FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 26, 2003
Steve Block, ACLU of the National Capital Area, 202-457-0800
Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8550 ext. 115
Ibrahim Moiz, CAIR Maryland Chapter, 301-343-2924
UPPER MARLBORO Pressure is building in Maryland to demand that our federal elected officials take action against troubling provisions of the USA Patriot Act, with Prince Georges County yesterday joining the 219 localities and three states nationwide that have passed resolutions protecting residentscivil liberties and civil rights. Resolutions also have been passed in Montgomery County, Baltimore City, Takoma Park, and Greenbelt representing 43% of all Marylanders. The Prince Georges County Bill of Rights Coalition thanks Council Members Thomas Hendershot, Peter Shapiro, Camille Exum and Samuel Dean for being leaders on this important issue. The vote was unanimous.
ACLU National Capital Area Legislative Counsel Steve Block praised the Council's resolution as leaving no doubt about the threat the Patriot Act and the Administrations actions pose to our freedoms. He said "The resolution cites specific Patriot Act problem areas secret sneak-and-peek searches; seizure of all kinds of records, limitations on court oversight, and creation of an overly broad new crime of terrorism as examples of sections that undermine civil liberties. Similarly, the resolution cites specific executive branch actions (local police enforcement of federal immigration laws, establishing military tribunals, expanded FBI surveillance of churches, eavesdropping on confidential lawyer-client discussions, limiting disclosure of public documents, and indefinite detention without access to an attorney of people labeled enemy combatants,as examples of areas where Congress must intervene.
The resolution urges Congress to review the USA PATRIOT Act, the federal anti-terrorism bill rushed though Congress with little deliberation in the immediate aftermath of September 11, and similar executive orders and actions. The broad and overreaching Act contains many provisions that erode checks and balances on law enforcement and threaten personal privacy and civil liberties. Whats more, scarce local taxpayer dollars are at risk, which is why it is important that the County Council has taken action. The Patriot Act asks sometimes requires local law enforcement and public safety officials to participate in these rights-abridging activities, which includes the reckless strategy of profiling by nationality, race, and religious affiliation.
The resolution directs the Prince Georges County Police Department to refrain from
* enforcing immigration matters that are the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security;
* engaging in the surveillance of individuals or groups based on participation in activities protected by the First Amendment, including political or religious views;
* using race and religion as factors to initiate investigations;
* maintaining files on the views or associations of individuals when not warranted;
* fostering any initiative that encourages the public to spy on their neighbors; and
* using racial profiling to stop drivers or pedestrians for purpose of scrutinizing identification documents without particularized suspicion of criminal activity.
"We applaud the Prince Georges County Council for passing this resolution and vowing to direct its employees and police to refrain from enforcing immigration, racial profiling, and engaging in actions that threaten our First Amendment rights. It is a step in the right direction," said Ibrahim Moiz, director of civil rights for CAIR-MD. "It demonstrates affirmative action by the elected representatives in Prince George's County to protect the rights of all residents. CAIR-MD commends Council Member Hendershot for taking the initiative to draft and introduce this resolution and having Prince Georges County join the most patriotic movement in America the Bill of Rights Defense Coalition. We have the right to dissent and to dissent is patriotic."
In addition, public libraries in Prince Georges County would be requested to post warnings to users that Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows federal agents to obtain books and other materials users borrow from the library, and that librarians are prohibited from informing you if they receive such requests.
"I think many of my colleagues in the PGCL System, along with librarians around the country, welcome the opportunity to educate our public about their rights to free inquiry, our traditional professional practice of keeping library user information confidential, and the risk now posed by the USA PATRIOT Act that not only library records, but also many other kinds of personal records about American residents, may be disclosed without good reason to federal agents," said Lucy Duff, a librarian from Greenbelt and key PGCBRC member. "I expect that our county library administrators will make the warning specified in this resolution fit into this broader library mission."
The PGCBRC was formed in September by the Prince Georges County Peace & Justice Coalition and the ACLU chapter of Prince George's County, together with other participants in the Greenbelt Bill of Rights Coalition. The Coalition was emboldened by the recent passage of a pro-civil liberties resolution in Montgomery County to seek even stronger language than that measure. The Coalition believes Prince Georges County, struggling both to eradicate profiling and inequality-based misconduct from its police department and to address crime while under funded by a sputtering national economy, hardly needs to reinstate profiling as a practice or divert its resources to doing the work of federal immigration agencies. This highly diverse county needs to focus on its most important task making diversity a rich asset and not give in to the climate of fear and division fostered by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"The Council's call on behalf of county residents to defend our freedoms is crystal clear," said Susan Goering, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland. "Senators Sarbanes and Mikulski should now heed this call and that from Montgomery County, Baltimore, and others. Both of Maryland's senators quietly supported the PATRIOT Act when it was hurried through Congress originally. Now they should cosponsor the bipartisan Safety and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act, S. 1709, which would correct many of these problems in the law that they helped impose on us. Furthermore, Marylands senators should take the lead in preventing other abuses of the liberties Marylanders hold dear."
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY RESOLUTION SUPPORTERS:
American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland
American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area
American Civil Liberties Union, Prince George's County Chapter
CASA de Maryland
Council on American-Islamic Relations, Maryland Chapter
Gray Panthers of the Metropolitan Area
NAACP, Prince George's County Chapter
Neighbors for Another Way
Prince George's County Peace & Justice Coalition
NATIONAL GROUPS SUPPORTING RESOLUTION INITIATIVE:
Arab American Institute (AAI)
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)
American Friends Service Committee
American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
Amnesty International USA
Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC)
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT)
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
First Amendment Foundation
Free Congress Foundation
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Gun Owners of America
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
National Asian Pacific American Association Legal Consortium (NAPALC)
National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom
National Committee Against Repressive Legislation
National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations