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New York City Council Adopts Forceful Resolution Affirming Rights And Liberties In The Face Of Anti-Terrorism Initiatives

An overwhelming majority of New York City Council Members today voted in favor of the Bill of Rights resolution, which calls upon government officials to uphold civil rights and civil liberties when prosecuting the so-called war on terrorism. In passing the resolution, New York City joins over 240 communities and three states that have adopted similar resolutions rejecting the proposition that rights and liberties must be sacrificed in the interest of national security. New York City is the largest city to pass such a resolution.

“Today the New York City Council made a bold statement in defense of our constitutional freedoms,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). “The Bill of Rights resolution is a comprehensive and principled response to the government’s assault on the exercise of fundamental rights since September 11, 2001. It gives voice to the strongly held conviction shared by many New Yorkers who will not accept the needless erosion of the Bill of Rights.”

Bill Perkins, the Council’s Deputy Majority Leader, introduced the Bill of Rights resolution. Since then a total of 34 Council Members have signed on as co-sponsors, including City Council Speaker Gifford Miller. Three hearings on the resolution were held before the Council’s Governmental Operations Committee, which is chaired by Mr. Perkins. On October 20, 2003 and February 2, 2004 testimony was presented by individuals representing more than a dozen of the 90 organizations affiliated with the New York City Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, and by relatives of New York City police officers and firefighters who died on September 11.

“The Bill of Rights resolution affirms New York City’s respect for civil liberties and civil rights,” said Council Member Perkins, the resolution’s primary sponsor. “Even as we continue to cope with the tragedy of 9/11, we as New Yorkers and as Americans must not surrender the basic constitutional protections that we hold dear.”

The resolution acknowledges the singularly important role the government plays in protecting the public from acts of terrorism; but also recognizes that it is incumbent upon federal, state and local officials to ensure that security measures enhance the public safety without unduly infringing upon civil liberties.

The Bill of Rights resolution contains a number of explicit policy declarations, including a statement of opposition to various unconstitutional policies and practices such as –

  • racial, ethnic, and religious profiling;
  • surveillance of lawful religious and political activities;
  • secret imprisonment without charges or access to counsel;
  • secret searches and seizures executed pursuant to the USA PATRIOT Act; and
  • antiterrorism reporting systems that create databases on innocent people.

The Bill of Rights resolution also contains oversight provisions that seek to hold the federal government accountable for abuses that occur when undertaking various antiterrorism initiatives. It calls on federal officials to make periodic reports regarding –

  • the number of New York City residents arrested in antiterrorism sweeps;
  • the seizure of library and bookstore records;
  • government monitoring of religious gatherings and political activities.

The New York City Bill of Rights Defense Campaign (NYCBORDC) has spearheaded the effort to pass the Bill of Rights resolution. The Campaign is a non-partisan grassroots project of the NYCLU in coalition with more than 90 organizations. Hundreds of volunteers meet on a regular basis to plan and implement the Campaign’s goals. Their efforts have generated many thousands of letters and calls to City Council members urging passage of the Bill of Rights resolution.
New York City’s BORDC is part of a national movement that has prompted local governments throughout the country to pass resolutions that express opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act and related federal actions that pose a threat to constitutional freedoms. Over forty two million people now live in what the Campaign refers to as “civil liberties safe zones.”

“The Bill of Rights resolution is a restatement of the principles at the heart of American democracy,” observed Udi Ofer, project director of the New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign at the NYCLU. “It rejects the notion that civil liberties and national security conflict. New Yorkers understand this false conflict, and that is why hundreds of volunteers, many of them new to activism, have put in countless hours to get this resolution passed.”

Glenn C. Devitt, volunteer chair of the New York City Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, said, “This is an historic day for the defense of democracy in New York City. Hundreds of volunteers have invested thousands of hours during the past year to get this Bill of Rights resolution passed. I’m honored to represent this dedicated and resilient local grassroots movement. With this victory in hand, we will continue our efforts to educate and mobilize the public, and work with our elected representatives to safeguard our fundamental rights.”

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