Eight Cities in Patriot Act Revolt
July 1, 2002 -- -- Cities across the country have been quietly staging a revolt against the USA Patriot Act, saying it gives law enforcement too much power and threatens civil rights.
Over the last three months, the Massachusetts cities of Cambridge, Northampton and Amherst and the township of Leverett, as well as the town of Carrboro, N.C., all passed resolutions that call the USA Patriot Act a threat to the civil rights of the residents of their communities.
Congress passed the act in October to give federal investigators sweeping new powers to probe terrorism in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and soon came under criticism from civil libertarians. The public has been supportive of the measure.
The five municipalities join Berkeley, Calif., and Ann Arbor, Mich., in taking a strong stance challenging the way the Bush administration wants to pursue its war on terror within the borders of the United States.
In Cambridge, where the measure passed the city council by a 5-4 margin on June 17, the resolution says in part, "We believe these civil liberties [freedom of speech, assembly and privacy; equality before the law; due process; and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures] are now threatened by the USA Patriot Act."
"For me, it was that historically there have been attacks on civil liberties in times of war," Councilman Brian Murphy said when asked why he co-authored the resolution. "I think if you look at USA Patriot, this is another example of that."
The resolutions are largely symbolic, because the local governments have no authority to compel federal law enforcement to comply.
"One of the recognitions is that there is a supremacy act and that there are limits to what a city can do," Murphy said. "If the FBI chooses to take actions in Cambridge, they're able to do that under the law as it is constituted.
"We feel it is important that communities send a message that there is opposition to this act," he added.
Even before USA Patriot was passed, the police in Portland, Ore., broke ranks with the Justice Department's war on terror, saying that it would not cooperate with the FBI on investigations of Middle Eastern students in the city, because state law barred police from questioning immigrants who are not suspected of a crime.