The Patriot Act
and the Truly Patriotic Efforts to Fight It

Daniel Freshman

If history shows us anything, it is the US government’s ability to exert control over the citizenry during times of crisis. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of our founding fathers to the Sedition Law of World War I, to the Japanese internment camps of World War II, security in the face of fear has more often than not resulted in the oppression of innocent people. Today seems no different. As a by-product of the “war on terrorism,” thousands of people, mostly of Muslim and Middle-Eastern descent, have been rounded up and found guilty until proven innocent based solely on the color of their skin or their place of birth.
Yet the war on terror sees no end. It is a global battle with no obvious enemy, just a stereotype of an Islamic radical bent on destroying all that is “American.” As George Bush said on September 20, “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” With this perpetual warlike mentality, this nation may never see an end to heightened security promulgated by our Government, a security that erodes our freedoms and civil liberties in a fight against an enemy that may not even exist.
Government laws and practices since 9-11 were rushed through Congress under the mantra of fighting terrorism. Many aspects of these laws have received little publication in the mainstream media and are often devastating. One example is the Patriot Act, which has proliferated surveillance of immigrants based on national origin (as well as American-born citizens based on dissident activity that is labeled a “threat” to national security), required immigrant interrogations under newly implemented registration systems, and indefinitely detained people labeled as “material witnesses” or “enemy combatants” with no judicial review. Many immigrants now live in a state of fear, where they are afraid to request help from municipal or federal services. Local police forces have been playing a larger role in enforcing federal immigration law, a vast and complex set of laws, which often stratify relations between immigrants and police even more. These exercises of power have led to a chaotic and faulty system of fighting terrorism, a system that local law enforcement may become ambivalent about supporting, in large measure because they are incapable of carrying out these orders.
Across the country, three states and 129 counties and cities have passed resolutions condemning Justice Department practices, including many provisions of the Patriot Act. These resolutions describe the ills of the current administration and identify ways that local law enforcement should act, recognizing basic civil liberties granted to people before the events of 9-11. Though many of them are symbolic, these resolutions provide support to law enforcement officials who share the burden of unjust practices mandated by the Justice Department. These resolutions also send a strong message to our Representatives that millions of people are against laws condemning freedom in the name of security.
In Syracuse, concerned citizens plan to introduce a similar resolution. The beginnings of the campaign could be seen in early June at the CNY chapter of the NY Civil Liberties Union’s Kharas Award celebration. Tim Edgar, Legislative Counsel for the ACLU in Washington, DC, spoke about the losses and triumphs of fighting the Patriot Act on Capitol Hill. He stressed the importance of grassroots organizing and that our work will add to the fervency of a national movement, as Bill of Rights Defense Campaigns are initiated across the country.
At the end of June our very own Bill Of Rights Defense Campaign was launched. In response to promotion efforts by a small planning committee, many people representing larger organizations came to participate, including members of the Islamic Society, staffers of Senator Schumer, the Syracuse Peace Council, the School of the Americas Watch, the NY Civil Liberties Union, representatives from local libraries, and many more. Several working groups were established, focusing on public outreach and education, community mobilization, and efforts to change and introduce legislation. The energy and creativity of this event was empowering and future meeting dates are in place.
September 11 was a horrific day, with thousands of innocent lives lost and a great fear and anger shared throughout the world. We will not let this tragic event end up in collateral damage on innocent people, as it has done in the past. To join in the Bill Of Rights Defense Campaign and say no to the Patriot Act and no to racial profiling is perhaps the most patriotic act that Americans can perform.

Daniel interned at the CNY chapter of the NY Civil Liberties Union last semester and will attend Antioch College in the fall.