TJoe Mahon he Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution Friday opposing some of the George W. Bush administration’s homeland security directives.
Called “Defending the Bill of Rights,” the resolution expresses the city’s opposition to federal measures it considers unconstitutional.
These include parts of the USA Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act, along with some executive orders and Justice Department directives that expand wiretapping and Internet surveillance authority, allow secret searches, broaden access to private records and limit disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
The resolution’s teeth come in a clause requiring local law enforcement agencies to “refrain from using city resources, including personnel and administrative or law enforcement funds, to advance such unconstitutional activities.”
“The federal government cannot enforce all of the illegal provisions of the Patriot act alone; they need to rely on police and local authorities,” said Dan Dobson, a Bill of Rights Defense Committee member.
The resolution requires police and city employees to report activities considered unconstitutional to the City Council and the city’s Human Rights Commission when legally possible.
It also prohibits police from engaging in racial, religious or political profiling and recommends city libraries post a notice to users that the Patriot act allows the federal government to obtain their library records.
“Some may think this is a lot about nothing, but in fact, the events of this week demonstrate the need for this resolution,” said City Council member Dean Zimmermann, 6th Ward, referring to the arrest and detainment of Somali community activist Omar Jamal by federal immigration authorities.
Zimmermann, who represents the Whittier, Steven’s Square and Phillips neighborhoods, was the chief sponsor among the resolution’s seven authors.
Council member Barbara Johnson, 4th Ward, who represents the city’s northwest corner, opposed the resolution.
“I haven’t read the Patriot act, all 250 pages, and I would imagine no one in this room has,” she said. “But it was passed by Congress and signed by the president, and it is the law of the land.”
Council member Paul Zerby, 2nd Ward, who represents the University’s Minneapolis campus and outlying neighborhoods, said, “I can say that I tried to read it. It’s very complex and I didn’t read or understand all of it, but I can say I probably did as much as the members of Congress that passed it.”
In a committee meeting Tuesday that invited input from the public, Unitarian minister Kendyl Gibbons drew an analogy to the Dred Scott case in which the U.S. Supreme Court required free states to return runaway slaves.
History has looked favorably on the communities that resisted the federal government, even though it was illegal at the time, Gibbons said.
Johnson said the council should not be a vehicle for activists who should use the courts.
“It’s incumbent on you people that do have concerns to challenge the constitutionality of this law, and until it has been proven unconstitutional, I cannot support this resolution,” she said.
The resolution eventually passed 11-2.
The council’s vote makes Minneapolis one of 81 cities nationwide – with a combined population of over 6.2 million – to adopt such measures.
Minneapolis’ Bill of Rights Defense Committee is part of a national movement that has challenged post-Sept. 11, 2001, security measures.
The St. Paul City Council is considering adoption of a similar resolution.
Joe Mahon covers University neighborhoods and welcomes comments at [email protected]