MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

The Knock on the Door

Like many other people, I've been aware of the fact that agents of "Homeland Security" have been breaking into people's homes, taking them to jail without any charges, holding them indefinitely or in some cases deporting them. The victims have for the most part been Muslims, resident aliens; constitutional guarantees that used to apply to everyone living in the U.S. now apply only to citizens, courtesy of the USA PATRIOT Act passed after 9-11.

Though regretting this violation of the rights of non-citizens, to a large extent it's been comforting to know that I am safe. After all, I was born in New Jersey. Moreover, for the last 23 years I've been a mild-mannered math teacher at Albuquerque TVI, more or less minding my own business (if you include protesting the wars in Central America, the Middle-East, the nuclear arms race, organizing around unionization at my work plus for a variety of peace, justice, and environmental issues in New Mexico as my own business). Everything I'm involved in is legal (except for a little arrest after a nonviolent sit-in at a congressman's office in 1985 protesting aid to the Contras).

A few months ago, in February 2003, that feeling of immunity evaporated. Homeland Security came knocking on the door in the person of two agents from San Francisco's FBI Task Force on Terrorism sent out to "talk" with me. I don't talk to government agents. It's a policy that began for me "back in the day," when we were fighting against the war in Vietnam and racism at home. You don't want to give them any information, and, equally, you don't want to say anything which might some time be held against you, for perjury or conspiracy charges.

I immediately called my attorney, Nancy Hollander, who called one of the agents. He told her that he's investigating the murder of a policeman in a bombing in San Francisco in 1970. Though I'm not a suspect, he thinks I might have some information. She reiterated what I had told them, that I didn't want to talk with them.

Why are they investigating a 33 year-old crime? Why me? Are they trying to link the past to the present? Is this some sort of revenge, or maybe the counterattack by police forces which had been on the defensive for the last thirty years?

Worst of all was the feeling of dread accompanying the realization that I'm not safe; that I can be targeted just like a Pakistani or Arab immigrant who is as innocent as I. That they can "make a federal case" and come for any of us.

Incidentally, if you think you're safe because you don't have a past like mine, and also because you're a citizen, check out the soon-to-be-introduced Domestic Security Enhancement Act, known by some as PATRIOT II (The Nation, Mar. 17, 2003). This little gem creatively solves the problem of the rights of citizens to protections included in the Bill of Rights--not to be subjected to illegal search and seizure, not to be tortured or imprisoned without charges, right to a speedy trial, etc. If a citizen, even native-born, is considered by the executive branch of government to support an organization which in turn supports terrorism, that citizen can be stripped of his or her citizenship. And so deported without trial. But where to? Perhaps imprisoned indefinitely at Guantanamo.

— Mark Rudd

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"For as adamant as my country has been about civil liberties during peacetime, it has a long history of failing to preserve civil liberties when it perceived its national security threatened. This series of failures is particularly frustrating in that it appears to result not from informed and rational decisions that protecting civil liberties would expose the United States to unacceptable security risks, but rather from the episodic nature of our security crises. But it has proven unable to prevent itself from repeating the error when the next crisis came along."
--Supreme Court Justice William Brennan
December 22, 1987



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