Latest ACLU Report Highlights Potential for New Era of Discrimination; Urges African Americans to Fight Ashcroft Terrorism Laws

September 24, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Saying that the FBI’s harassment of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent civil rights leaders was premised on arguments similar to those used to justify measures like the USA PATRIOT Act, the American Civil Liberties Union today released a new report urging African Americans to get more involved in the ongoing fight to keep America safe and free.

“The strides made in the fight for equality couldn’t have been made without the commitment in American democracy to both safety and freedom,” said Laura W. Murphy, the first woman and African American to lead the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The current Justice Department – like the one that harassed Dr. King in the 1950s and ’60s – doesn’t see it that way.

“The PATRIOT Act and similar policies stand on the faulty assumption that freedom must be sacrificed for ‘national security,'” Murphy added. “Our report shows that now, more than ever, African-American leaders must make their concerns about the state of American liberty heard.”

The release of the new report, titled “A New Era of Discrimination: Why African-Americans Should Be Alarmed About the Ashcroft Terrorism Laws,” coincides with the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual conference here. Prominent members of the CBC, including Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), have been highly vocal in their support for civil liberties. Rep. Cummings, notably, voted “no” on the now-notorious USA PATRIOT Act, the sweeping law passed in the weeks after 9/11 that unnecessarily expands federal surveillance and policing powers.

The report focuses largely on those new powers that threaten to promote racial or ethnic bias in the name of national security. Most importantly, the report highlights the Justice Department’s newly promulgated racial profiling “guidelines,” which are, the ACLU says, little more than lip service. Spun as a ban on the practice of racial profiling, the guidelines actually contain no enforcement mechanism and a giant national security loophole.

To put the current Ashcroft-led assaults on civil liberties in context, the report prominently features the FBI’s smear campaign against Dr. King. Under the aegis of the super-secret political FBI intelligence unit known as COINTELPRO, the FBI, fearing “communist influences” in Dr. King’s work, engaged in a concerted smear campaign against the civil rights leader. The FBI’s political abuses against Dr. King continued even after his death.

“Our report draws parallels between the government’s long history of improper and unconstitutional actions against the African American community and its leadership with the threats presented in the post 9-11 environment,” Murphy said. “Just as we have seen in the past, the government often focuses more on the expedient than on what’s reasonable and, most importantly, constitutional.”

The report can be found at:

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