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Council might write to President Bush again

Friday July 12, 2002

By Kurtis Alexander 

Daily Planet Staff 


City leaders are once again looking to offer comment to their senior policy makers in Washington. This time, the subject at issue is the USA Patriot Act. 

Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington is writing a resolution condemning civil rights violations that he and other critics say are imbedded in federal legislation that was passed last October in response to the threat of terrorism. 

“Under the Patriot Act, agencies like the FBI or state police or John Ashcroft can detain people whenever they want,” Worthington said. “And detainees are not given any opportunity to defend themselves.” 

“And almost all the people who are detained, from what I hear, turn out to be innocent.” 

Federal legislators, who passed the bill with bipartisan support, have claimed that expanded powers granted to law enforcement officials under the Patriot Act are critical to national security. 

In two weeks Worthington will bring the resolution he is drafting to City Council. If approved, the Council will forward it to the White House by the end of the month. 

Worthington is expecting unanimous support from the Council.  

“I probably will vote for it because I think the Act is stupid,” said Councilmember Betty Olds. “I think the government has gone way too far with this.” 

Berkeley leaders have a long and well-known history of weighing in on political issues outside city limits. Most recently, the city was thrust into the national spotlight when Council called for a quick end to the bombing in Afghanistan. 

Despite national and local concern that City Council often oversteps its boundaries, Worthington said the federal Patriotic Act was not a distant issue. 

“This affects people right here in Berkeley,” he said. 

Since the Patriot Act was passed last year, federal authorities ordered the detention of at least one resident, who officials at first thought lived in Berkeley, for suspicion of an association with terrorists, Berkeley police said. 

Police discovered later, though, that the resident did not live in Berkeley. 

The city is not alone in its opposition to the Patriot Act. Seven cities in the country have expressed written protest to the law, according to the Massachusetts-based Bill of Rights Defense Committee. 

The cities include Ann Arbor, Mich., Carrboro, N.C., Denver, Colo., and Amherst, Leverett, Cambridge and Northhampton, Mass., 

“Having cities pass resolutions on the Patriot Act and similar legislation can help remind the president and the attorney general that they’re not in charge,” said Berkeley resident Ann Fagan Ginger, a lawyer and professor at San Francisco State University who is currently teaching a course called “Human rights and peace law in the United States.” 

Fagan Ginger said the Berkeley resolution will not fall upon deaf ears. “The Bush administration will know about this.” 

In April, City Council voted to send a letter to President George Bush expressing local concerns about First Amendment infringements by the federal government. Worthington called the letter “mild.” Although his pending resolution is similar, he said, it is “more forceful and specific.”