Headlines: U.S. Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites; Obama: U.S. Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charges

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites; Obama: U.S. Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charges

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

AIG to Pay Out $450 Million in Bonuses

The failed insurance giant AIG is preparing to pay out $450 million in bonuses to top executives and other employees despite receiving a $173 billion government bailout. The bonuses include over $165 million to executives in the Financial Products unit, which lost $40 billion last year and played a major role in the meltdown of the global financial system. AIG is paying out the bonuses even though it is now 80 percent owned by the US government. On Sunday, Lawrence Summers, the director of the White House National Economic Council, described the bonuses as outrageous, but he said the bonuses are part of a contract.

Lawrence Summers: “We are a country of law. There are contracts. The government cannot just abrogate contracts. Every legal step possible to limit those bonuses is being taken by Secretary Geithner and by the Federal Reserve system.”

AIG’s new chief executive Edward Liddy justified the bonuses, saying AIG would have trouble attracting and retaining talent “if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the US Treasury.”

AIG Lists Banks It Gave Bailout Money To

Meanwhile, AIG has disclosed for the first time the names of the financial institutions that benefited from the government’s $173 billion bailout. Goldman Sachs was the largest recipient at nearly $13 billion. Over $35 billion was also paid out to foreign banks including Societe Generale of France, Deutsche Bank of Germany, Barclays of Britain and UBS of Switzerland.

FMLN’s Mauricio Funes Wins El Salvador Election

In El Salvador, leftist presidential candidate Mauricio Funes has claimed victory, ending twenty years of conservative rule. Funes’s party, the FMLN, is a former guerrilla group that fought El Salvador’s US-backed military government for close to twenty years. Funes defeated Rodrigo Avila of the ARENA party by three percentage points. During a victory speech, Funes promised “safe change” in the mold of Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Mauricio Funes: “That is why I invite, from this moment, different social and political forces to help us build this unity, which should be based on tolerance, on respecting differences and the identification of common objectives.”

Pakistan Reinstates Sacked Chief Justice

In an attempt to defuse a growing political crisis, the Pakistani government has announced the reinstatement of Iftikhar Chaudhry, the deposed chief justice. The move comes as Pakistan was facing mass streets protests against the rule of President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto. On Friday, Zardari ordered Pakistan’s main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to be placed under house arrest. Sharif defied the order and held a large protest in Lahore on Sunday. Sharif was threatening to march to Islamabad, but the protest was called off after the government announced the reinstatement of Chaudhry. Chaudhry and sixty other judges were dismissed in 2007 by former president General Pervez Musharraf.

Israeli Troops Shoot US Activist in West Bank

An American activist from Oakland, California was critically injured Friday when Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister directly at his head during a weekly nonviolent protest against the wall in the West Bank village of N’alin. Thirty-seven-year-old Tristan Anderson is the fourth member of the International Solidarity Movement to be critically injured or killed by the Israeli military since 2003.

Jonathan Pollack of the ISM: “He was shot at directly with a tear gas projectile, with an extended range tear gas projectile from about fifty to sixty meters. And the impact caused several condensed fractures to his skull and collapsation of his eye socket. He was operated on in the hospital a few hours later in critical condition, and large portions of his frontal lobe had to be removed, because it was splattered with bone fragments as a result of the impact of the tear gas canister.”

During their weekly demonstrations since last April, four unarmed N’alin residents have been killed and over 400 injured by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Red Cross Report: US Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites

The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report two years ago that the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners “constituted torture” in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The findings were based on interviews with prisoners once held in the CIA’s secret black sites. The Red Cross said the fourteen prisoners held in the CIA prisons gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding. The author Mark Danner published parts of the secret Red Cross report in the New York Review of Books. Danner said the Red Cross’s use of the word “torture” has important legal implications. Danner said, “It could not be more important that the ICRC explicitly uses the words ‘torture’ and ‘cruel and degrading.’ The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words, they have the force of law.”

Cheney: Obama Policies Are Making US Less Safe

Hours after excerpts of the Red Cross report were published, former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on CNN. He was asked whether he believed President Obama was making Americans less safe by abandoning some of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism techniques.

Dick Cheney: “I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles. President Obama campaigned against it all across the country. And now he’s making some choices that, in my mind, will in fact raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”

Obama: US Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charge

Dick Cheney’s comments came days after the Obama administration said it will no longer consider prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to be enemy combatants. Despite abandoning the label, the administration claims it still has the right to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge even if the individual is captured far from any battlefield and has not directly participated in hostilities.

Madoff Lawyers File an Appeal for his Release

Attorneys for Bernard Madoff have filed an appeal to challenge a judge’s decision to keep the former chairman of NASDAQ in jail until his sentencing in June. On Thursday, Madoff pleaded guilty to running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding investors of $64 billion. He faces up to 150 years in prison. Meanwhile, newly released court documents show Madoff and his wife had a net worth of over $800 million at the end of last year. Their assets included homes in Manhattan, Palm Beach and the French Riviera, a $7 million yacht, a $2 million fishing boat and $2.6 million in jewelry. Madoff’s wife is trying to keep nearly $70 million worth of assets, including a penthouse Manhattan apartment, claiming her money has nothing to do with her husband’s scheme.

China Expresses Concern over Safety of US Investments

In other economic news, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has publicly expressed concern about the security of China’s trillion-dollar investment in US government debt. Wen said, “We have lent a huge amount of money to the US. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets.” China is America’s biggest foreign creditor.

European Lawmakers Meet with Hamas Leader in Syria

On Saturday, a European delegation met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus in the first announced visit of a European delegation to meet with Hamas leaders. Members of the delegation included British Parliamentarian Clare Short.

Clare Short: “We’re very clear that to make progress we need to talk to Hamas, because they represent a big proportion of the Palestinian people. So we’re trying, by our visit, to bring more and more parliamentarians to open up discussion with Hamas in order to move things forward in the hope that we can, in the end, get a just peace.”

Two Israeli Police Officers Shot Dead in West Bank

Two Israeli police officers were shot dead on Sunday near the settlement of Masu’a in the northern West Bank. An organization calling itself the “Imad Mughniyeh Group” claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban Bomb Kills Four US Soldiers

In Afghanistan, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for setting a roadside bomb that killed four US soldiers on Sunday. Meanwhile, the mayor of Kandahar survived an assassination attempt Sunday when a remote-controlled bomb was place on a wheelbarrow near his office. The bombing killed one person and injured six others.

US Missile Strike Kills Four in Pakistan

The US has carried out another missile strike inside Pakistan. A US Predator drone fired two hellfire missiles at a home near the Afghan border. The strike reportedly killed four militants.

Hilda Solis Sworn in as Labor Secretary

Former California Congresswoman Hilda Solis has been sworn in as Labor Secretary. In her first day in office, Solis announced the suspension of Bush administration rules that made it easier for companies to hire immigrants as so-called guest workers. Solis said today’s economic climate makes educating workers more important.

Hilda Solis: “In times of economic crisis, giving Americans the tools they need to find and keep good jobs must be our priority. Now, more than ever, we must help workers by prioritizing job training and assistance. Retooling our workforce not only helps workers but supports high growth industries by ensuring they have the adequate skills that workers need.”

New Mexico Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

New Mexico has moved a step closer to abolishing the death penalty. On Friday, the state senate voted 24-to-18 to end capital punishment, but it is unclear if Democratic Governor Bill Richardson will sign the repeal bill.

Vermont Considers Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

In Vermont, hearings begin today on whether the state should legalize same-sex marriage.

14 Anti-Coal Activists Arrested in Tennessee

In Tennessee, fourteen anti-coal activists were arrested Saturday as they participated in a die-in in front of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s headquarters in Knoxville. Organizers said the action was held to show solidarity with communities affected by the destructive impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining and the survivors of the recent coal ash disaster outside of Knoxville.

Arizona’s Oldest Newspaper, Tucson Citizen, to Close

And in Arizona, the state’s oldest newspaper, the Tucson Citizen, has announced its final issue will be on Saturday. The paper is owned by the Gannet chain. Meanwhile, members of the San Francisco Chronicle’s largest union have agreed to contract concessions that parent company Hearst Corporation says are essential to keeping the newspaper open.

Grand Rapids Surveillance Camera Map Featured on ACLU Site

Grand Rapids Surveillance Camera Map Featured on ACLU Site

An older MediaMouse.org project–a map of surveillance cameras in downtown Grand Rapids–has been featured on the homepage of YouAreBeingWatched.us. While we’re not big on self-promotion, it seemed worth mentioning as means of highlighting an older MediaMouse.org project as well as the larger issue of surveillance that motivated the project.

YouAreBeingWatched.us is a website launched by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to “spotlight the high costs of camera surveillance systems, both in terms of money and civil liberties.” The ACLU provides a useful summary of the issue:

“An increasing number of American cities and towns are investing millions of taxpayer dollars in surveillance camera systems. But few are closely examining the costs and benefits of those investments, or creating mechanisms for measuring those costs and benefits over time. There is extensive academic literature on the subject — studies carried out over many years — and that research demonstrates that video surveillance has no statistically significant effect on crime rates.

The bottom line is: Are cameras worth the cost in terms of money and civil liberties? Cities and states are still wasting limited security budget dollars on camera surveillance systems. In the last five years, the US Department of Homeland Security had handed out about $300 million in grants for camera surveillance systems. These funds could have gone toward hiring more experienced police officers, improving equipment for first-responders so that they can be ready to help in cases of emergency or other such security needs.

And consider the civil liberty costs of video surveillance systems. Video surveillance technology will only grow more sophisticated. There will come a day when the cameras will be routinely linked with other technologies in attempt to instantly identify you and me via face recognition, RFIDs, or other technologies. Do we want a society where an innocent individual can’t walk down the street without being considered a potential criminal? Do we want a society where people are comfortable with constant surveillance?”

The site publishes recent news articles about video surveillance, background information, and state-level information.

An example of the state-level news highlighting is shown by the website’s linking to an article in The Muskegon Chronicle that highlights a new camera deployed in one of the city’s parks.

The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 there have been numerous books that have tried to articulate not only the reasons for the attacks, but also what has changed in the US since. The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot is one of the more recent books that seek to put America in context since those planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Naomi Wolf wrote this book, which is presented in short chapters; to a young man she knows who recently became married in the United States. Wolf had been thinking about the state of the country and says in the preface that she “could no longer ignore the echoes between events in the past and forces at work today.” By echoes, the author means the current policies of the U.S. government “are mirrored in history.” The author uses bits of information to make comparisons between the current U.S. administration and Nazi Germany, with an occasional comparison to Stalinist Russia. Wolf admits this is not an academic book; she is only trying to get people to see the urgency of what is happening in the U.S. and to stir people to action.

Making comparisons to any former government, but particularly to Nazi Germany is a difficult undertaking. I think that this is something that will cause some people to dismiss the book as trite and superficial. There indeed may be broad comparisons, but the public perception of what happened in Nazi Germany is so distorted that to make comparisons can create more misunderstanding than clarity. However, I could see what Wolf was attempting to do by looking at these historical echoes as a means to challenge readers to think about the seriousness of where the country is headed. The historical comparisons are not what are problematic about the book; rather it is this notion that these policy changes in the U.S. only began with 9/11 and under the Bush administration. Some sectors of dissidents have been spied on and targeted for the past century in the U.S., not only recently as the author suggests. The Clinton administration shifted policy in the 1990s to the degree that it paved the way for the Bush administration policies to become reality. Critics of the book my also dismiss it as just more partisan bashing, even though Wolf does not express any sympathy or allegiance to the Democrats.

Looking beyond any of these criticisms the book is well-written in that it is not attempting to provide tons of data to support the author’s argument. Wolf is writing in 2007 and with a sense that something is seriously wrong about what is happening in this country. In some ways The End of America is a clarion call for people to wake up and realize that some of the fundamental rights and principles we learned in civics class are eroding for most of us and for others they have been completely eliminated. Wolf does a good job of acknowledging that those of us who are privileged along race and class lines are not at risk to the same degree that Arabs, Muslims and immigrants are today, but we should not wait to act until things get worse.

Much of the book provides recent incidents of how government policy should concern us all. She talks about professors being targeted for critiquing U.S. policy, the creation of a climate of fear, secret prisons, the use of paramilitary forces, the monitoring of citizens, manipulation of the press, and undermining the rule of law. If readers are not familiar with these issues, then the book will be a wake up call about the dangerous times we live in. However, it is written in such a way that it will leave readers wanting, wanting more information, more conversation, more evidence that our rights are being eroded. Even the seasoned historian and activist may find this book useful and refreshing. I think the strength of Naomi Wolf’s book is her ability to convey the urgency of these issue as if you were talking to someone who only had a rudimentary understanding of current events. Too often when trying to motivate people that we come across in our every day lives we try to hit them over the head with what it is that we are passionate about. Activists and organizers can learn a lesson about how to communicate issues of urgency without sounding like the sky is falling. The End of America can be a useful tool to arm people for the struggle ahead of us.

Naomi Wolf, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).

Speaker Addresses “The Threat of the Religious Right to Our Modern Freedoms”

On Wednesday night, Edward Tabash–the chair of the national legal committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State–discussed the Religious Right’s impact on civil liberties. Unfortunately, Tabash’s talk presented a fairly simple analysis of the Religious Right.

On Wednesday night, the Center for Inquiry of Michigan held a presentation titled “The Threat of the Religious Right to Our Modern Freedoms.” The presentation–held at the Women’s City Club in downtown Grand Rapids–featured a lecture by attorney Edward Tabash, who is the chair of the national legal committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a board member at the Center for Inquiry, and a chair of the Council for Secular Humanism’s First Amendment Task Force.

Tabash began his talk by telling the audience that the country faces a stark choice–it can be either a modern secular society or a theocracy. He said that the Religious Right is seeking to establish a government that will favor the rights of believers over non-believers. According to Tabash, there are currently four justices on the United States Supreme Court who would vote to give preferences to believers. Tabash asserted that the current split on the Supreme Court is of the utmost importance and he repeatedly stressed that the make-up of the Supreme Court is an essential battleground for those fighting the Religious Right.

Tabash continued by stating that the Religious Right has attempted to bolster its position that believers should get preference over non-believers by claiming that the United States was founded as a “Christian Nation” based on religious principles. However, Tabash challenged this interpretation of history by explaining that the intent behind the First Amendment and the so-called “Founding Fathers.” He reminded the audience that there is no mention of God in the United States Constitution and that there is only one mention of religion (which is negative). James Madison–the primary author of the First Amendment–repeatedly expressed his opposition to granting preference to people of religious faith. In addition to citing a number of specific statements, Tabash told the crowd that the Senate rejected alternate language for the First Amendment that would have given preference to believers.

Tabash argued that the Religious Right has been able to take over the Republican party and use it to steer the country towards its agenda over the past twenty-seven years. While this is partially true, the Religious Right’s relationship with the Republican Party is somewhat tenuous and fluctuates between embrace and rejection, as can be seen this year in the Religious Right’s debate over the Republican candidates for the GOP’s presidential nomination. To prove his assertion, Tabash cited many statements by prominent Republican politicians, including Reagan’s 1984 statement that “America needs God more than God needs America, the Texas Republican Party’s assertion that the United States is a Christian Nation, and President George W. Bush’s July 2004 assertion that God speaks through him. During the question and answer period, Tabash downplayed the debate within the Religious Right over which candidate to endorse for president, claiming that the Religious Right is using the debate to push candidates further to the right while knowing that they already have “what counts” in terms of getting judges sympathetic with the Religious Right nominated.

Tabash briefly outlined a few areas in which the Religious Right has been active, including opposition to contraception, abortion, public schools, LGBT rights, sex education, and faith-based initiatives. In all of these areas, the Religious Right seeks to preference the rights and beliefs of people of faith over non-believers while imposing their theocratic agenda on the rest of the country. Tabash said that in order to challenge the Religious Right, people of diverse backgrounds have to come together to ensure the separation of church and state. According to Tabash, the best way to challenge the Religious Right is to ensure that the next President will appoint Supreme Court justices and lower court judges respecting separation. He said that one more Religious Right judge will shift the country from a secular society to a theocracy.

Unfortunately, Tabash’s analysis of the Religious Right was fairly simplistic and his presentation lacked much of the nuance in analysis that could have helped people more effectively combat the agenda of the right. Throughout his presentation, Tabash only mentioned two organizations–Focus on the Family and Moral Majority–and made little mention of specifics about either organization. He did cite outlandish quotes from Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell–a common tactic by opponents of the Religious Right–but he failed to place these quotes within the larger context of how the Religious Right is able to effectively organize and mobilize people. Unfortunately, his comments created the impression that the Religious Right is simply “crazy” rather than explaining how they are actually strategic–and frequently shrewd–organizers. A more serious appraisal of the Religious Right briefly came through when he mentioned that the Religious Right has a wealth of legal organizations dedicated to overturning separations of church and state. This comment was made within the context of a controversy in Berkley, Michigan over the display of a government sponsored nativity scene.

Moreover, Tabash’s presentation made no mention of the local Religious Right. The West Michigan Religious Right has provided millions of dollars to Religious Right organizations in Michigan and the United States more generally, and has arguably been a significant force in the development of the right’s agenda. Had Tabash mentioned these connections, he could have grounded his talk in the local community, while at the same time, a discussion the diversity of Religious and other Far Right groups supported by prominent families that constitute the Religious Right in West Michigan would have pushed Tabash towards a more comprehensive analysis.

Forum Addresses Banned Books, Free Speech and the Patriot Act

On Tuesday, Schuler Books held a forum as part of “Banned Books Week” examining banned books, free speech, the PATRIOT Act, and civil liberties.

banned books week graphic

On Tuesday, October 10, Schuler Books hosted a forum as part of their Banned Books Week” activities. The panel discussion included Christopher Finan, author of From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America. Finan spoke first and was followed by Marcia Warner with the Grand Rapids Public Library, Mary Bejan with the ACLU, and Ander Monson a professor at Grand Valley State University (GVSU).

Finan said he began writing his book three years ago after growing concerns with the USA Patriot Act. He said he thought it was important to tell people not to despair, “that we will not lose our civil liberties and that if anything our civil liberties have grown over the past 100 years.” Finan then gave examples of how during the time of the Abolitionists, the early Suffragettes, and the early Labor movement there was serious backlash when there wasn’t much support for free speech. It wasn’t until WWI that free speech fights brought forth free speech rights, in part because of the crackdown on rights. Finan gave the example of anti-war advocates and Eugene Debs http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Heroes/EugeneDebsSocialism.html , who was jailed for criticizing the war. It was at this time that a man by the name of Roger Baldwin, who was impressed by the courage of anti-war voices and the Wobblies, became involved in fighting for free speech rights. Within a few years, Baldwin and others formed the American Civil Liberties Union.

Finan also said that libraries and librarians have a history of dealing with literature that was “questionable.” For example, some librarians would hide books that had sexual content in the hopes that no one who sought to ban them would find them. Literary battles finally lead to the Supreme Court making some decisions in favor of free speech, but the McCarthy Era quickly followed that. The author said that today “We are indebted to thousands of librarians who have stood up against some of the provision in the USA Patriot Act.”

At this point WGVU radio talk show host Shelly Irwin asked a question of the panel. She cited recent news coverage about the Grand Rapids Public Schools wanting to limit the text of some books that dealt with sexual content. Marcia Warner with the Grand Rapids Public Library said that the best thing to do is to inform the parents and let them make a decision. Mary Bejan with the ACLU said this issue is not just about the courts, but depends on community reaction and organizing to defend free speech. She thought that it was interesting that people are still trying to get books banned from public libraries and school libraries and gives the example of the Harry Potter book series and other children’s books. Ander Monson of GVSU said “as a writer, banning books is always an issue of concern, particularly when recent studies show that reading is down amongst children.” Finan said that banning books is really important and it is interesting that people are still shocked that there are efforts to ban books. He said that there are 500-600 challenges to banning books every year, but that most are not successful. He said that one of the books that are always targeted is titled And Tango Makes Three; a children’s book about two male penguins who raise a penguin egg.

Marcia Warner said that the Grand Rapids Public Library has literature setup by age appropriate categories, but they do not prohibit anyone from checking out anything. The burden of responsibility lies with the parents, she said. Finan said school curriculum is generally being determined by education professionals, “when there is a challenge to that judgment, we don’t disagree with parents rights on the material when it comes to their kids, but we don’t agree with parents who want to make that decision for all children.

Another question that was raised had to do with censorship of other media. Finan said that the medium that is most attacked is video games. At least half of a dozen states have passed laws restricting access based on violence and sex in video games, but the federal government has struck down all six. He said there have also been attempts to censor the Internet, even by Congress, but the Supreme Court has struck that down. There are persistent efforts to censor media, according to Finan. He cited the example of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl, which happened 50 years ago. “Because of the current FCC regulations on obscenities some broadcasters have decided to not have it read on air.”

Someone from the audience asked how will censorship effect how people view future generations. Finan said, “We don’t know our own stories, stories of people who have fought to protect speech. We need to learn and tell those stories.” He gave the recent example from 2004 of librarians in Washington state who were threatened by the FBI with arrest when they refused to give the names of people who had checked out a book about Osama bin Laden.

Another question was asked about the comparison of the McCarthy era to the current political climate. Finan said that we are doing pretty well at fighting back. Civil libertarians were up against harsher consequences then than now. He said they really went after people for their affiliations and for even attending an event or function that was critical of the government. This was particularly the case for artists, writers, filmmakers and actors. He said that people were blacklisted and targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

Ander Moson was asked if textbooks at the college level are censored. He said there are pressures, but that he personally has never experienced any kind of censorship. Mary Bejan said that there has been growing pressure on content and courses taught at the university level and cited Lynne Cheney’s group the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), which has been targeting university professors. Bejan also stated that many anti-war activists, Arab and Muslim groups have been targeted and that the ACLU has been active in defending those free speech rights, particularly of anti-war groups.

By way of concluding Finan said that some recent victories have been gained against the Patriot Act, but there are many battles to still be fought. Other panelists encouraged the audience to think critically, to speak out, and join groups that are working to defend free speech.

East Grand Rapids Changes Ordinance as Result of Anti-war Protest

On Monday, March 19 the City of East Grand Rapids changed an ordinance that previously prohibited people from picketing in any residential area of that city. The Western Michigan branch of the ACLU looked into the legality of such an ordinance after they discovered that protestors were told they could not have a demonstration in a residential area of East Grand Rapids. The protest was held last fall near the house of GOP supporter Peter Secchia, who was hosting a political fundraiser that included Vice President Cheney. The demonstration was targeting Cheney’s ongoing support for the war in Iraq.

In December the ACLU sent the City of East Grand Rapids a letter that challenged the ordinance with the following statement:

A decision of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the validity of ordinances of this type is Vittitow v. City of Upper Arlington 43 F.3d 1100 (C.A.6, 1995). Under Vittitow the East Grand Rapids ordinance is unconstitutional and its application to the GOP event was a violation of the demonstrators’ constitutional rights. Individuals have a constitutional right to express their views in residential neighborhoods through demonstrations, picketing and other peaceful methods as long as they walk up and down through the block. This is especially true when a home in a residential area is used for a partisan political event attended by a national figure. After all, if residential privacy is a concern, an event of this type could be held elsewhere.

African American Community Responds to Club Raid

On Wednesday, 150 people met at the Sheldon Complex to talk about a recent police raid of a nightclub frequented by African Americans. The meeting was held for the community to learn more about their legal rights when dealing with the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) and as a forum for discussing both the recent raid and ongoing relations between the GRPD and the African American community.

On Wednesday, April 5 about 150 people filled Sheldon Complex to talk about a recent raid of Stingers Club by the Grand Rapids Police Department. Local radio talk show host Robert S. moderated the event, along with 2 area attorneys who have come forward to offer free legal assistance to the 100 people who were arrested or ticketed during the police raid. Robert S. began the meeting by pointing out that there are few places that “Blacks feel comfortable to go and listen to music like R & B. Ask yourselves, how many places are there in town that we can go to and then asks yourselves how many options White people have to listen to music, especially places they feel safe?”

But the focus was on the recent police raid at Stinger’s Club, a private motorcycle club. During the public comment period dozens of people came forward to offer testimony about what happened to them and what others witnessed that night. One woman, who claims she was pregnant was arrested and handcuffed. She was then placed in a police van and then taken to the Kent County Jail. She told the audience that she was in handcuffs for nearly 5 hours. She told the police that she wasn’t feeling well and was concerned about her baby, but was ignored. While sitting in a holding cell at the jail, she again expressed discomfort and that she was pregnant, but no medical care was offered. Then the woman said she had a miscarriage. When she went to hear preliminary hearing at the court they said she had to charges against her. Several other people who were arrested and ticketed also said that when the showed up at the court house their paperwork was no where to be found.

Several others that spoke talked about police abuse, being thrown to the ground, kicked in the ribs and having their heads hit the concrete. All of the defendants were asked by the lawyers to provide them with contact information and to provide written testimony on what was done to them and what they witnessed being done to others. Lawyers also fielded questions and stressed that the more people that came forward to testify the better they would be able to defend those arrested.

Robert S. also provided a document to those in attendance, which consisted of a list of legal rights that people should be aware of as well as tactics when dealing with the police, particularly on the issue of hindering and opposing. Several times Robert S. said that “we want to cooperate with the police.” The lawyers also expressed the importance of cooperating with the police and that the battle should be fought in the court room. Several of those in attendance made comments about how “we won’t find justice there.” At the end of the meeting there was also comments made from neighborhood organizers about the need to make it a policy to have police officers live in Grand Rapids to overcome the “disconnect to the community.” Others stressed the need to engage elected officials and to get more people registered to vote as a long term strategy for change. Again, several people in the audience expressed that this would not matter.


Disguised as “National Security” the Bush administration, headed by the ever-watching John Ashcroft, continues to strip away our civil liberties. In the PATRIOT ACT II (among other measures taken by the administration) many of the loopholes left by the first PATRIOT ACT- devastating enough for civil liberties- have been closed and it is now easier for the government to completely overstep the boundaries of individual privacy and civil liberties.

More Information:

Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-Terrorism Measures Threaten Our Civil Liberties

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

This short book examining how post-September 11 anti-terrorism measures threaten our civil liberties is a part of Seven Stories’ Open Media Series. The book is a 138-page look at how the USA PATRIOT Act, passed without any serious debate in the House and Senate in October of 2001, undermines constitutional guarantees including free speech, due process, and many others.

While the first chapter has a few too many superlatives for my liking, describing the Constitution and the “Founding Fathers” as possessing a certain “genius,” the book is an excellent introduction to the problems inherent in the USA PATRIOT Act. Ms. Chang also briefly explains the wider historical context of past campaigns aimed at politicial dissent–something that is essential if one is to understand the USA PATRIOT Act. Among those topics, she covers the Sedition Act of 1798, the Espionage Act of 1917, and COINTELPRO in the 1960s and 1970s.

While most of this information is readily available on the Internet, it is nice to have it in a more readable printed format.

Nancy Chang, Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-Terrorism Measures Threaten Our Civil Liberties, (Seven Stories Press, 2002).