Why the NYPD's Abuses Matter to You and Us

| Sun Mar. 25, 2007 11:44 PM EDT

Most people who support the Bush administration's generous reinterpretation of the rights of government in the name of fighting terrorism (and many do) do so with the fundamental assumption that they would never be the ones whose civil liberties were yanked out from underneath them. After all, they're law-abiding citizens who couldn't possibly be mistaken for terrorist-sympathizers or enemies of the state. Well, the Times' article on the far-reaching surveillance conducted by the New York police in the lead-up to the 2004 Republican convention demonstrates how false that assumption is—even for upper-class white heterosexual Christian moderates.

Attend a meeting of a group opposing Bush or the death penalty or other government policies, or supporting the environment (or, or, or) and the government opens a file on you. Engage in email with these groups and your email will be read and stored. Simply walk down the wrong block in Manhattan during the Republican convention—whether or not you were there to protest, and whether or not your protest was held in violation of any rule or regulation, however minor—and you may have been jailed in the huge dragnet arrests that caused more than 1,800 people to be held for up to 2 days. Not only were many innocent of all charges, but virtually all were charged with violations that would not normally be cause for making a trip down to the station. Few detainees were charged within the legal time limit, and the NYPD failed to respond to the writs of habeas corpus filed on their behalf. Why? So they could get fingerprints of every person being held.

This is per the paper of record; it's no conspiracy theory, though many who have been giving their version of events for more than 2 years have been dismissed as paranoid.

Which brings me to my second point. Without the investigative journalism of a serious local paper, this story would never have come to light. In this era of media consolidation [PDF] and profits-first, it pays to remember that. All national news is local somewhere. Investigative journalism, which is time consuming and doesn't always strike pay dirt, may not make sense in terms of a simple equation of time in: money out, but knowing what your government is up to—well, that's priceless. And it could easily be your freedom that depends upon it someday, whoever you are.

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