Berkeley’s opposition to the Patriot Act was timely.
Just hours before New Yorkers commemorated the one-year anniversary of last year’s attacks Wednesday, city councilmembers Tuesday night adopted a resolution condemning the Sept. 11-inspired legislation.
“Under the Patriot Act, agencies like the FBI or state police or John Ashcroft can detain people whenever they want. And detainees are not given any opportunity to defend themselves,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, author of the Berkeley resolution.
A lack of due process and a violation of civil liberties were the reasons behind council’s opposition, Worthington said.
Federal legislators, though, who passed the bill last October with bipartisan support, claim that expanded authority granted to law enforcement officials under the PATRIOT Act are critical to national security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Despite Berkeley’s unanimous decision to condemn the legislation, most Americans support the PATRIOT Act, said UC visiting instructor Dab Schnur of the political science department.“Council’s vote serves to illuminate how far out of the mainstream Berkeley has become,” he said.
Coming on the eve of Sept. 11, Schnur added that the vote contained irony and a “peculiar charm.”
For Worthington, though, the decision was within the nation’s spirit on the attack’s one-year anniversary.
“It’s patriotic to stand up for our values and defend our civil rights,” he said.
Before the resolution’s passage, Councilmember Polly Armstrong led efforts to water down the city’s condemnation. Two clauses in Worthington’s original draft were struck, and city opposition was narrowed to “parts of” the PATRIOT Act instead of deploring the entire piece of legislation.
“I doubt anyone on council has even read the whole thing,” Armstrong said. She also said that the two sections removed from the original proposal were ambiguous.
All council members seemed pleased, and many surprised, by the unanimous decision to adopt the condemning resolution.
“It was very unusual for us,” said Councilmember Betty Olds.
Among other things, the PATRIOT Act gives law agencies more power to detain immigrants, conduct wiretaps and monitor the Internet.
Schnur said it was unlikely that Berkeley’s resolution against such federal policies would have any impact.