City aldermen affirm civil liberties of residents

The New Haven Board of Aldermen passed a resolution Monday reaffirming the civil rights and liberties granted city residents under the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution.

Crafted by the New Haven Peace Commission in response to the USA Patriot Act, the resolution cites the specific amendments of the U.S. Constitution that the commission deemed potentially imperiled by the federal act passed in October of 2001.

The resolution, which passed with only one dissenting vote, also pledged that “to the extent legally possible, no City employee or department shall officially assist or voluntarily cooperate with investigations, interrogations, or arrest procedures” that would breach these rights.

“I think we should reacquaint ourselves with these issues,” said Ward 16 Alderman Raul Avila, chairman of the board’s Human Services Committee, which passed the resolution to the full board.

“The powers [Congress] gave were vague and too poorly determined,” said Avila of the anti-terrorism measures in the act that have been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union among other civil rights organizations. “They had the potential to be abused.”

The Patriot Act, subtitled “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act,” allows for increased wire-tapping capabilities for intelligence agencies, more restrictive immigration practices, and greater authority for policing units to act without government supervision.

Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah supported the resolution vociferously, claiming that he was unreasonably delayed during an airport visit because of his Muslim name.

“We say ‘no’ to ‘suspicious’,” he said. “We have to stand up for our civil rights. We fought too hard to have them.”

Ward 11 Alderman Walter Wells urged constant vigilance, reminding his younger peers of the civil rights infringements of the era of McCarthyism.

“We survived all that, but we didn’t all survive all that,” said Wells. “I think we should give a great deal of thought to this kind of thing.”

While expressing his support of the resolution, Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison expressed concern that the board has devoted too much time to national issues in recent months. The board passed a resolution in October condemning any potential unilateral military action against Iraq.

“I am concerned about whether at a certain point we will pass too many resolutions having to do with national political life,” said Mattison, warning they might “lose their force.”

Ward 18 Alderwoman Arlene DePino cast the lone vote in opposition, arguing that the threat of terror warrants even unprecedentedly drastic means.

“[The terrorists] used our freedom to kill our people, to try to destroy our economy, to change our way of life,” she said. “And they continue to do so.”

The Human Services Committee held a public hearing on the matter on Oct. 10, inviting the state’s delegation to Washington, D.C., to attend and comment on the resolution. Although every senator and representative had voted for the Patriot Act last year, none attended the hearing.

The full board passed over the resolution twice, awaiting a response from the Connecticut members of Congress, but voted on Monday at the urging of the Peace Commission.

“We didn’t want to support [the resolution] carte blanche without their input,” Avila said, adding that he would appreciate a comment from the members of Congress.

The resolution will be sent to city and state departments as well as U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and U.S. President George W. Bush.

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