Pages From History: Detroit City Council Holds Meeting on Police Spying
Originally published on March 8, 2004
By Abayomi Azikiwe
08 Mar 2004
Activists from MECAWI, the ACLU and NLG addressed the need for changes in Detroit's police policy related to conducting surveillance on legal political activity
Detroit City Council Meeting on Police Surveillance Against Peaceful Protesters
For more information log on to the following URL: http://www.mecawi.org
Editor's Note: The following two statements were delivered on Monday March 8, 2004 to a special meeting of the Detroit City Council. This meeting was in response to a written request by Mr. David Sole of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice after the Detroit Police Department was confronted at a mass demonstration on Woodward avenue last September 27, 2003 for videotaping activists participating in the action.
The republishing of this article is being done at a time when the same issues of political surveillance are resurfacing with concrete proof that this is official administration policy coming directly from the White House. In recent days (Dec. 2005) it has been brought to light that the United States military has engaged in broad infiltration and monitoring of anti-war and peace organizations. In addition, the National Security Agency is being utilized to spy on people living within the geographical boundaries of the United States. In 2003-04 our suspicion was that the intelligence gathering on the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) originated from the implementation of the USA Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
One major concern of David Sole and Abayomi Azikiwe at the City Council meeting was to what degree the USA Patriot Act and other measures are influencing police pratice on a local level? According to the two police officials who arrived late at the hearing at City Council on Monday, the department does not conduct political surveillance.
However, when pressed by the panelists including City Council members and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Lawyers Guild, the Commander who was present representing the Chief of Police Ella Bully-Cummings, modified his statement to admit that the department does collect intelligence but that it is strictly limited to criminal investigations and the intelligence gathering is de-centralized.
City Council members JoAnn Watson, Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, Alonzo Bates, Sheila Cockrel and Sharon McPhail, who chaired the session, agreed to hold another meeting on the issue in which the police will be requested again to arrive at the meeting on time and be prepared to discuss the issue of political surveillance related to protest activity in the city of Detroit.
When Commander Ralph Godbee arrived well into the meeting on Monday, March 8, he stated that he was not prepared to discuss the issues related to political surveillance and that he thought the meeting was on videocameras placed in police squad cars. He initially denied that Detroit police had videotaped anti-war demonstrators on September 27, however, Councilwoman Cockrel emphasized that the three men doing the videotaping were in fact Detroit police officers.
Some of the City Council members present at the March 8 session had been victims of surveillance and political disruption during the 1960s and 1970s. This fact was noted by at least two members during the course of the discussions. The entire meeting was broadcast over Detroit Cable television later on that evening.
Statement to the Detroit City Council Opposing Law-Enforcement Surveillance of the Anti-War Movement
By Abayomi Azikiwe
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 States 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 streets.
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 disenfranchisement 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 gatherings, were targeted for political 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 departments 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 fourth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Despite the issuance of a statement by the FBI denying 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 suppress 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.
Statement by David Sole (Petitioner from the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice) to Detroit City Council, March 8, 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.