2/5/2011 Newsletter

Contents:

  • Courtwatch for Prof. Robin Magee
  • Dissent and Repression in the US and India
  • Glik v. Cunniffe: CUAPB Joins Case to Defend Right to Copwatch
  • The Far Reach of US Police State Repression
  • 75-Year Prison Sentence for Taping the Police?

COURT WATCH AND SUPPORT FOR PROF. ROBIN MAGEE

Trial Starts Monday, February 7, 9:00 a.m.
Ramsey County Courthouse
15 W Kellogg, St. Paul

Please come out and show your support for Hamline law professor Robin Magee. You will remember Robin if you attended our panel discussion last year on the role of police in society, as she presented powerful information on the myths of policing. One of only a few African American woman law professors in the US, Robin wrote an article that was critical of Ramsey County prosecutor Susan Gaertner for selective prosecutions of people of color. This happened while Gaertner was mounting a campaign for governor. Gaertner is repaying Robin by prosecuting her on minor tax issues--so minor that the IRS reviewed the matter and took no action. However, Gaertner has laid on the charges really heavy and is going after Robin in a big way, while the cops mounted a campaign to get her fired from Hamline. A group of students has come around Robin to defend her. They wrote, "Gaertner's prosecution of Prof Magee has all the indications of being selective, politically motivated, vindictive, and intended to quell Professor Magee's voice and activism. We also believe that the prosecution of Professor Magee is just another step in a pattern of attack directed against prominent and vocal African American lawyers and the general Black legal community. We believe a show of support for Professor Magee is necessary to confront and shut down these attacks." Trial is expected to last three days so please try to attend at least some of it. Stand with Prof. Robin Magee, who courageously speaks truth to power.


DISSENT AND REPRESSION IN THE US AND INDIA

Thursday, February 10, 7:00 p.m.
445 Blegen Hall, UoM West Bank
269 19th Avenue S, Minneapolis

A panel discussion with:
Jess Sundin, Anti-War Committee
Michelle Gross, Communities United Against Police Brutality
Lalit Batra, International Campaign to Free Binayak Sen

On September 24, 2010, FBI raided the homes of peace activists in Minneapolis and Chicago, seizing computers, phones and large amount of documents and personal items. Since then, 23 activists in both these cities have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. No one has been charged and lacking any material evidence, the United States government is clearly carrying out a campaign of intimidating people, who did little more than speak out for peace and justice.

On December 24, 2010, Dr. Binayak Sen, a renowned physician, public health and human rights activist, was sentenced to life in prison by a sessions court in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh on baseless charges of sedition and conspiracy against the state. This extreme action comes on top of the arrest and conviction of several political and human rights activists in different parts of India in the last few years.

Come find out more about these cases and the context in which these acts of repression and silencing of dissent are occurring in the US and in India! For more information, contact Minnesota Cuba Committee at www.minnesotacubacommittee.org


CUAPB JOINS CASE TO DEFEND RIGHT TO COPWATCH

As you know, we are big believers in the power of copwatch to both document police misconduct and prevent it. CUAPB participated in an important amicus brief in the case of Glik v. Cunniffe, in which the constitutionality of laws that ban videotaping cops are being challenged. While the truth of the vicious murder of Oscar Grant was laid bare to the world as a result of cell phone videos taken by witnesses, the cops and courts have perverted wiretap laws as a way to go after copwatchers in states around the country. Many states have "two party" laws that require the permission of both parties to record private conversations. Clearly these laws don't apply to police conduct out in the public but courts are using them to attack copwatchers.

In 2007 Simon Glik was arrested for using his cell phone to record an arrest by the Boston Police Department and was then himself arrested. While Glik's charges were ultimately dismissed, in 2010 he filed a lawsuit against the officers and the Boston Police Department for violating his First Amendment rights. Mr. Glik won in District Court, but the case was appealed to the First Circuit.

The Center for Constitutional Rights organized the brief in Glik v. Cunniffe before the First Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Berkeley Copwatch, Communities United against Police Brutality, Justice Committee, Milwaukee Police Accountability Coalition, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development and Portland Copwatch. The brief argues that activists, concerned individuals and Copwatch groups have the right to record public police activity and that this right is clearly protected under the First Amendment. CCR has been a joy to work with and we are very, very proud to be a part of this effort.


THE FAR REACH OF US POLICE STATE REPRESSION

Last September, FBI agents descended on the homes of local antiwar activists in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Grand Rapids. Here in the Twin Cities, we watched in horror as people we have known and worked with for years had their personal possessions carted away and their work and lives disrupted. As it stands today, 23 antiwar and Palestine solidarity activists from around the US have received subpoenas to testify before a grand jury about legal, First Amendment-protected activities. This is just the latest volley in an all-out war on dissent that continues from spying on social justice groups that have broken no laws, to attacks on protesters during the RNC, and prosecution of the RNC 8. CUAPB stands 100% in solidarity with the individuals and organizations targeted and we condemn efforts by FBI agents to vilify or criminalize people for simply opposing US foreign policy.

Apparently the feds have way too many agents and not enough real crime to worry about. While some agents were busy abusing their power against our local activists, others were working in cahoots with the Winnipeg police department to continue the ongoing harassment of Aaron James. We've told you about Aaron's story in past editions of the newsletter. Aaron is a multiethnic Canadian citizen who happens to have been unfortunate enough to fly on Northwest Airlines back in January 2006 right after one of their nitwit flight attendants had her "how to recognize a terrorist" training. He also had the misfortune of needing to use the restroom as the plane was boarding. He left his backpack on the seat next to his mother, who is white, and by the time he tried to get back to his seat, he was greeted by a whole group of Minneapolis cops who threw him to the ground, beat and stomped him and then charged him with federal offenses. In a clearly biased trial that included relatives of Northwest Airlines staff and cops on the jury, Aaron was convicted. Although he had come to Minnesota to be seen at Mayo clinic for a serious injury, he and his mother were forced to go back to Winnipeg by bus, as he was banned from all US flights.

Aaron thought his own government would stand up for his rights against US tyranny but he would soon learn that was wrong. In the years since his conviction, he has endured multiple warrantless raids on his house, arrests, and attempts to abduct and forcibly extradite him to the US. During one of the raids, two ornamental Japanese swords (wall hangings) were taken by Winnepeg police and sent to the Minneapolis police department. When ordered to return his property, cops claimed they never took it. Why? Because after Aaron returned to Canada, he started putting up websites and blogging about what happened to him in the US. His websites have been repeatedly taken down, the content hijacked, his URLs redirected to racist websites, etc.

For a long time, Aaron had a hard time getting people to believe what was happening to him though a few journalists have stepped forward to report on his case. Recently, though, he obtained proof of FBI collusion with Winnipeg police. FBI agent Marc Rensch and US Marshall Kelly Mutschler had claimed to the Winnipeg cops that Aaron had two arrest warrants in the US (he doesn't) and they seem to be on a personal mission to bring Aaron to the US. Just last week, Aaron was in a coffee shop meeting with a journalist when he noticed a man watching him. He and the journalist moved three times, only to have the man follow them and sit at adjoining tables. After Aaron took his picture, the man identified himself as a US marine.

The antiwar activists who face grand jury subpoenas have bravely resisted and have received an enormous outpouring of support from people around the country. Aaron has largely battled the repression he has faced on his own. Please support all people facing police state repression. To learn more about the antiwar activists facing grand jury subpoenas, go to <http://www.stopfbi.net/> and to learn more about Aaron's case, go to <http://james-press.blogspot.com>.


75-YEAR PRISON SENTENCE FOR TAPING THE POLICE? THE ABSURD LAWS THAT CRIMINALIZE AUDIO AND VIDEO RECORDING IN AMERICA

The growing accessibility of recording devices is prompting officials to dig up dusty old eavesdropping laws that are being used to intimidate the nation's citizens.

Lauren Kelley
http://www.alternet.org/
January 28, 2011

Last January, Michael Allison, a 41-year-old mechanic from Bridgeport, Illinois, went to court to protest what he saw as unfair treatment from local police officers. Allison is an auto enthusiast who likes to tinker with cars, several of which he keeps on his mother's property in the neighboring town of Robinson. Because both towns have "eyesore," or abandoned property, rules that require inoperable cars to be either registered or kept in a garage (which neither house had, and which Allison could not afford to build), Allison's cars were repeatedly impounded by local officials.

Allison sued the city of Bridgeport in 2007, arguing that the eyesore law violated his civil rights and that the city was merely trying to bilk revenues from impound fees. This apparently enraged the local police, who, Allison alleges, began harassing him at home and threatening arrest when Allison refused to get rid of his cars.

Shortly before his January 2010 court date, Allison requested a court reporter for the hearing, making it clear to the county clerk that if one was not present he would record the proceedings himself. With the request for a court reporter denied, Allison made good on his promise to bring his own audio recorder with him to the courthouse. Here’s what happened next, as reported by Radley Bilko in the latest issue of Reason magazine:

Just after he walked through the courthouse door the next day, Allison says Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Kimbara Harrell asked him whether he had a tape recorder in his pocket. He said yes. Harrell then asked him if it was turned on. Allison said it was. Harrell then informed the defendant that he was in violation of the Illinois wiretapping law, which makes it a Class 1 felony to record someone without his consent. “You violated my right to privacy,” the judge said.

Allison responded that he had no idea it was illegal to record public officials during the course of their work, that there was no sign or notice barring tape recorders in the courtroom, and that he brought one only because his request for a court reporter had been denied. No matter: After Harrell found him guilty of violating the car ordinance, Allison, who had no prior criminal record, was hit with five counts of wiretapping, each punishable by four to 15 years in prison. Harrell threw him in jail, setting bail at $35,000.

That's up to 75 years in prison for breaking a law Allison did not know existed, and which he violated in the name of protecting himself from what he saw as an injustice. As Bilko points out, Allison's case may be extreme, but he is hardly alone in facing outsized punishment for efforts to combat police wrongdoing.

Take Christopher Drew and Tiawanda Moore, two Chicagoans highlighted in the New York Times last week. Drew, a 60-year-old artist, faces up to 15 years in prison for using a digital video recorder during his December 2009 arrest for selling art without a permit. Drew had planned on getting arrested in protest of the permit law, which he saw as a violation of artists' rights. He was unaware that filming the ordeal was illegal.

Likewise, Moore, a 20-year-old Southside resident, did not know it was illegal to record a conversation she had with two police officers last August, and she too faces a prison sentence of up to 15 years for doing so. Moore's case is especially troubling because she was in the process of filing a complaint with the two officers about a third officer, who Moore alleges sexually harassed her in her home. She told the Times that she "was only trying to make sure no other women suffered at the hands of the officer" by making the recording. Presumably, she was also trying to protect herself in case she faced another lewd advance. Instead, the officers tried to talk her out of filing her complaint and then slapped her with eavesdropping charges when they found out her Blackberry was recording.

These stories all highlight Illinois' draconian eavesdropping laws, which, ever since a privacy provision was overturned in 1994, have made it illegal to record audio of an individual without his or her consent. Carrying a sentence of between four and 15 years, the laws in the state are some of the harshest in the nation.

Illinois isn't the only state waging a war on citizens with recording devices. Across the country, the growing accessibility of recording devices (like smart phones) and media-sharing sites (like YouTube) is prompting officials to dredge up dusty old eavesdropping and wiretapping laws, leading to "a legal mess of outdated, loosely interpreted statutes and piecemeal court opinions that leave both cops and citizens unsure of when recording becomes a crime," according to Bilko.

The good news is that few people have actually been convicted under these laws for documenting police wrongdoing; neither Michael Allison nor Christopher Drew nor Tiawanda Moore are likely to go to prison for the recordings they made. The bad news, though, is that these laws are being used to intimidate the nation’s citizens, making them afraid to stand up against police officers and other officials who are acting illegally or immorally. As long as no one is convicted, the law goes unchallenged, notes Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel for the ACLU of Illinois.

The intimidation techniques extend to still photographers as well, as documented by Carlos Miller on the blog Photography is Not a Crime, which catalogs rights violations against people with cameras and teaches citizens about their legal rights to photograph people and places. (Things that can almost always be photographed from a public place, "despite popular opinion," according to Miller's Web site: criminal activities, law enforcement officers, industrial facilities.) Miller himself has been illegally arrested and had his photos deleted for taking pictures of police officers.

Although he's always beaten his cases in court, Miller recognizes that coming out on top after the fact isn't good enough. “There’s this idea that because charges are dropped, there’s no harm,” Miller told Reason. “But that isn’t right. There’s definitely harm when someone is illegally arrested and has to spend a night or more in jail. Your life is disrupted. You now have legal bills to deal with. There’s also harm when a cop wrongly tells someone they can’t photograph or record. He’s intimidating them into giving up their rights.”

Some of the most widely viewed posts on Miller's blog -- "St. Louis Cop Beats Man Down in Youtube Video," "Surveillance video once again shines light on Philadelphia PD corruption" -- are testament to why citizens need the explicit legal right to document officers' wrongdoings. Without the recordings of these events (and many, many others like them), justice probably never would have been realized, and the truth never brought to light. Unless we overturn the nation’s most over-the-top eavesdropping laws, our legal system will continue to obstruct, rather than promote, justice.

Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn.


"As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air ­ however slight ­ lest we become unwitting victims of of the darkness." --Justice William O. Douglas


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