Cities Urge Restraint in Fight Against
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
LAGSTAFF, Ariz., Dec. 20 — Nearly
two dozen cities around the country have passed resolutions
urging federal authorities to respect the civil rights of
local citizens when fighting terrorism. Efforts to pass
similar measures are under way in more than 60 other places.
While the resolutions are largely symbolic, many of them
provide some legal justification for local authorities to
resist cooperating in the federal war on terrorism when they
deem civil liberties and Constitutional rights are being
Most of the resolutions have passed in liberal bastions
like Boulder, Colo.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Cambridge, Mass.; and
Berkeley, Calif., where opposition to government policy is a
tradition. But less ideological places have also acted, with
more localities considering it, from big cities like Chicago
and Tampa, Fla., to smaller ones like Fairbanks, Alaska, and
Grants Pass, Ore.
Many communities are getting help from the American Civil
Liberties Union and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, a
grass-roots group in Florence, Mass.
"People are very, very willing and committed to do
everything reasonably possible about terrorist threats,"
said Elliot Mincberg, legal director of People for the
American Way, a nonprofit group that works for constitutional
protections. "But there is a growing concern about the
executive branch is handling this, a unilateral assertion of
power that, in many instances, intrudes on people's privacy
and is carried out in a very secretive manner."
Art Babbott, the City Council member who sponsored the
resolution in Flagstaff that passed last week after intense
debate, said: "We've been singing the same song in this
country for more than 200 years. It's a very good song, and I
want to keep singing it. I'm very leery of changing the
Supporters of the resolutions say the measures have grown
out of a belief that the Patriot Act of 2001, the Homeland
Security Act passed this year and a series of executive orders
have given the federal government too much muscle in its war
against terrorism at the expense of average Americans,
especially Muslims. The 2001 act expands government powers in
such matters as electronic surveillance, search warrants and
The Homeland Security Act created a cabinet department for
In most places, the resolutions carry no legal weight,
merely affirming the civil rights as federal authorities
intensify antiterrorist efforts in the aftermath of the Sept.
11, 2001, attacks.
But resolutions passed by some towns like Amherst, Mass.,
have a sharper tone, going so far as to direct city personnel
not to help federal or state officials in activities that
could be considered in violation of civil rights or liberties.
The Amherst measure, for example, says, "to the extent
legally possible, no town employee shall officially assist or
voluntarily cooperate with investigations, interrogations or
arrest procedures" that may be judged to violate civil
rights or liberties.
The Flagstaff measure, which passed with a City Council vote
of 4 to 3, includes a part written so ambiguously that members
on each side of the issue said it could give the police
department and other city departments a legal basis to delay
or even withhold cooperation with higher authorities
investigating a terrorist threat or suspicious person. To the
four council members who support the measure, that is a good
The three who opposed it predicted that it could have
Nancy Talanian, co-director of the Florence group, said
conflicts between local and federal authorities had not
emerged. However, in Amherst, faculty members at the
University of Massachusetts recently protested the Federal
Bureau of Investigation's questioning of Musaddak J. Alhabeeb,
an Iraqi-born associate professor of economics, over his views
of the Bush administration's plans for war against Iraq.
But no conflicts over the new laws should arise, said Mark
Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department, insisting
that they are constitutional.
"We are still living under the Constitution," Mr.
Corallo said, asserting that protection of civil liberties is
built into all antiterrorism legislation. "We would have
it no other way. Everything we do, particularly in the realm
of surveillance, we do with the authority and supervision of
The resolutions already adopted, including another passed
last week, in Oakland, Calif., are alike in many ways,
reflecting a common fear of government aggression in such
areas as wiretaps, search warrants and immigration policy. The
resolution passed by the board of commissioners of Alachua
County, Fla., among others, warns that "civil liberties
are precious and may now be threatened" by the
government's new powers.
The Boulder City Council resolution "affirms that any
efforts to end terrorism not be waged at the expense of
essential civil rights and liberties of the people of Boulder,
the United States and the World."
The aldermen of Carrboro, N.C., took a slightly stronger
position, with a resolution that requires any visiting federal
agents to "work in accordance with the policies and
procedures of the Carrboro Police Department and in
cooperation with the department."
Efforts in some cities to pass resolutions with stronger
language were thwarted by legal advisers who argued that
requiring federal authorities to comply with municipal
standards would create problems. An early version of the
measure passed in Santa Cruz, Calif., sounded much the same as
Amherst's but was softened at the urging of the city attorney.
"We didn't want to put our police officers in an
untenable position," said Mayor Emily Reilly of Santa
The same kind of tug of war occurred in Flagstaff, where
Mr. Babbott, the resolution sponsor, argued for the kind of
language in the Carrboro measure. It was eliminated from the
final version after objections from Flagstaff's mayor, Joseph
C. Donaldson, and a complaint from the police chief, J. T.
McCann, who said the language "thrusts the department
into an unenforceable partisan role that is adverse not only
to our mission but our long-term partnerships" with other
law enforcement agencies.
The final version omitted any reference to the police
department but remained strong enough that Mr. Babbott said it
would cause local police officers "to think very
hard" about any federal requests for assistance that
might tread upon citizens' civil liberties.
Mayor Donaldson interpreted the resolution the same way but
said any hesitation could hurt the campaign to root out
"This creates an environment for misunderstanding and
procrastination," he said, adding that the resolution
would ultimately have no influence on any visiting federal
agents. "When the president came here before the
election, his security people didn't pick up a book to read
city policies and procedures," he said. "That's just
not going to happen."
Meanwhile, council members on both sides of the issue said
they had been barraged with criticism through e-mail messages,
telephone calls and encounters on the street.
Joe Haughey, a councilman who opposed the resolution, said
opponents have told him the resolution "serves as an
invitation" for terrorists to come to Flagstaff. Kara
Kelty, a councilwoman who voted in favor of the measure, said
one telephone caller who opposed her view called her "a
bimbo" for supporting it.
But, she said, she felt she voted the right way.
"I'm proud of my community," she said.
"Civil liberties, the Constitution and the Declaration of
Independence are dear to us. I didn't want to do anything to