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Fights for your rights: Melanie Trimble. Photo by John Whipple.

Give Us Back Our Liberties

Civil-liberties advocates pleaded their case to the Albany Common Council this week, condemning the USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act for infringing on citizens’ basic constitutional freedoms.

As reported last week [Newsfront, March 13], Alderman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) presented the Common Council Monday with a resolution asking federal and local law-enforcement within the city not to infringe on its citizens’ constitutional rights while engaged in terrorism-related investigations. The resolution was sent to committee for further review before a vote will be taken.

Critics of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act often point to the “slippery slope” theory—the fear that powers granted by the act to combat terrorism could be expanded over time by the federal government and used to repress public dissent.

“You can see it happening,” Calsolaro said, referring to an event in Montpelier, Vt., on March 5, where high school students staged a walkout to protest the war in Iraq. Local police officers were seen taking pictures of the students involved in the peaceful protest.

“These people aren’t doing anything wrong. Why are you taking pictures of them?” Calsolaro wondered. “It’s a deterrent for people coming out to protest. People have a right to protest.”

The city of Montpelier apparently agreed. On March 12, the City Council decided to have the photos destroyed. It also came to the conclusion that the police should not have been taking the photos in the first place, according to a March 13 article in Times Argus.

Calsolaro also expressed concern over the fact that the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act can allow law-enforcement officials to investigate individuals who are not suspected of an actual crime.

“I shouldn’t be stopped or have a search warrant put on me to see what books I’m reading [because] I’m a member of a club or a church or a religion,” Calsolaro said. “I just don’t think it’s right.”

Calsolaro said he has heard from many people in the region expressing their concern over the federal legislation.

Melanie Trimble, Executive Director of New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) Capital Region Chapter, spoke at the public hearing.

“We feel that if local communities rise up and say . . . this P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act was pushed through Congress without any public hearings or debate, and we feel they went too far,” Trimble said. “The provisions in the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act that are unconstitutional should not be supported by local enforcement agencies.”

Nationwide, 71 cities have passed resolutions against the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, according to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (www.bordc.org).

—John Gallagher


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