Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pages From History: MECAWI's Campaign Against Political Surveillance in Detroit

PANW Editor's Note: During the months following the US invasion of Iraq, thousands of law-enforcement agencies across the United States were directed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to engage in surveillance against the anti-war movement. The Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) was a victim of this policy in October of 2003 during a march down Woodward avenue. MECAWI's formal complaint to the Detroit City Council resulted in a meeting where police were asked about their surveillance policy. As a result the department rewrote its official policy ostensibly prohibiting political spying on social justice organizations. Below are the transcripts of statements made before the City Council by PANW editor Abayomi Azikwe and MECAWI organizer David Sole. Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild also addressed the Council on this subject.
Statement to the Detroit City Council Opposing Law-
Enforcement Surveillance of the Anti-War Movement
Delivered on February 13, 2004

By Abayomi Azikiwe,
Organizer for the Michigan Coalition Against War & Injustice

First of all I wish to thank the Detroit City Council for
convening this meeting today. The erosion of civil liberties
and civil rights under the current administration in
Washington, D.C. is a serious concern for all peace and
freedom-loving people throughtout the country. Consequently,
we appreciate your show of concern as it relates to the
issues brought before you by the petitioner, Mr. David Sole
resulting from the activities of police officers on September
27, 2003 during a peaceful demonstration opposing the war in
Iraq on Woodward avenue and Grand Circus Park.

Since the events surrounding the World Trade Organization
(WTO) meetings in Seattle in December of 1999, there has been
an escalation in attacks on the rights of individuals, groups
and movements to gather and protest against the oppressive
conditions we face under an increasingly globalized world
under the domination of the United State Government. Events
in Washington, D.C. in April of 2000 outside meetings of the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, where
hundreds of mainly youthful demonstrators were arrested and
brutalized by D.C. police represented a continuation of what
happened in Seattle months before, where law-enforcement
officers used excessive force, including chemical warfare to
clear thousands of anti-globalization activists from the

This pattern continued in June of 2000, when hundreds
protested the Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit held in
Windsor. The city of Detroit reportedly spent over $5 million
dollars to monitor and suppress these demonstrations. Dozens
of peaceful activists were arrested during the first day of
action surrounding the FTAA summit for riding bicycles in the
downtown area. The then Mayor of the city held a press
conference where he denounced the mostly young activists
as "anarchists" and "communists" and warned city residents
not to participate in the demonstrations which sought to
highlight the growing economic crisis in the United States
and consequently the city of Detroit and state of Michigan.

However, after the assumption of power by the Bush
administration in January of 2001, resulting in the
disenfranchment of tens of thousands of mainly African-
American, Hispanic-American and Senior voters in the state of
Florida, a stepping-up of harassment and surveillance of
governmental critics occured. This speaker attended the
counter-inaugural demonstrations in the nation's capital in
January of 2001, where well over 100,000 people came out into
the streets to protest the right-wing coup launched by the
U.S. Supreme Court. The entire security for the anti-Bush
protest activity was supervised by the director of Secret
Service who attempted to block legally permitted
demonstrators from entering Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania
avenue in Washington.

Moreover, after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the
Bush administration was granted a green light to change the
entire fabric of American jurisprudence by conducting mass
arrests and indefinite detentions of immigrant groups from
predominantly Muslim countries. Many of these individuals
remain in custody and hundreds have been deported. Some have
also been assassinated by government hit squads in Yemen and
other countries outside the U.S. Today hundreds remain in
concentration camp conditions at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba,
where even children are denied the right to legal
representation and due process. It is important to also note
that many of the people who are now being detained as "enemy
combatants" are American citizens and permanent residents of
the country. Consequently, having legal American citizenship
does not protect one's rights in the United States in Bush's
so-called "War on Terrorism."

Our concern in MECAWI is that the domestic and foreign policy
imperatives of the Bush administration not be used here in
our city to deny the rights of individuals and groups. On
October 15, 2003, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued
a memorandum to over 17,000 law-enforcement agencies
throughout the United States indicating that the upcoming
national demonstrations held on October 25, 2003 in
Washington, D.C. and San Francisco should be monitored for
possible terrorism links. These demonstrations, which were
legally permitted gathering, were targeted for politica
surveillance and disruption on a national level.

According to the October 15, 2003 FBI memo: "While the FBI
possesses no information indicating that violent or terrorist
activities are being planned as part of these protests, the
possibility exists that elements of the activist community
may attempt to engage in violent, destructive, or disruptive
acts." Such statements by the chief law-enforcement agency
in the country which is disseminated to police department
across the nation is extremely misleading and can cause
extreme harm to law-abiding citizens who wish to exercise
their democratic rights supposedly guaranteed under the first
and forth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Despite the issuance of a statement by the FBI denied such
actions were aimed at curtailing individual rights and
liberties, two major events should be cited to illustrate the
impact of such information being circulated on a national
level. The demonstrations in Miami in November against the
FTAA were attacked by the local police where union members,
youth and retirees were beaten, gassed and arrested in mass.
What came to light later was that $8 Million of the $87.5
Billion supplemental war allocation approved by the U.S.
Congress last fall was utilized to supress the demonstrations
in Miami.

More recently, in Des Moines, Iowa, Federal Prosecutors on
Tuesday "withdrew a subpoena ordering Drake University to
turn over a list of people involved in an antiwar forum in
November, as well as subpoenas ordering four activists to
testify before a grand jury."(AP report, Feb. 11, 2004) Such
actions are clearly designed to carry out the domestic and
foreign policy agenda of the Bush administration.

We are calling upon the Detroit City Council to reject such
an approach during this critical period of our history as a
nation. There should at least be a law which prohibits law-
enforcement from engaging in political surveillance of
legally protected peaceful activity. Adopting such an
ordinance would send a strong message to the Bush
administration that the people of this city reject the false
demonization of dissent and protest.

Abayomi Azikiwe

Statement by David Sole

(Petitioner from the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War &
Injustice) to Detroit City Council, Feb. 13, 2004

On September 27, 2003 hundreds of Detroiters gathered to protest the U.S. colonial invasion and occupation of Iraq. We were there with a permit issued by this very Council who polled the Police Department, Recreation Department, DOT and other concerned departments for their input. We were engaged in an activity that has the sanction of the highest law of this nation – exercising our Constitutionally guaranteed rights to assemble and speak.

It isn’t always easy or popular to speak out on an issue or to march
down Woodward Avenue. Many people feel somewhat intimidated,
understandably so, because disagreement with the policies of the Bush administration has been branded, by some, to be as bad as terrorism.

So you can imagine our anger and outrage when three Detroit plainclothes police officers with video cameras approached our gathering site. They didn’t limit themselves to a group shot. No, they came right up to individuals and stuck the camera into peoples’ faces.

What is the purpose of this behavior? Police Chief Bully-Cummings said in her November 26 reply to Council’s inquiry that it was for “strategic planning” and to “enable the department to efficiently prepare for future events.”

Of what use to planning, training or efficiency is having closeup and
group photos of peaceful protesters? Is this the best use of our tax
dollars and Detroit’s police personnel? With all the problems this
police department has, as documented by the Federal government and exemplified by the huge sums of money paid out to victims of police misconduct, brutality and even wrongful death– it seems self-evident that there are better things for the police to be doing.

The police action of Sept. 27 has a chilling effect on the exercise of
constitutional rights. It is a form of intimidation and harassment.
Many of us remember the outrageous Federal, state and local Detroit
spying by police agencies in the 1960’s and 70’s. Much of this conduct was found to be illegal. Detroit’s infamous Red Squad kept files on tens of thousands of people accused of no crime. In case anyone here is too young to remember – I brought my Red Squad file along with me today. It was turned over to me by court order – along with the assurance that surveillance of peaceful protest activities would no longer be tolerated.

We urge that this Council take immediate action to bar police spying on peaceful protesters. We urge that Council inquire further to insure
that Detroit’s police department isn’t carrying out other forms of
illegal interference, infiltration or spying.

Police Departments, once embarked upon the path of targeting political activists and protesters, are not easily stopped at simple
surveillance. The history of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Black
Panther Party, the civil rights movement, the labor movement and the
anti-war movement show a propensity to engage in surveillance,
disruption, infiltration, breaking and entering to steal files,
provocation to violence and even assassination!

Please send a clear message to the Detroit Police Department that the people of Detroit and our City Council will not tolerate infringement of our rights.

No comments: