AS ENDORSEMENTS GO, it was an important one on a controversial issue. It was also surprising. But it was hardly enthusiastic.
"We urge the passage of this resolution. But we also urge you to convey our expectation that our officers will refuse to participate in the kind of FBI activity that has been documented across the country that abuses our civil liberties and our civil rights."
That was Andrea Meyer, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon—a group looked upon by many as Oregon's conscience when it comes to civil rights. She was actually sitting next to US Attorney for Oregon Dwight Holton last Thursday, April 28. And she was telling Portland City Council that it should go ahead and tighten its relationship with a federal anti-terrorism task force that it basically withdrew from six years earlier.
The council did just that—unanimously, it turned out—finally approving a resolution that aims to keep Portland's police officers working with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) on an as-needed basis, but with stronger protections (we hope) to keep our cops from violating Oregon's unique civil liberties laws ["Give the FBI a Chance?" News, April 28].
The vote came, coincidentally, just days before the White House announced the death of Osama bin Laden—and warned against possible retaliatory terrorist plots in the United States.
The ACLU's assent was a sought-after prize in talks led by Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Randy Leonard. It allows Adams—who earns a well-deserved political victory—to claim the moral ground inhabited by Portland's progressives while answering the call of would-be campaign donors to cozy up with the feds.
That claim, however, is fragile. And it may prove fleeting if the mayor—and the council—can't show the city he is serious about his commitment to civil rights.
Meyer came armed with a comprehensive list of the FBI's abuses—peace activists and Muslims spied on, files created and then stashed away, based solely on an agent's hunch.
"It is not a question of if" Portland cops might be asked to cross lines, Meyer said. "It is a question of when."
How our officers respond remains to be seen. The cops who work with the task force are supposed to be trained in the differences between state and federal law, but that training hasn't been defined. Same for annual reports the council is supposed to receive. Will those reports be robust? Will they tell us how often our cops raise concerns about their work?
Those issues aren't academic. Despite what Commissioner Dan Saltzman said about FBI abuses "that happened 60 years ago," abuses are still happening. They're happening right now.