Dallas takes a stand for civil liberties

DALLAS – The Dallas City Council passed a resolution Feb. 25 condemning parts of the USA Patriot Act. The vote was the climax of more than two years of hard lobbying by Attorney Chip Pitts, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee of Dallas, the ACLU, and a coalition of community activists. Similar resolutions have passed in more than 260 cities across the country and three state legislatures.

Although the issue had been before the council twice before, the debate lasted two hours. In the end, two of the seven white council members voted with the African American and Latino members for the resolution.

One of the many speaking in favor of the resolution was Jana Zeeb, whose husband has been in prison for more than 10 months. Before Sept. 11, 2001, Zeeb, who can trace her ancestry back to one of the first British colonists, Miles Standish, and her husband operated a flight training school in Dallas. Her husband had been a private pilot for a number of prominent Americans, including George W. Bush.

But after 9/11, their business was raided solely because Mr. Zeeb was originally from the Middle East. The authorities found nothing illegal, but they did uncover a 20-year-old citation against Mr. Zeeb for drunken driving. Because of this he has been kept in an INS prison in Haskell, Texas, and has lost more than 70 pounds because of poor medical care.

Mayor Laura Miller, who was opposed to the resolution, later commented on Zeeb’s testimony. “I assure you that we will hear more about that facility,” she said, “because I, too, have friends with relatives there.”

Rev. Peter Johnson, the first organizer sent to Dallas by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., made a special plea to minority members of the council. “You are sitting on the shoulders of those who came before you,” he said. “I expect you to do your part.”

One councilman, who favored the Patriot Act, wept while proclaiming that America is at war and we owe it to our men and women in uniform to support the Patriot Act. American soldiers are serving abroad, he said, “where enemies of America are killing them for no other reason than that they represent freedom.”

But African American Councilman James Fantroy refuted arguments made in defense of the Patriot Act, including that the majority of the American people support the law. Recalling days of slavery and segregation, he said, “The majority is not always right. ... A lot of the ‘majority’ may not be concerned about the Patriot Act, but they never had water hoses put on them, never had dogs put on them!”

The chamber erupted as the monitor flashed the vote: 9-6 in favor of the resolution.

The author can be reached at flittle7@yahoo.com.