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Profiling Peace Activists
Published on Monday, October 15, 2001
Profiling Peace Activists
by Seth Sandronsky
As a peace activist calling for a nonviolent resolution to the horrific events of Sept. 11, I know that Big Brother is watching me. How, you ask? Well, I’ve seen him (and her) taking my photos recently.

The first time a female in a new green van pulled up across from us as we stood on a sidewalk in downtown Sacramento. We held signs that said “Violence only begets violence,” and “World court, not world war.”

The woman in the van looked directly at us. My eyes and hers met for a second. She then quickly photographed my fellow protesters and me, and sped off.

“Did you get her license plate?” my wife queried.

“No,” I replied.

“We should call the police,” my wife responded.

“She is the police,” I answered. “What’s the point?”

Our daughter stood by our side. Her attention was elsewhere at the time.

Later, I told a fellow protester about the stealth photographer.

“What a waste of time photographing peaceful protesters,” she remarked.

Maybe, maybe not.

Being photographed by the authorities was the last thing on my mind as I walked our dog on Columbus Day. The feel of fall was wonderful. As I waited to cross a busy street while people were driving to work, a new gold sedan drove from my right to left. It pulled over a block away and across the street from me.

I saw the car stop and wondered what the driver was going to do. I soon found out.

He (I could see that the driver was a male) made a half-turn, stopped with his window down and took my photo with a flash. He then sped off, driving from my left to right, directly in front of me.

Daunted? Yes. Deterred? No?

“Now it’s happening to everyone,” a Middle Eastern friend said when I told him about being photographed twice in six days. Now I know what it feels like, in small part, to be profiled by the authorities. Not on the basis of my skin color, but on my politics that avenging the loss of innocent victims by inflicting violence on equally innocent people is wrong.

Skin color profiling, of course, was a daily reality for many people of color in America before the Sept. 11 tragedy. Since then, consider the criminal actions in California against Middle Eastern and South Asian people (or those so misidentified), according to preliminary data from the state attorney general’s office, reported Oct. 11 by the Associated Press. “Between Sept. 11 and Sept. 30, the Los Angeles police and sheriff's departments reported 167 hate crimes aimed at those groups; San Francisco police, 43; San Jose police, 41; San Diego police, 40; and the Sacramento sheriff's department five.”

To what end are the authorities profiling peace activists? To harass and intimidate? To stifle independent thought? Ultimately, to control public opinion?

In relatively free societies such as the U.S., controlling the flow of information is what elites do to mobilize the public to back the military agenda. Simplified repetition about good and evil from the official sources is a main method of journalistic persuasion. This has cast more fog than light on our complex and confusing world.

Then there’s official omission, perhaps the leading form of thought control. Take The Sacramento Bee newspaper in my hometown, which failed to write a single word about the Sept. 29 anti-war rally attended by 10,000 – 15,000 people in nearby San Francisco. That’s an effective way to keep people’s dissent out of the public mind.

Some people can resist war propaganda. They organize with others. Together they work for peaceful solutions. Try to find a mention of this in mainstream history books.

Elites know that the American public is frightened by the murderous attacks of Sept. 11. Count me as one of the fearful, for sure. I and many like me, however, aren’t prepared to respond by sacrificing our civil liberties on the altar of national unity.

During the Second World War, my grandfather worked in defense plants and my father served overseas in the army to defeat fascism. Today I continue their struggle for freedom. I demand that the blood of no more innocent victims flows here or abroad.

Where’s the democracy when those calling for an end to violence on all sides are subject to government surveillance? Congress is currently considering anti-terrorism legislation to send to the president to be signed into law. How will this bill affect the profiling of peace activists?

What is democracy without the ability to ask public questions about the current crisis? Can there be democracy without legal dissent?

Well, one thing is certain. All people of good conscience must stand up now and speak out for peace with justice, while we still have the chance.

Seth Sandronsky is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive newspaper. E-mail:


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