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L.A. Takes Stand Against Patriot Act

City Council opposes Bush's State of the Union request to extend the measure.

January 22, 2004|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

The day after President Bush asked Congress to extend the Patriot Act, the Los Angeles City Council took a formal position against it, calling portions of the terror-fighting law anti-American and saying that it encourages racial profiling.

"Our country was founded on an ideal of due process.... I believe the Patriot Act undermines these ideals," said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who sponsored the resolution. "I do not believe we are a city that believes police should enforce laws by taking into account someone's ethnic background."

In his State of the Union speech, Bush called the act, which Congress passed in the weeks after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, an "essential tool" in defending the U.S. against terrorism.

The president said it helps law enforcement to better track terrorists and share information across agencies.

"Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens," Bush said.

Critics have said that certain provisions violate the U.S. Constitution. Librarians, in particular, have decried a section that gives government officials easier access to library and bookstore records, allowing them to secretly watch what people are reading.

"I'm ecstatic," said Adele Wallace, a librarian in the Washington Irving Branch Library in South Los Angeles, after the council voted.

"I feel there is hope in this country for freedom of expression."

The vote made Los Angeles the largest city in the U.S. to come out against the law, but by no means the first. More than 230 cities, counties and states have passed such resolutions.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Assn. both have campaigned against the act.

Damon Moglen, national field coordinator for the ACLU, said L.A.'s vote is important because the city is one of those "that people look to as a bellwether."

Only two council members, Dennis Zine and Jack Weiss, voted against the resolution.

Weiss said he did so despite concerns about some provisions of the Patriot Act because many of his former colleagues in the U.S. attorney's office are using it to prosecute child pornographers and terrorists.

Zine said that he did not want to "do anything to hurt law enforcement" and that it was up to the courts to decide what is and is not constitutional.

Several council members were careful to stress that Los Angeles residents have been touched by the Patriot Act, and therefore that it was proper for the council to weigh in.

"These people are our constituents," said Councilman Tony Cardenas, who said he had received a call Tuesday evening from a resident of his district who had been detained under the act.

Mayor James K. Hahn said he would have to review the council's resolution before deciding whether to sign it, but added that he has "serious reservations" about some portions of the Patriot Act.

"We can't lose our freedoms in trying to protect them," the mayor said.

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