San Antonio citizens urge City to uphold civil rights

A host of patriots queued up at last week's City Council meeting, urging elected officials to pass a resolution opposing the Patriot Act, legislation passed by U.S. Congress to ostensibly strengthen national security, but instead effectively suppresses the civil rights of U.S. citizens.

But Council wouldn't commit to adopting the Patriot Act resolution, except to consider it at a future meeting.

However, District 5 Councilwoman Patti Radle did take a stand. "One June 1, we took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution," she said. "I would support this resolution."

The Patriot Act is an invasive piece of legislation, passed by Congress in October 2001; some members of Congress later admitted to not having read the act before they voted on it.

The Patriot Act does the following:

Allows the President of the United States to label those who oppose the government as enemy combatants, who can be jailed indefinitely without an attorney or access to the courts.

Permits the FBI to conduct unmonitored electronic surveillance to search property without warrants or notifying a suspect of the search.

Provides federal agents access to citizens' personal, medical, library, and educational records without judicial oversight.

Gives the government the leeway to label free speech proponents as terrorists, and even to strip individuals of their U.S. citizenship.

War veteran Placido Salazar called for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's resignation, and reminded Council that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party adopted their own version of the Patriot Act. "Too many people have shed their blood for liberties and their rights," Salazar said. "People have died because they dared to voice their opinion against those that would trample their rights. We need to elect those who would defend, not destroy, our rights."

Civil libertarians presented Council the resolution, which "affirms its (the city) support of fundamental constitutional rights and its opposition to federal measures that infringe on these rights and liberties ... and affirms its strong support for the rights of immigrants and opposition to measures that single out individuals for legal scrutiny or enforcement activity based on their country of origin."

The resolution calls for the city to direct local law enforcement agencies to refrain from "illegal and unconstitutional enforcement of federal immigration laws," `see related Current story "Fear of an Immigrant Planet"`, to refrain from monitoring groups or individuals, to avoid using race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin in selecting people to be investigated or apprehended. It also would require law enforcement to refrain participating in the Terrorist Prevention System, which "encourages members of the general public to spy on their family and friends, neighbors, colleagues, or customers," to "refrain from the practice of stopping drivers or pedestrians for the purpose of scrutinizing their identification without reasonable and particularized suspicion of criminal activity."

The resolution contains language that would require public schools to notify people whose education records have been seized by authorities, and would require the public library to post a warning notice that patrons' records are subject to scrutiny. A county official in charge of homeland security in San Antonio would be required to report names of residents arrested or detained by the feds in terrorism investigations, including the location of detainees, their whereabouts, and the charges made against them.

It would require reports citing the number of search warrants executed under the Patriot Act, the extent of electronic surveillance and federal monitoring of political meetings, religious gatherings, and other constitutionally protected activities.

Councilman Julián Castro said he looked forward to reading the resolution, while Councilman Art Hall wanted to know how many states have adopted similar resolutions. Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont, have adopted resolutions, as have 222 cities and towns, including Denver, Sacramento, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

"Being a patriot is more than saluting the flag or saying the pledge," Steve Johnson said. "The future is doomed when the past is ignored." •

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