is doing a lot of what this 0aresolution tells it not to. Consider the political questioning of hundreds of 0aarrested anti-war demonstrators recently. Also, under John Ashcroft's return to 0athe disgraced COINTELPRO surveillance guidelines of the 1960s, the FBI, the CIA, 0aand other federal intelligence agencies often in conjunction with state and 0alocal police are violating our basic First Amendment rights in other ways.
As the New York City Bill of Rights Defense Campaign's briefing 0apapers emphasize, the FBI and other federal agencies do not have "to show 0areasonable suspicion, much less probable cause," that the information they 0agather is "related to criminal activity." They merely have to make "the broad 0aassertion that the request is related to an ongoing terrorism or foreign 0aintelligence investigation." (All these terms are very loosely described by the 0agovernment.)
And now that state and local police are working closely with 0afederal law enforcement, dossiers collected on New Yorkers by the NYPD can wind 0aup in merged into federal data banks. Running the NYPD's "terrorism" 0ainvestigations is former CIA official David Cohen.
Therefore, although the City Council is required by the 0aresolution to periodically get detailed information from federal authorities on 0ahow they're implementing the Patriot Act, and Ashcroft's executive orders, in 0athis city and then give New Yorkers that information that's not enough.
The mayor and the police commissioner should have to regularly 0amake public a record of how the NYPD is justifying its surveillance of us, and 0aother reductions of our liberties, whether under federal orders or on its own.
But this Bill of Rights Defense Campaign resolution is a very 0auseful start. To become part of it, contact the NYCLU/Bill of Rights Defense 0aCampaign, 125 Broad Street, New York, NY. 10004, or the project director at the 0aNYCLU, Udi Ofer, 212-344-3005, ext. 242. The Web site for the campaign is 0anybordc.org; for the NYCLU, it's nyclu.org.
Left out of the information available at the May 28 rally was the 0afact that these Bill of Rights resolutions began in Northampton, Massachusetts, 0asoon after 9-11, and have been organized nationally by Nancy Talanian of the 0aoriginal Northampton Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and later by the national 0aACLU and its affiliates.
On the steps of City Hall, I introduced myself to Charles Barron, 0awho co-sponsored the New York resolution and had spoken tellingly at the rally 0aof how the Bush-Ashcroft attacks on our liberties reminded him of the FBI's 0aCOINTELPRO surveillance and infiltration in the 1960s that forced some 0adissenting activists, as Barron said, "to go underground because of government 0aharassment of them."
I spoke to Barron about liberties repressed in Zimbabwe, and he 0adenounced me for "not telling the truth" about his report on Robert Mugabe's 0agovernment after Barron's trip there. I asked Barron if he'd read my four recent 0acolumns on Zimbabwe. "No," he said, "because you do not tell the truth."
"How would you know," I said, "if you haven't read them? Send me 0aany factual corrections, and I'll print them." He refused to do that because, he 0asaid repeatedly, "You have an agenda!"
"I do indeed," I told the councilman. "That's why I'm here today. 0aI oppose any government that suppresses civil liberties, whether it's Bush and 0aAshcroft or Robert Mugabe." My friend Malcolm X used to urge, "Say it plain!" 0aAnd Barron is not doing that about Mugabe.
From what I could tell, there was no coverage in any of the 0anewspaper dailies of the May 28 rally. What the hell, it's only the 0aConstitution.
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