BALTIMORE – Councilman Kwame Abayomi urged his City Council colleagues to approve his “Preservation of Civil Liberties” resolution directing Baltimore city police not to enforce repressive sections of the USA Patriot Act such as racial profiling and mass detention of innocent immigrants. Ten of the council’s 18 members, including Council President Sheila Dixon, are cosponsors of the resolution.
If the measure is approved, Baltimore would join 65 other municipalities that have adopted resolutions against the Patriot Act’s sweeping police state powers. Speaking March 13 during a hearing chaired by Councilman Robert Curran in the ornate council chamber, Abayomi decried Attorney General John Ashcroft for ramming the measure through Congress without a single day of hearings one month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The last time the government had such sweeping powers was during the era of COINTELPRO used against Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X,” Abayomi said. “Egregious, dangerous activities have already begun under the guise of combating terrorism.
The resolution proclaims that the City of Baltimore will “vigorously uphold the constitutionally protected rights of all persons to peacefully protest and express their political views without any form of governmental interference.”
It directs the Baltimore Police Department to refrain from enforcing “immigration matters” as well as surveillance of individuals engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment and orders the police to “refrain from racial profiling or religious profiling” or from “collecting or maintaining information about the political, religious, or social views, associations or activities of any individual or group” unless it directly relates to investigation of criminal activities.
It also directs the police to refuse cooperation with the Justice Department’s TIPS program that enlists people to “spy on their neighbors, colleagues or customers …” It directs Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt library to post a warning that under the Patriot Act, federal agents may snoop on the records of the books and other materials borrowed by users.
Attorney C. William Michaels, author of the book No Greater Threat told the hearing that Ashcroft is engaged in an “ever growing, ever expanding” attack on civil liberties. He pointed out that the Bush administration now routinely uses war terminology such as “enemy combatant” to justify suspension of Constitutional liberties.
Meredith Curtis of the Baltimore Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the Patriot Act “is a slide away from the democratic rights we fought for. … Local police must answer to the local community, not to the federal government. People are living in fear right here in our own state. Baltimore can become part of a growing movement for the kind of country we want. You are in good company … 65 cities and towns have passed resolutions against the Patriot Act.”
Tina Wheeler, district organizer of the Communist Party of Maryland, pointed out that a legal immigrant from Morocco, his wife, children and their Baltimore community were terrorized by the FBI last September on the basis of a phony “tip” that he was building a bomb in his garage.
Ashcroft is seeking enactment of Patriot Act II, which would grant the Bush administration even more sweeeping powers to spy and harass, she warned. “The Bush administration needs fear and intimidation to silence the growing opposition to their extremist policies,” she said, urging the council to pass the resolution. “We say ‘No!’ to Patriot Acts I and II.”
Max Obuszewski, an organizer for the American Friends Service Committee, reminded the crowd that amid whipped up “war fever” he and seven other peace activists were arrested at Towsontown Mall distributing leaflets against a war on Iraq. “Obviously, John Ashcroft is the new McCarthy.”
Kay Dellinger, spokesperson for the Coalition Against Global Exploitation, said, “We believe the Patriot Act should be repealed. It never should have been passed.”
Richard Ochs, a veteran trade union and peace activist, said undocumented immigrant workers are especially subject to arrest, detention and deportation under the Patriot Act. “But the U.S. Constitution says due process is not just for citizens but for all residents of the United States,” Ochs said.
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