Chicago: largest city to reject Patriot Act

CHICAGO – The Chicago City Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution Oct. 1 denouncing the USA Patriot Act and calling for the repeal of those parts of it that violate the U.S. Constitution. Chicago thus becomes the 179th city or county in the United States to pass such an ordinance, and the largest city to do so. Three states – Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont – have passed similar measures.

The Chicago resolution notes that the Act contains a number of provisions that undermine constitutionally-protected rights, and that many people see it as “fundamentally alter[ing] our civil liberties without increasing our security.” It expresses particular concern about the targeting of immigrants under the law, “including Hispanics, people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent and citizens of other nations, thereby potentially encouraging racial profiling by law enforcement and the unintended consequences of increase in hate crimes by individuals in our community.”

The movement toward a Chicago resolution was begun by the Chicagoland Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights, whose initiating members included the American Civil Liberties Union (Illinois chapter), the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, the Clarence Darrow Commission on First Amendment Freedoms of the Unitarian-Universalist Council of Illinois, the Loyola University Greens Chapter, the Muslim Civil Rights Center and the Chicago chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

At the time of passage of the resolution, the coalition had more than 20 member organizations, including the a broad spectrum of civil rights, labor, religious, and community groups. It helped involve and mobilize the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Rainbow/

PUSH Coalition, Chicagoans Against War and Injustice and the NOW Illinois chapter, among others. The Communist Party of Illinois was also a member of the coalition.

The resolution was originally introduced in the City Council by Aldermen Joe Moore, Helen Shiller, Fredrenna Lyle and Ricardo Muñoz on July 9. Immediately, 31 aldermen signed on.

On Sept. 25, the City Council Human Relations Committee held hearings on the resolution. Strong support was presented by Timothy Leahy, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, Jesse Rios of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Emma Lozano of Centro Sin Fronteras, Rabbi David Sandifel of the KAM Isaiah Israel congregation, Dr. Seema Imam of the Muslim Center for Civil Rights, Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association, and others.

U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald, obeying Attorney General John Ashcroft’s order to defend the Patriot Act, gave along and inaccurate defense of the Act, causing laughter when he admitted that he himself really does not know what all is in it. Fitzgerald then received a harsh grilling from Aldermen Moore and Lyle.

Between the hearing and the vote six days later, opponents of the resolution worked to derail it. These included not only Fitzgerald but also Chicago’s conservative Democratic Mayor Richard M. Daley and the powerful Chicago Tribune newspaper. The day before the vote, the Tribune afforded Fitzgerald the privilege of a lengthy op-ed piece, in which he repeated the majority of the misleading statements he had made in his testimony – too late for any printed rejoinder.

Nevertheless, the supporters of the resolution held firm. The National Lawyers Guild presented the alderman with a point-by-point rebuttal of Fitzgerald’s misrepresentations. On the Council floor, Alderman Billy Ocasio denounced the Bush administration’s targeting of immigrants through the Patriot Act and other policies: “We love to say that this country was built by immigrants, but when something goes wrong, it is all the immigrants’ fault.”

Alderman Dorothy Tillman denounced the hypocrisy of a U.S. administration that likes to “go around preaching democracy [to other countries] while not practicing it at home.” Usually conservative Alderman Burton Natarus raised eyebrows when he likened the Bush administration’s use of 9/11 as a pretext for ramming through the Patriot Act to Hitler’s similar use of the Reichstag fire.

Alderman after alderman got up to promote the resolution. Only two clearly spoke against it. In the end, the vote among the 50 aldermen was 37-7 to approve the resolution, an overwhelming victory for civil liberties and a major defeat for Bush and Ashcroft.

The resolution text is available at www.bordc.org and www.chicagorights.org. The author can be reached at pww@pww.org