State police spying is dangerous repression
By Maria Allwine
July 22, 2008
As one of the members of the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance who has been spied on by the Maryland State Police, I feel it important that people understand we in the Pledge of Resistance are the most peaceful, nonterrorist-type folks you could ever hope to meet. We are committed to raising awareness about the destructive forces of violence in our society and our country, which is one of the reasons we have protested the invasion of Iraq since before it occurred. It is because we love and value this country so much that we work to make it better, and we start by insisting that those in power obey its laws. It is because we are profoundly anguished by our government's illegal actions and what it has done to us and to our brothers and sisters around the world that we continue our peaceful work.
This spying and infiltration of the Pledge of Resistance and the Baltimore Coalition to Stop the Death Penalty cuts to the core of what we are as a country. Does the First Amendment of our Constitution really mean what it says when it guarantees freedom of speech, assembly and to petition our government, or is it something we learn about in school but never really understand and then forget? Do we as a people tolerate the tactics that countless dictators, past and present, use to terrorize their citizens to perpetuate their power? Or do we recognize spying on peaceful people who are trying to make this government and this country a truly free and harmonious place for what it is - repression in its rankest and most dangerous form that must not be tolerated in the United States of America?
A no-less-important issue is that in these dreadful economic times, the resources of our state were diverted to fund this illegal activity. I find it ironic, and would be laughing if I weren't so upset, that my tax dollars funded my surveillance. And your and my tax dollars have been diverted from dealing with real crime (of which there is no shortage), and real criminals who do mean us harm, to investigating two groups that by the repeated admissions of the infiltrators were engaging in nothing criminal and were completely nonviolent.
I am not only outraged but also sickened to my soul that because I do not agree with some of the policies of my government and work peacefully to change them, someone with power and authority decided that I have no First Amendment rights and labeled me a security threat and worse.
This is not what this country stands for. This is not who we are. Whatever side of the political or ideological spectrum people find themselves on, this issue cuts across all those boundaries. No one who is working peacefully and nonviolently should ever be surveilled - it is a simple and fundamental truth.
We in the Pledge of Resistance need to know who ordered this surveillance and why it was ordered. We also need a full accounting of the surveillance because we are almost certain we were infiltrated earlier than the documents suggest, and we want to know what steps are being taken to ensure that the surveillance is halted and never started again. The state police and Gov. Martin O'Malley owe this to every citizen of this state and certainly to us in the groups surveilled.
The First Amendment is the United States of America. I believe it and live it. Do you?
Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun
Our view: More careful oversight may be needed
July 23, 2008
Should police be able to spy on our neighbors within limits? That's the challenging, post- 9/11 question a committee of Maryland legislators will have to confront this fall as it investigates a wasteful, lengthy state police intelligence unit's surveillance of peace groups and death penalty opponents. The hearings should get to the bottom of how this unit operates, who it targets and if the right oversight policies are in place to protect Maryland citizens.
Since the 2005-2006 spying operation was disclosed by the American Civil Liberties Union last week, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, the state police superintendent, have assured Marylanders that police investigators aren't breaking the law and won't improperly launch surveillance against citizens who are exercising their constitutional right to freely speak and meet. But neither has made the case that new legislation is not needed to monitor and control the Homeland Security and Intelligence Division.
The records of the spying operation uncovered by the ACLU show that undercover officers monitored groups of peace activists and death penalty protesters for 14 months, accumulating no evidence of wrongdoing. The documents also indicate that some of those observed had their names entered in a law enforcement database of people suspected of being terrorists or drug traffickers.
The intelligence operation recalled episodes from another era when police trampled the rights of protesters and civil rights activists under the banner of pursuing communists, radicals and anarchists. Today, Americans are more worried than ever about the threat of real terrorists among them. The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon demonstrated how terrorists could easily hide among us with little, if any, clues to the evil they were plotting.
The state police operation took place during the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has said he didn't know about it, and former police superintendent Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, who has declined to discuss it.
When the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee meets, perhaps as early as September, Mr. Hutchins should detail the policies and procedures under which the unit operated, for what purpose and who oversaw it. Colonel Sheridan should discuss the unit's mission today.
If lawmakers don't like what they hear, they should consider legislation to provide stronger oversight.
Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs