April 2011, Vol. 10, No. 4
In this issue:
- BORDC welcomes American Freedom Campaign
- Former FBI and CIA officials share BORDC’s concerns
- BORDC raises awareness at events across the country
- San Francisco puts plan to scan IDs at public events on hold following opposition from BORDC and other groups
- Patriot Award: Tarsha Jackson
- Hartford Civil Rights Coalition takes on state legislature
- Campaign hosts community forum in Northampton, MA
- Local civil rights campaigns sweeping across North Carolina
- Orlando students confront opposition to civil rights resolution
- Detroit activists addressing police brutality and racial profiling
- Get involved in the People’s Campaign for the Constitution
- Read the latest news and analysis on our blog
Law and Policy
- FBI reach extended: Where does it end?
- Guantánamo Bay: The Obama Doctrine
- Economic "terrorism" used to invite law enforcement scrutiny of First Amendment-protected activism
New Resources and Opportunities
The PATRIOT Act has been law in America for nearly a decade. It’s high time to put an end to ongoing abuses under its draconian powers.
Government surveillance has invaded the privacy of innocent Americans en masse. The FBI has used national security letters to seize mountains of private records while gagging the recipients. And the “material support” provision has dramatically eroded First Amendment rights—as demonstrated by raids last fall targeting peaceful activists across the Midwest.
After ten years of invasive and unconstitutional surveillance, members of both major political parties are expressing concerns about this dangerous law, giving us a chance to change it—but only if members of Congress hear from concerned constituents across the country.
Thousands of grassroots activists called the White House on April 5 to demand that the president stick to his campaign promises and stop PATRIOT abuses. The White House’s phone lines went down, but we’re just getting started: it’s ultimately Congress that must decide the future of the PATRIOT Act, and for the first time since 2001, a critical mass of Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate have voted and spoken out against reauthorization.
We who still care about the Constitution have a golden opportunity to shift the tide.
- Vote against any bill reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act unless it includes meaningful amendments to restore free speech and checks and balances on executive power.
- Co-sponsor the JUSTICE Act to stop abuses enabled by PATRIOT.
More than 750 people across the country have already signed up to meet with their members of Congress, but those 750 people represent only 294—or just over two-thirds—of the 435 congressional districts in the US. We still need more people to sign up to ensure that every member of Congress hears loud and clear that PATRIOT Act abuses must be stopped. Will you help us reach that goal?
You’ll have lots of support: we’ll give you talking points, tips on meeting with your elected officials, and help following up on your meetings. We can win this fight—but only if we all stand together.
Since 2007, the American Freedom Campaign (AFC) has been fighting to protect our constitutional liberties, rein in the expansion and abuse of executive power, and restore our system of checks and balances. AFC’s work was critical in injecting these concerns into the 2008 presidential campaign.
After struggling to continue its important work as an independent organization, the American Freedom Campaign has now folded into BORDC. We welcome AFC and its nearly 50,000 supporters, and look forward to standing together in the grassroots movement to restore the rule of law.
On Friday, March 18, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University hosted a Symposium on Domestic Intelligence. The symposium featured three panels (the last of which included BORDC’s Shahid Buttar) in addition to a series of addresses by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and John Brennan, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
Rep. Thompson shared his experience as a civil rights leader, which included extensive political spying by law enforcement authorities—whose voluminous files he later saw upon entering Congress. He also expressed concerns about recent hearings in his congressional committee under the leadership of Rep. Peter King (R-NY). Mr. Brennan agreed with Rep. Thompson’s concerns about Rep. King’s hearings, arguing that singling out people on the basis of their beliefs is un-American. Brennan also reiterated the need to stay true to our ideals when addressing national security, and reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to closing Guantánamo Bay.
Buttar spoke on the third and final panel, alongside the Brennan Center’s Emily Berman, University of Chicago law professor (and BORDC advisory board member) Aziz Huq, former FBI Deputy Director for National Security Phil Mudd, and former CIA Assistant General Counsel Suzanne Spaulding. Buttar’s remarks focused on why behavior (rather than race, faith, or beliefs) offers the most reliable indicator of suspicion, as well as the national security risks that accompany civil rights abuses. He also expanded the discussion beyond Muslim-Americans to include peace activists (over a dozen of whom remain under investigation by the FBI) and Latino immigrants (who are suffering a humanitarian crisis caused by information-sharing programs between federal and local officials), and concluded by sharing potential solutions, such as those modeled in the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act.
BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar recently addressed audiences in Madison, WI, and Amherst, MA, as well as Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC. In Madison, Buttar twice addressed the National Lawyers Guild Midwest Regional Conference. From there he traveled to Chicago, where he presented analysis of the surveillance state to student chapters of the National Lawyers Guild and American Constitution Society at the University of Chicago, DePaul, Chicago-Kent, and John Marshall Law Schools. After Chicago, he visited Amherst to speak on two panels at Hampshire College’s Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference the weekend of April 8, and on a local radio program hosted by Bill Newman from the Western Massachusetts ACLU.
Buttar’s tour continued in New York on April 12 with a brief stint on stage with afrobeat band Denbaya and Vince Warren from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which included a room full of anti-torture advocates chanting “Jail John Yoo, and imprison Jay Bybee!” Finally, on Saturday, April 16, a Nation magazine discussion group invited Buttar to lead a discussion on civil liberties and executive power at a public library in Washington, DC.
San Francisco puts plan to scan IDs at public events on hold following opposition from BORDC and other groups
The Entertainment Committee of San Francisco, CA, recently proposed a new piece of legislation that would require surveillance cameras outside of all entertainment venues. Further, the legislation would require venues to collect and scan identification of all attendees—and retain that information for over two weeks. A debate on this new rule was originally scheduled for April 12, but has since been put on hold.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee joined with PrivacyActivism, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, IP Justice, Beat the Chip, the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, and Patient Privacy Rights in challenging these overbearing rules in comments to the committee:
Scanning the ID’s of all attendees at an anti-war rally, a gay night club, or a fundraiser for a civil liberties organization would result in a deeply chilling effect on speech, since participants could not attend without their attendance being noted, stored, and made available on request to government authorities. This would transform the politically and culturally tolerant environment for which San Francisco is famous into a police state.
Each month, BORDC recognizes an individual who has done outstanding work in support of civil liberties and the rule of law by honoring that person with our Patriot Award. This month, we honor Tarsha Jackson of Houston, TX, for her work towards reforming the criminal justice system and bringing together communities of color. Tarsha was instrumental in the fight to pass Senate Bill 103, which overhauled the Texas juvenile justice system, and has led many exciting projects in her community.
Tarsha began organizing around prison reform in 2003 when her 11-year-old, mentally ill son was sentenced to three years in the Texas Youth Commission for breaking a $50 window at a neighborhood pool. Marcus Jackson's mental illness was not taken into consideration and the courts changed the court date without informing Tarsha, causing her to miss her son's trial. Rather than allowing the result to silence her, Tarsha stood up and fought back—not only for Marcus, but for all who are affected by the criminal justice system's flaws.
Texas has the highest incarceration rate of any state in the country, and the majority of those incarcerated are people of color. Tarsha explains that "juveniles were given long sentences for childish behavior, essentially warehousing youth." This practice disproportionately impacts African-American and Latino communities. Tarsha began working with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which fought for and eventually won the passage of Texas Senate Bill 103. The bill implements oversight for many aspects of the juvenile justice system, including rewriting training and assignment standards for juvenile correctional officers, modifying the management structure, and establishing an inspector general's office in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) to investigate crimes committed by TYC employees. The bill also lowers the age at which a youth must be either released or transferred for confinement from 21 to 19 years of age, and requires TYC to develop a re-entry and reintegration plan for each youth in custody, among other things.
Tarsha's newest project, the Texas Reconciliation Project with the organization Grassroots Leadership, works to bring together the black and brown communities. Through showing the shared nature of struggles across different communities of color, Tarsha facilitates "transitioning," or the stages of moving into a condition of acceptance. By working with black and brown communities on issues that affect both, particularly criminal justice, police brutality and immigration, community members are "able to transition into understanding the different cultures and break down some of the barriers and engage in dialogue while also getting communities to engage with each other." These efforts helped to prevent Harris County from implementing the 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement officers to do federal immigration enforcement duties (and thus distracts them from their core public safety mission). As Tarsha puts it, "Its about our right to live, our right to work, and our ability to live comfortably even if we're not making $100,000 a year."
Tarsha Jackson has dedicated herself to fighting for real justice in her community, and has proven that even those impacted by law enforcement abuses can win tangible victories and implement significant change. In the coming months, Tarsha will be transitioning out of Grassroots Leadership to a position that will provide her with a greater capacity to give back to the community. We at BORDC wish her the best in all her pursuits!
The Hartford Civil Rights coalition is focusing this month on the Connecticut state legislature. In 1999, the state passed the Alvin W. Penn Act, which banned racial profiling in traffic stops. The law, which requires precincts to report data about traffic stops to the African-American Affairs Commission, is today ignored by most police precincts in Connecticut. HB 1230 seeks to enforce the Penn Act.
Members of the Hartford Civil Rights Coalition testified in favor of HB 1230 this month, when the bill moved out of the judiciary committee and into the full Senate. On Thursday, April 14, Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART) and University of Connecticut Social Work students held a forum on the proposed bill. For more information, contact the Hartford ACLU.
The coalition will continue to advocate for HB 1230 on the state level, while also pushing for stronger reforms in Hartford to address racial profiling of pedestrians, as well as other abuses relating to surveillance and intelligence collection or dissemination. To get involved in the Connecticut campaigns, contact BORDC Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick.
The Northampton Campaign to Preserve Civil Rights held a community-wide forum on March 23 to educate Northampton residents about its proposed ordinance. Modeled after BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act, the ordinance seeks to “codify the good” in Northampton and hold the town to a high standard of protecting the civil rights and liberties of its residents.
The forum was attended by more than 75 community members, and included live music from local band Red Valley Fog, as well as speakers Falguni Sheth from Hampshire College, Jasmin Torrejon from the Justice for Jason campaign, Richard Hernandez from the Northampton Human Rights Commission, and Bill Newman from the Western Massachusetts ACLU. Dozens of participants signed up to volunteer with the campaign. To get involved in the Northampton campaign, contact Emma Roderick.
Leaders of the Asheville civil rights restoration campaign are inspiring initiatives across the state and the region. The NC DREAM Team is a member of the Asheville coalition, working to overturn NC’s proposed legislation to ban undocumented youth from attending public universities. Co-founders Loida Ginocchio-Silva, Viridiana Martinez, and Jose Rico organized a statewide rally on March 19 in Greensboro, prompting organizational and community leaders to begin discussions about a civil rights restoration campaign in that centrally located city. BORDC has also received interest from leaders in Rocky Mount and Greenville in the Eastern part of North Carolina, as well as Pittsboro near the research triangle area. To get involved in one of these growing local campaigns, contact BORDC Field Organizer George Friday.
Student leaders at the University of Central Florida got a surprising lesson when introducing to their student government a resolution modeled on the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act. Usually such proposals are reviewed with a few minutes of discussion, and then voted up or down. In this case, the proposed resolution was discussed for more than four hours, and the student body leaders refused to allow a vote until the sponsoring coalition collects 1,500 student signatures. The group has already collected more than half the signatures they need. To get involved in a campaign in Orlando, contact George Friday.
Activists in Detroit are struggling to maintain basic city services while contending with ongoing police brutality and racial profiling. On April 28, Detroit will hold a People’s Movement Assembly (PMA) to determine next steps for building effective responses to the conditions various communities confront. The coalition plans to craft initial language for an ordinance, an education strategy, and strategy for winning support from elected officials. To get involved in a local campaign in Detroit, contact George Friday.
Share BORDC’s action opportunities with your friends
BORDC relies on volunteers for crucial research, writing, and outreach projects. We actively cultivate leadership among volunteers and customize each individual’s opportunities to his or her interests. If you know people—such as recent students or people between jobs—who are seeking opportunities to learn new skills or expand their activism, please refer them to us.
We have numerous projects available for volunteers, such as researching civil liberties issues, writing for our blog, identifying local allies and supportive local officeholders in cities across the country, and representing BORDC in outreach efforts to potential allies and coalition partners. We welcome volunteers with any skill or educational level from anywhere in the country. Sign up to be a volunteer.
Calling all educators
BORDC is expanding our K-12 resources and lesson plans and looking for educators to develop more teaching tools. If you have taught a class addressing civil liberties issues and are willing to share lesson plans with other teachers, please contact Emma Roderick. Even if you are not a teacher, please share the resources that BORDC has already compiled with teachers you know.
Tell us about your activities
Please send us information about your actions and events. We’re always eager to publicize efforts defending constitutional rights to help inform and inspire others.
Recent highlights from the People's Blog for the Constitution:
- UnPATRIOTic: Why our government won’t protect our rights—and what we can do about it
- The new war censorship
- PATRIOT podcast
- Debate over the Electronic Communications Privacy Act
Law and Policy
According to The New York Times, newly disclosed documents from the Justice Department show that the Federal Bureau of Investigation gathered information on thousands of Americans in order to look for terrorism connections. However, as the Times points out, most of these investigations did not lead to charges (just 427 of the initial 11,667 assessments—less than four percent—led to more focused investigations).
While the FBI contends that this shows an effective law enforcement strategy of tracking any allegations of terror, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar disagrees, as he explained in a panel hosted by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. Rather than ensure security, over-inclusive investigations threaten the rights to speech and association, while also undermining public safety by chilling human intelligence and exacerbating alienation within vulnerable communities.
The release of DOJ documents comes before the September expiration of the tenure of current FBI Director Robert Mueller, raising important concerns about his successor. There have been many examples of “security theater,” including the FBI’s raids of dozens of peace activists in the Midwest after which the Bureau dragged them before secret grand juries to testify about First Amendment-protected activities.
Abuses reflected in these kinds of examples are supported by FBI policies that the Attorney General could correct, as well as the wide array of tools expanded by the PATRIOT Act. That law is once again up for reauthorization, and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee is supporting efforts to stop abuses under the PATRIOT Act.
Speculation has already begun about who will replace Director Mueller and whether President Obama plans on breaking with current FBI strategy. However, if the president’s actions on other issues are any indication, it is unlikely that the administration will change course from President Bush’s policies without public pressure.
Much has been said about the Obama administration’s actions in Libya as representative of a larger “Obama Doctrine.” However, the unclear nature of this conflict and the US response has left very few definitive ideas on what, exactly, the Obama Doctrine is. Yet President Obama defined his policy with recent decisions to hold detainees indefinitely in Guántanamo Bay without evidence and try alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Muhammed (KSM) in front of a military tribunal. The president made these decisions in spite of his first act as president—ordering the closure of the Gitmo detention facility.
The administration’s decision reflects a reversal of previous policy, as demonstrated by the KSM case, which Attorney General Eric Holder originally intended to hold before federal court in New York City. The recent decision to instead use a military commission at Gitmo sparked outrage across the United States, including from a group of 9/11 families as well as various legal commentators.
Beyond the fact that terrorism trials have been successfully conducted in civilian courts multiple times, the greater issue is that the Obama Doctrine is apparently just a continuation of the Bush Doctrine. President Obama seems focused on maintaining a prison in Guantánamo and expanding the definition of who can be prosecuted for terrorism—not to mention his usage of targeted assassinations on US citizens. For all his rhetoric about human rights, many of President Obama’s policies appear the same as his predecessor’s.
First Amendment-protected activism continues to come under attack in the so-called “war on terror.” Stephen Lerner, the former director of the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) banking and finance campaign, has been labeled a domestic terrorist for advocating civil disobedience to challenge the Wall Street bailouts. On March 23, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the attorney general “investigate Mr. Lerner’s terrorist plans and notify me how the Department of Justice plans to respond to these threats.” By chopping up a seven minute talk into a Frankenstein figure of fear-mongering, Chaffetz “quotes” Lerner as discussing a
“secret plan” to “cause a new financial crisis . . . destroy J.P. Morgan . . . and weaken Wall Street’s grip on power” by using “civil disobedience” to create “the conditions necessary for a redistribution of wealth and a change in government.”
This attack is part of a larger phenomenon of activists being targeted under the guise of fighting terrorism, particularly for providing material support for terrorism. Through the use of anti-terrorism rhetoric, pundits and politicians are able to intimidate and even imprison activists from many walks of life.
New Resources and Opportunities
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee relies on the financial contributions of our supporters to continue our work protecting constitutional rights and restoring the rule of law. With a generous matching grant increasing the amount of your donation by half, even the smallest donation makes a big difference. All donations are tax-deductible, and there are many ways to support our work:
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Bill of Rights Defense Committee
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Northampton, MA 01060
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Bill of Rights Defense Committee
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Contributors: Ari Cowan, Amy Ferrer, George Friday, Tavish MacLeod, and Emma Roderick
Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston