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Commentary :: Human Rights
The Lady of Liberty
26 Jul 2004
A brief look at the state of civil liberties in America
The State of US Civil Liberties

by Christine Rose
(an excerpt from her new book "The Lady of Liberty"

June 26, 2004 – Lani Frank was arrested for handing out voter registration forms at a sold-out showing of Fahrenheit 9/11 in Pennsylvania.[1] The woman was inside the theatre handing out the forms to movie goers. Several audience members thanked her for making them available. Another unidentified woman was also handing out voter forms, but she had run out and left prior to the police intervention. Ms. Frank was on her way out of the theatre and on the way to her car when the police stopped her and called her back for questioning. Understandably, she was shocked at their line of inquiry and asked since when it was against the law to hand out voter registration cards. The police ostensibly took this question as a “disturbance,” and arrested her on the spot. She was charged with disorderly conduct.

All this near the birthplace of American Democracy – Philadelphia: the city of brotherly love.

This is basically a harassment tactic used by police when they want to remove someone who isn’t actually breaking the law. It’s called intimidation. They usually don’t bother pressing charges since they would generally lose the case and cost the city a considerable amount of money; however, the intimidation works, not always on the individual in question, but on the people who witnessed the event. After such harassment and arrest, others will think twice before doing a similar action. The onlookers only see the arrest. They don’t see that nothing actually happens to the person. This is how they control by fear and intimidation. This is why people claim we’re living on the outskirts of a police state.

I know from personal experience on this one. I was shooting for Liberty Bound at a WTO protest in Sacramento, CA. This protest spanned several days as did the meetings with the World Trade Organization. On this particular day, only about 150-200 protesters were present exercising their constitutionally protected right to peaceably assemble. And there to “protect and serve” the residents of Sacramento from these 150-200 protesters were between 350 and 400 police officers, fully dressed in riot gear. Yes, riot gear. Guns. Clubs. Tear Gas.[2] Shields. Armored cars. You name it. It was most certainly the grandest exercise of absurdity this woman had ever experienced.

The mere presence of such a force made this otherwise peace-loving, laid-back crowd nervous. These police officers passed their time by marching up and down the streets, getting into formation and then dispersing again. They followed the demonstrators circling the city block around which the meetings were taking place. But they trailed an entire block length behind them. In other words, the protesters would turn the corner. The police would then line up across an empty street, march down it, disperse and then do it again for the next time the small crowd of marchers passed. One of these times I saw them lining up across the street, I started taping them with my handy camcorder.

I crouched down curbside and got a nice tight shot of the marching police officers[3] coming towards me. As they got closer, I guess I thought they’d just split and go around me, since I wasn’t doing anything wrong or illegal- just an American Citizen with a camcorder on a public street. That was, of course, quite naïve of me! I heard one of them bellow “MOVE!”

So I did.

I stepped up onto the curb, not realizing the line stretched to the edges of the sidewalk (my only open eye was firmly affixed to the my camera’s viewfinder). Then something hit me from behind with the force of a Mack Truck! I truly didn’t know what had happened as my world spun and I hit the ground, hard. I was then violently yanked up from the ground, jarring my back a second time, and pushed along by the line of police. I kept my camcorder on them while asking them questions like “why can’t I video on a public street?” To which they didn’t give an answer. The one office who had assaulted me (he weighed at least 250 lbs to my 140) just kept yelling at me to turn around. I was convinced at that point that if I had tripped and fallen, they would’ve trampled me without blinking.

It was a strong case for Canada.

And the most absurd thing of all was when they got to the end of the block (the block the battered me on and then shoved me and a few other bystanders forcibly down, they dispersed and casually walked back up the block. And I, just having been physically forced down, walked back up with them. Go figure!

Civil Liberties is a term oft-used by active participants in our Democracy; not only by the political left, but also by the far right. There is a segment of the political right which, while disagreeing with the left on many issues, also has many common concerns. Among these is the issue of civil liberties. This far right group often is referred to as constitutionalists because they are fundamentalists of our US Constitution. This all-important document both describes and preserves these Civil Liberties for the civil population, both generally: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and more specifically as stated in the Bill of Rights.

These guarantees of Civil Liberties were deemed necessary by the drafters of the constitution because they knew the tendency of those in power is to abuse such power if not held in a series of checks and balances.

When Mr. Bush took office, he swore to uphold The Constitution. Since taking office, he and his administration has used every trick in the book to destroy The Constitution.

If President Clinton was brought to trial for lying under oath, why isn’t Bush being tried for breaking his oath?[4]

Bush’s unpatriotic PATRIOT Act (apparently named after the missile based on its destructive power)[5] seeks to do away with several of our guaranteed Civil Liberties. However, we must remember that neither Congress, nor the White House has the power to change The Constitution by passing laws unless The Constitution, itself, is amended. Its authority overrides all else. Many counties, towns and states have passed their own laws and ordinances refusing to follow the PATRIOT Act.[6]

The trouble is law enforcement agencies can be only too eager to abuse its power when given the opportunity.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] www.dailylocal.com – June 29, 2004 by Gina Zotti and The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 29, 2004 “Woman Arrested at ‘9/11’ film” by Jennifer Moroz

[2] We had actually brought gas masks in anticipation of this, knowing what happened in Seattle 1999, and they were confiscated upon arrival – over a mile away from the protest site. Our car and belongings were searched, all without a warrant, and our gas masks were confiscated. Apparently, there was a newly formed, week-old city ordinance that outlawed gas masks within the city limits of Sacramento. Not only does this violate the Geneva Convention for people having the right to protect themselves, but it’s also utterly absurd as one can buy a gas mask at no fewer than a dozen places in Sacramento!

[3] You can see this shot in Liberty Bound. www.libertybound.com

[4] Or lying under it! See the Iraq Chapter.

[5] “Patriot is a long-range, all-altitude, all-weather air defense system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft. Patriot (MIM-104) is produced by Raytheon in Massachusetts and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Florida.” - http://www.army-technology.com/

[6] See the latest list on the Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s website: http://www.bordc.org


Christine Rose, filmmaker & author, can be reached at bluemoosefilms (at) hotmail.com. Read more about her film "Liberty Bound" and the limited release DVD at www.libertybound.com.
See also:
http://www.libertybound.com
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