Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

April 5 day of action against deportation: 2 million, 2 many!

Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 2:06 pm by

Original commentary by Alok Bhatt published April 7, 2014 on the  Connecticut Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission blog.

IMG952671At around 3:00pm on the chilly afternoon of Saturday, April 5, members of Connecticut’s immigrant community, representing over ten cities across the state, converged on the Abraham A. Ribcoff Federal Building (Federal Building) in Downtown Hartford to rally against the nearly 2,000,000 deportations perpetrated under the Obama administration. The Federal Building houses Connecticut’s primary immigration court, from which many community and family members have been  banished from the United States, often for non-violent offenses. In Connecticut, approximately 35% of deportation proceedings initiate without any criminal conviction.

Lights, camera, arrested: Americans are being thrown in jail for filming police

Sunday, March 16, 2014 at 9:03 am by

Original Commentary by John Whitehead published on March 10, 2014 by the Rutherford Institute

031214-filimg-police-lgOnce again, the U.S. government is attempting to police the world when it should be policing its own law enforcement agencies. We’ve got a warship cruising the Black Sea, fighter jets patrolling the Baltic skies, and a guided-missile destroyer searching the South China Sea for the downed Malaysia Airlines flight. All the while, back home in the U.S., our constitutional rights are going to hell in a hand basket, with homeowners being threatened with eviction for attempting to live off the grid, old women jailed for feeding crows, and citizens armed with little more than a cell phone arrested for daring to record police activities.


44 Years a Prisoner: The Case of Eddie Conway

Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 9:41 am by

Original commentary by Amy Goodman published on March 5, 2014.

Marshall “Eddie” Conway walked free from prison this week, just one month shy of 44 years behind bars. He was convicted of the April 1970 killing of a Baltimore police officer. Conway has always maintained his innocence. At the time of his arrest and trial, he was a prominent member of the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party, the militant black-rights organization that was the principal focus of COINTELPRO, the FBI’s illegal “counterintelligence program.” The FBI, under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, surveilled and infiltrated Black Panther chapters from coast to coast, disrupting their organizing activities, often with violence.

(Image: Ars Skeptica/cc/flickr)The prosecution alleged Conway was behind the fatal shooting of Baltimore police officer Donald Sager. The case hinged on the testimony of a police officer and a jailhouse informant, who claimed Conway described the crime while they were sharing a cell. Former Baltimore NAACP President Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, a longtime supporter of Conway’s, told The Baltimore Sun: “This was when the COINTEL program was at its height. … They did not have a witness who saw him there. They had no fingerprints or evidence there. They basically convicted him on the basis of what we now call an informant.” A global movement grew calling for Conway’s release. In 2001, the Baltimore City Council passed a resolution asking the Maryland governor to pardon him.

A victory in Asheville for civil rights and communities of color

Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 9:07 am by

Seal_of_Asheville,_North_CarolinaWe must always remember Rome was not built in a day. This is a story about an incredible victory that took place in Asheville, North Carolina in September 2013 where its residents organized to fight back against racist policing and to protect the rights of immigrant communities, and won.

The Asheville Resolution that passed was a unanimous decision made by city council that now holds government officials liable for harassment and torture based of factors such as:  race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, religious or political opinion or activity, or immigration status.

Stop and Frisk found unconstitutional, communities vindicated

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm by

friskOn Monday, August 12, New Yorkers won a historic victory with a federal court ruling that the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) use of stop and frisk policing violated the constitution. Judge Shira Scheindlin found the tactic, as had been argued by the plaintiffs and their attorneys, the Center for Constitutional Rights, violated both the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

To remedy the violations of rights that the court found had affected thousands of New Yorkers between 2004 and 2012, the Judge mandated a number of court supervised changes. The order imposes important reforms on the NYPD related to stop and frisk. The court appointed an independent monitor to oversee the process of bringing the NYPD’s tactics in line with the constitution, required trials of officer worn body cameras in each borough and mandated community input into the reform process. Police body worn cameras have shown excellent results reducing the use of force by police officers and complaints against them. In Rialto, California the use of cameras resulted in a 60% drop in the use of force by police officers.

However, to ensure better policing for all New Yorkers, it will still be crucial for the New York City Council to overturn the mayor’s veto on the two bills championed by Communities United for Police Reform. These bills will greatly expand profiling protections to insure that New Yorkers are not targeted by police for their identity and establish an Inspector General for the NYPD. The council is scheduled to vote on the veto override on August 22.


Secret law thrives, eroding the courts

Monday, July 15, 2013 at 8:55 am by

Last week, current and former intelligence officials spoke anonymously with the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to reveal that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) is wielding even more power than Edward Snowden’s leaks imply.  According to the New York Times, the court is not simply processing requests for surveillance authority. Instead, it is “regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.”

Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), access to business records requires an application to the FISC that includes “facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation.” While the law around relevance and reasonable grounds to believe is somewhat unclear, the Wall Street Journal reports:

The court’s interpretation of the word enabled the government, under the Patriot Act, to collect the phone records of the majority of Americans, including phone numbers people dialed and where they were calling from, as part of a continuing investigation into international terrorism.

In addition to an extremely broad definition of what is relevant, the officials revealed that the court has issued opinions that “have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the ‘special needs’ doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures.”


BORDC in the news: June 11 – July 7, 2013

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 10:53 am by

Untitled-1BORDC has been extraordinarily active in mass media over the last several weeks, offering public commentary on issues including the NSA leaks revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the nomination of James Comey to lead the FBI, and the rising tide of domestic drone surveillance.

On June 11, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar appeared on the Thom Hartman Program to address secret dragnet surveillance. Responding to Thom’s question about whether government agencies have permission to “compromise our individual civil rights in the name of…national security,” Shahid replied:

Our government certainly does not have the permission of “We the People”. That’s expressed in the Constitution that founded the Republic. It has gained the permission of Congress, particularly in the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments of 2008, when…Congress, with then Sen. Barack Obama’s support, authorized precisely with the original FISA law…was passed to prohibit.

Shahid’s critique of Congress for abusing “We the People” was reposted by Crooks and Liars on June 14.

The same day, he was quoted in a FireDogLake article about the green scare and how so-called “eco-terrorism” has prompted invasive restrictions on civil liberties. He explained that:

Many terrorism investigations (and a great many convictions) are politically contrived to suit the ends of corporations, offering a stark reminder of how the expansion of executive power — whether in the context of dragnet NSA surveillance, or the FBI treating civil disobedience as terrorism — poses a threat to democracy.

Shahid’s quote appeared again in a related discussion  on Earth First News the next day, June 15.

Also on June 15, Shahid spoke at a protest on Capitol Hill challenging NSA abuses, where he helped defuse escalation by police officers who attempted to break up the rally for violating a permit requirement.  The event was covered on Hispantv, promoting concerns about dragnet surveillance to the Spanish speaking public, as well as by other broadcast outlets serving international audiences.


NYC City Council passes historic NYPD reforms

Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 12:14 pm by

photoIn a late night session, the New York City Council passed two historic pieces of legislation that will bring desperately needed reform and accountability to the New York City Police Department.

One bill will substantially broaden protections against profiling by police. The other will appoint a commissioner at an independent agency to oversee the NYPD.

The passage of the bills is important both for the added protection they bring to New Yorkers and because it shows the power of the broad based organizing model employed by the coalition promoting the bill, Communities United for Police Reform. The legislative victory builds on decades of courageous work in the movements for police accountability and racial justice.

Both pieces of legislation passed by 34 or more votes, assuring that if the votes stay the same a threatened veto by Mayor Bloomberg can be overridden by the city council.


Guantánamo hunger strike widens, Obama deflects blame

Monday, May 6, 2013 at 8:58 am by

The America I believe in would shut down #Guantanamo #GitmoHungerStrike #gitmo  #closegitmoAs the hunger strike at Guantánamo has widened to include all of the men held there, President Obama recently announced that he would renew a push on Congress to close the prison and examine his administrative options. However, the implication that Congress is preventing the closure of Guantánamo is at best disingenuous.

Obama has the power to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo right now.  The president himself has placed a uniform ban on transferring any prisoners to Yemen, a collective punishment policy that he could reverse immediately. He could also release prisoners by issuing a certification through the Department of Defense and State that the administration has steps to assure the secure release and monitoring of the prisoners.

Moreover, President Obama’s seemingly newfound rhetorical opposition to indefinite detention runs counter to the policies of his administration. While he may have tried to move the prisoners to the United States, he still wanted them indefinitely detained, in violation of the Constitution and International Law. This has left even supporters of his detention policy befuddled.

The Guantánamo hunger strike can only be ended by the administration taking meaningful steps to close the prison. Those steps can begin immediately by releasing the 86 men who have been cleared for release by the government itself. The remaining men should either be given a speedy and fair trial or released as well.

The men at Guantánamo are resolute to peacefully protest through a hunger strike until they receive justice. One of them, Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi put it this way:

I do not want to kill myself. My religion prohibits suicide. But I will not eat or drink until I die, if necessary, to protest the injustice of this place. We want to get out of this place. It is as though this government wishes to smother us in this injustice, to kill us slowly here, indirectly, without trying us or executing us.

Currently, 21 of the men, including Mr. al-Alwi, are bring force-fed in violation of medical ethics. The force-feeding process is brutal, as was described by one prisoner in an New York Times op-ed and can constitute torture, if undertaken as a form of punishment.

As the hunger strike continues, people across the world are pushing for the closure of Guantánamo and an end to indefinite detention. A petition started by a former Guantánamo prosecutor, calling for the prison’s closure, has gained over 100,000 signers in less that two days. From May 17-19, people of conscience will stand together to demand that President Obama close the United States’ forever prison.


Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition proposes a Rapid Response Network

Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 11:03 am by

The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) held a public forum on April 18 to discuss what effect “The War on Terror” has had on free expression and grassroots political organizing in Maryland and across the United States since 9/11.  The forum featured four speakers whose presentations discussed a number of demonstrations of federal, state and local surveillance and their disruption of peaceful activism.  The forum was opened by Kit Bonson, who explained the MCCRC’s desperate formation, saying:

The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) started because in the fall of 2010, 7 activists in Minneapolis and Chicago awoke one morning to find that their houses were being raided by the FBI. Boxes and boxes of their possessions were confiscated, including computers, papers, and family photos. Although they were never charged with any crime, they were called to testify in front of a Grand Jury.

In response, activists here in our area, as well as in cities around the country, came together to protest the use of the FBI and the Grand Jury process to harass and intimidate movement organizers. Basically, we wanted to stand in solidarity with activists who had not committed crimes or advocated anything other than nonviolence action. It was from these events that MCCRC was founded.

Forum Speakers

Saqib Ali, formerly a Maryland state legislator,  is now the Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Maryland chapter (CAIR-MD).  Ali spoke about the overwhelming surveillance of Muslim-American communities throughout the United States, describing the three major issues facing these communities as the “No Fly” list; the FBI’s infiltration of mosques and the growing presence of FBI informants in mosques; and the near-constant surveillance of Muslim communities.  Ali explained that the “No Fly” list prohibits many Muslim-Americans from travel back and forth between the United States and countries abroad where family members may still be located.  Ali specifically noted that the Transport Security Administration (TSA) compiles their “No Fly” list fairly arbitrarily, and lacks any legal recourse; not only  is the reason for being on a “No Fly” list murky at best, but it becomes nearly impossible to remove oneself from that list.


Ali also discussed the FBI infiltration of mosques, both as a means to surveil Muslim community worshiping therein, as well as to persuade mosque members towards terrorist action and subsequently stage their arrests.  He also discussed the more local development of an NYPD “Demographics” Unit, which singled out Muslim community centers of all kinds throughout New York and New Jersey for surveillance.  He described the “Demographics” Unit as a “wide, indiscriminate dragnet of Muslim everyday things: barber shops, bookstores…”

Sue Udry, the Executive Director of the Defending Dissent Foundation (DDF), broadened the discussion beyond the Muslim-American community to discuss the many different examples of legitimate activism being disproportionately targeted by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.  She specifically mentioned the “Ag Gag laws,” which aim at preventing whistleblowers from exposing any wrongdoing within agricultural operations.  Within these Ag Gag laws is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) which Udry and DDF describe as: