WASHINGTON - More than 130 communities with a combined population of more than 16 million people in 26 states have passed resolutions directing local police to refrain from using racial profiling, enforcing immigration laws, or participating in federal investigations that violate civil liberties, according to a new report released on the eve of this year's Fourth of July celebrations by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The 23-page report credits Ann Arbor, Michigan, with adopting the first resolution opposing key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, thus setting off a trend that shows no sign of abating.
"In my conversations with people from across the political spectrum, I hear one refrain over and over," says Laura Murphy, who heads the ACLU's Washington, D.C. legislative office. "If we give up our freedoms in the name of national security, we will have lost the war on terrorism."
"As this year's Fourth of July rolls around, we hope that this report will demonstrate to the White House, the Justice Department and Congress that we must be both safe and free."
The ACLU, whose local offices played a major role in support of dozens of resolutions around the country, stressed that among the jurisdications that have taken action are a number of traditionally conservative areas of the country, such as Oklahoma City, Missoula, Montana; and Flagstaff, Arizona.
Some of the larger cities include Denver, Colorado; Oakland and San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Detroit, Michigan; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Baltimore, Maryland. Three states have also adopted measures that call for strict respect for constitutional rights: Hawaii, Alaska, and Vermont.
The report, 'Independence Day 2003: Main Street Fights the Federal Government's Insatiable Appetite for New Powers in the Post 9/11 Era,' says the burgeoning grassroots movement was launched after demands by Attorney General John Aschroft were agreed to by Congress, which, it charges, "encouraged an atmosphere of hysteria," by approving the USA PATRIOT Act in late October 2001 with little debate and few dissenting votes.
The Act included a number of controversial provisions that, in the ACLU's view, upset the balance between the citizen's privacy and political rights and the state's responsibility to ensure the security of the country.
Some of those provisions included expanding the power of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; approval of "sneak and peek" warrants which allow federal agents to enter private homes without notifying the owner until much later; weakening the standards for intelligence wiretaps by permitting them to be used for criminal invstigations under some circumstances; and making it easier for federal agents to obtain highly personal "business records," such as library loan records, of possible terrorist suspects.
The Act itself was followed up with a flurry of executive orders, regulations, policies and practices, such as denying the right to a fair trial for citizens and non-citizens labeled "enemy combatants" and establishing military commissions that fall short of minimum due process standards, which further eroded civil liberties protection, according to the ACLU.
On January 7, 2002, Ann Arbor became the first city in the country to pass a resolution in direct response to the PATRIOT Act and new federal policies. "We're very concerned about civil rights and the about the potential discrimination," City Councilwoman Heidi Herrell told ABC News at the time. "We spent a lot of time since September 11 making sure that the Muslim members of our community felt safe."
Denver became the second city to approve a resolution after the ACLU there discovered the existence of 3,400 secret files on social activists that had been collected by the Denver Police over several years. That resolution called for the police not to gather information on individuals' First Amendment activities unless the information related to criminal activity and the subject was suspected of engaging in criminal activity.
The movement has gathered steam. In February, 2003, alone, 22 communities passed resolutions affirming civil liberties, while the three states have all acted in the last three months.
The momentum behind the resolution movement has drawn the increasing ire of the Justice Department, according to the report. Ashcroft himself recently acknowledged public fears about the possibility for abuse of the PATRIOT Act and called on the media to help the Justice Department explain it. It has also enlisted Republican lawmakers in an effort to oppose local resolutions.
"This report just goes to show the importance of local activism," Murphy said. "Although the Attorney General and his staff have said that this movement is but a flash in the pan, the fact that they'd take the time to actively work to defeat these things speaks volumes about their political importance."
The movement has not only involved local governments. Librarians are refusing to cooperate with federal authorities, and dozens of state library associations have passed their own anti-PATRIOT Act resolutions. In Congress. Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has introduced the "Freedom to Read Protection Act" which would exempt libraries and bookstores from the Act. The bill currently has 122 co-sponsors, and California Sen. Barbara Boxer has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
"Nothing is more precious in a democracy than freedom of speech and free access to information without government intrusion," the report asserts. "The American people seem to understand that, even if Attorney General Ashcroft does not."
Copyright 2003 OneWorld.net