The following is a statement to the Connecticut State Legislature’s Working Group on State Preparation and Security, delivered Feb. 4.
The issue of Homeland Security is not to be taken lightly. Our nation, and the people of Connecticut, have been deeply shaken by the horrible terrorist attack on Sept. 11. It is understandable that our security measures need to be reviewed.
While taking steps to protect against acts of terrorism, it is of utmost importance to reject an approach based on hysteria or hate. As one of the 1,000 plaintiffs awarded damages in a lawsuit concerning wiretapping in New Haven in the 1970s, I know from personal experience that “security” can be used as an unwarranted justification for infringing on the Constitutional rights of innocent persons.
The USA Patriot Act was enacted in haste, and contains measures that should be repealed because they can be used to stifle the Constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and protection from unwarranted searches and seizures.
The creation of a new crime of “domestic terrorism” could allow the government to levy heavy penalties for relatively minor offenses, including political protests. Rather than enhancing our security, such unconstitutional measures undermine it.
In the 1960s, almost 200 social justice, peace and environmental organizations, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference chaired by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., were designated “terrorist organizations” by the FBI and by local police “red squads.” Under the Patriot Act, they could have been subject to long prison terms.
Many in Connecticut who supported Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in its struggle against apartheid in South Africa could have been charged when the U.S. State Department labeled the ANC as “terrorist.”
The Charleston Five are dockworkers in South Carolina beaten during a union demonstration, then charged with inciting to riot and branded terrorists, but ultimately exonerated They could have faced life imprisonment, as could almost any workers who exercise their right to strike. The recent brutal attack by Hartford police on peace demonstrators and the draconian prosecution reflect a repressive climate that has nothing to do with increasing homeland security.
We strongly oppose the use of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 to limit the Constitutional freedoms of residents of the United States and our state. We have particular concern for the non-citizen residents of our state, including indefinite detention without meaningful judicial review, and protection of the rights of foreign students. The harassment of New Haven Alderman Yusuf Shah dramatizes the need for strong measures against racial profiling of people of Arab dissent and other people of color, which has notoriously taken place at airports and public places since Sept. 11.
In addition, we propose that the definition of security must include economic security for the working people of Connecticut. Cuts in funding for cities and towns, at a time when homeless shelters, food pantries and health clinics cannot meet the high demands being placed upon them undermines both the economic and physical security of the people of Connecticut.
There should be a statewide community body on homeland security. It should have representation by labor, civil rights, civil liberties, immigrants and faith-based organizations and individuals. It should have powers of input, consultation and review on state security strategy and policies.
Joelle Fishman is the chair of the Connecticut district of the Communist Party USA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.