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In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Keith Harvey, New England director of the American Friends Service Committee — the Quakers — reports that he was followed by plainclothes law-enforcement agents last August around the time of the Republican National Convention. Government officials have labeled the anti-war organization a "potential threat entity."
In Rhode Island, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was involved in the arrest of a Pawtucket resident who had failed to appear in court on a minor larceny charge. The FBI’s interest in the case might seem puzzling — except that the suspect had a Middle Eastern name.
Here, peace activist Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, recently learned that his organization had been infiltrated by government agents while he was based in Florida. "It has been happening all over the country," says Gagnon.
It is because of incidents like these that the FBI has been chosen as the worst offender among the winners — that is, the losers — of the Eighth Annual Muzzle Awards. Since July 4, 1998, the Phoenix has been dishonoring those who have done the most to suppress free speech and personal liberties in New England during the previous year. Unfortunately, there is never a shortage of candidates. So once again, we mark Independence Day by singling out those who would take away our independence.
This year, the main threat to the First Amendment isn’t necessarily censorship (although there is still plenty of that), but, rather, the state of surveillance that has arisen in post-9/11 America. In the name of protecting us from ourselves, the government has cast a wary eye on everyone who fails to march in lockstep with the agenda of our self-styled protectors. We are being followed. We are being watched. And we are being forced to give up even our precious bodily fluids, to quote from Dr. Strangelove, lest we be suspected of having committed terrible crimes.
No government agency has done more to advance this total surveillance state than the FBI. The Sons and Daughters of J. Edgar Hoover are still dealing with such dubious legacies as their harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. and their evil alliance with mass-murdering gangster James "Whitey" Bulger — but, by God, they’re going to make damn sure they protect us from the Quakers.
This past May, the ACLU took action to get to the bottom of the FBI’s activities. The national organization, as well as chapters in a number of states — including Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island — filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in an attempt to determine the nature and extent of the FBI’s spying. "We don’t want to return to the days when peaceful critics become subjects of government investigations," Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement announcing the FOIA requests. "We think the public deserves to know more about the FBI’s secret spying agreements with the local police through the Joint Terrorism Task Forces."
Maine organizations that are the subject of FOIA requests include Peace Action Maine, the Maine Coalition for Peace and Justice, Veterans for Peace, the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence, and the People’s Free Space. Among the individuals is Timothy Sullivan, who also makes a cameo in our Muzzle for the City of Augusta, which last year tried to charge Sullivan and his fellow peace activists nearly $12,000 for the right to protest against the war in Iraq.
Among the Massachusetts organizations and people on whose behalf the ACLU filed FOIA requests are the American Friends Service Committee, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the International Action Committee Boston, and such well-known local activists as former ACLU of Massachusetts director John Roberts, Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, historian Howard Zinn, and linguist Noam Chomsky.
The Rhode Island ACLU’s FOIA request does not mention any specific organizations or individuals. Rather, it seeks all documents related to activities of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in that state.
The Muzzle Awards were inspired by noted civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor Harvey Silverglate, and are named after similar awards given by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression. It was compiled by tracking freedom-of-expression stories in New England since last July 4, and is based on reporting by various news organizations — especially the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Providence Journal, and the Portland Press Herald, as well as other local and national sources — and the Phoenix newspapers in Boston, Providence, and Portland.
The other nine winners are:
DOUGLAS WOODLOCKDenounces ‘concentration camp’ protest pen — then approves it
The tiny, razor-wire-enhanced protest pen outside the FleetCenter during last July’s Democratic National Convention was such an affront to the First Amendment — that is, to "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances" — that it seems somehow inadequate to bestow only one Muzzle Award.
But if there were a single symbol of what went wrong, it was surely the actions of US District Court judge Douglas Woodlock. It would be bad enough if he just didn’t get it. Woodlock’s stance was worse than that: Through his words, he demonstrated that he understood perfectly what an affront the pen was to freedom of expression. And through his deeds, he showed that he didn’t care.
Woodlock’s tut-tutting during a pre-convention tour of the pen was aimed at reassuring skeptics about his oh-so-deep concerns. "I at first thought, before taking a view, that the characterization of the space being like a concentration camp was litigation hyperbole," he said. "Now I believe it’s an understatement." Incredibly, the judge then turned around and approved the pen, saying that, "given the constraints present at the location and the reasonable safety concerns, there is no injunctive relief that I could fashion that would vindicate plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights."
The protests at the DNC turned out to be more of a love-in than a security threat. Before issuing his ruling, Woodlock should have paid attention to Emma Lang, an activist who was amazed to hear that authorities were worried about the possibility of protesters wielding urine-filled water pistols. "I wish they’d wake up and smell the coffee on the urine thing," she said. "It’s very scary that they think of us as being that scary. If they could see what we really do is give each other hugs."
As further evidence that the First Amendment isn’t safe when Judge Woodlock is presiding, he also ruled, in December, that the Back Bay Architectural Commission had the right to ban newspaper boxes in Boston. Woodlock could have stood up for the principle of protecting free speech in the public square. Instead, he caved in to complaints that news boxes are somehow messy. Well, so is democracy.
Prosecutor pressures men to provide DNA samples
Last January, a 69-year-old retiree named Bruce Levenson explained why he willingly provided a saliva sample to law-enforcement officials in Truro, Massachusetts, as part of the three-year-old investigation into the murder of fashion writer Christa Worthington. "If it gives them one less suspect, that’s fine by me," Levenson said. "I don’t have anything to hide."
That’s precisely the sort of attitude that Michael O’Keefe, the district attorney for Cape Cod and the Islands, was counting on in his call for "voluntary" DNA testing. This stunning violation of personal liberties garnered national attention. And O’Keefe made it eminently clear what his real purpose was by saying that he’d be "compelled to look at why" any man would choose not take part. As John Reinstein, legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said, "The only thing it reasonably does is narrow down the pool of people who they ask. That does suggest that the refusal to take the test is in fact what they’re looking for."
The murder of Worthington, 46, was a shocking crime, and O’Keefe’s inability to solve it was a source of considerable frustration to the tiny Cape Cod community where she lived. But a University of Nebraska study had found that the sort of mass DNA sweep O’Keefe called for rarely produces useful information. That turned out to be the case with Worthington, too. Because on April 15, police arrested Christopher McCowen, a 33-year-old laborer who had collected trash at Worthington’s home, and charged him with the killing.
McCowen, considered a possible suspect right from the beginning, had indeed supplied a DNA sample to authorities, which is how they ultimately were able to connect him to the crime scene. But he’d provided it in March 2004 — nearly a year before O’Keefe’s office began trying to shame each of Truro’s 750 men into spitting on cue.
Those men who went along with O’Keefe’s sweep can only hope that the DA kept his promise to destroy all the samples he’d collected once the crime had been solved.
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Issue Date: July 8 - 14, 2005
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