Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Civil Rights Now! Updates

The Lodi affair is bringing together individuals and groups to build a common strategy against the attacks on civil rights in the United States. A bit over a week ago, five individuals were arrested in Lodi supposedly on “terrorism” charges — Now, it turns out, three are detained on immigration charges, and the other two for making “false statements” to the FBI.

The California Civil Rights Alliance held a spirited townhall meeting at the Islamic Center of Greater Sacramento, on Tuesday June 14th.

The speakers included Peter Camejo, Green Party activist, and Vice-Presidential Candidate with Ralph Nader (2004) along with a host of civil rights activists:

Jim Gonzales of Southern Alameda County Peace and Justice Coalition, James Schwab – Director Associate Students of the UC DAVIS Office of External Affairs, and Dr. Agha Saeed – National Chair, American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT).

The focus was on the Lodi affair, but also on the broader concerns regarding the impact of the Patriot Act, and the US military attacks and invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The event pulled together a diverse audience of some 150 people - including members of the Islamic Center, Green Party activists, and members/leadership of the Muslim community in the Sacramento/Central Valley area.

A number of individuals in the audience felt that we need to come together not only as communities of Muslims, but also as Americans who are witnessing an administration (Bush and company) that seems to have no respect for the constitution.

A representative from the Muslim civil rights organization CAIR also spoke, and he gave an update on the activism in Lodi. CAIR has been organizing "know your rights" workshops in Lodi, that have been attended by hundreds of Muslim community members. A special concern is that many in the immigrant communities are not aware of their rights, and as a result, the FBI can violate the constitutional guarantees with impunity.

CAIR-SV officials say they have received numerous reports of
intimidating tactics used recently by some FBI agents. Reports of
inappropriate conduct by law enforcement officials include threats of
arrest or deportation used to coerce cooperation, unnecessary use of
force, denial of medical treatment, and constant FBI surveillance of
regular mosque attendees.

One person said FBI agents told him they would arrest him for
"jaywalking" unless he agreed to be interviewed. Another said he was
told not to retain an attorney. Two local Muslims told CAIR-SV they felt
compelled to quit their jobs after agents "humiliated" them at work.
Others complained of lie detector sessions in which they were accused of
lying after answering the same question asked in a variety of ways.
Specific to the case, a number of questions have been raised - in particular the fact that *two* affidavits were issues: one for the media, and another for the judge. Furthermore, there are questions about if due process was followed with regards to the arrest, and the supposed "confession."

Johnny L. Griffin III, who represents Umer Hayat, told the press, “Notwithstanding the alarming statement made in the affidavit, the government has only charged each of the defendants with one count of making a false statement to a federal agent. They are not charged in this complaint with committing any terrorist acts, and they are not charged in this complaint with supporting any terrorist acts.”

There are right wing groups and individuals in the United States who no longer care to believe in the basic concept of "innocent until proven guilty" - and have been quick to pronounce, not only the indiviuals arrested, but the entire community guilty. It is important to remember a few phrases from not so long ago:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

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