Heck, I’m no lawyer! I hope I’m not breaking any law here by telling this personal tale.
In late 2004, when I was still a 9/11 community organizer at NICE, working our butts off against the rampant hate crimes against immigrants of New York City, the powerful New York Civil Liberties Union asked me if I wanted to be a plaintiff on their big subway bag search lawsuit against super-powerful New York Police Department.
At a major NYCLU rally on Wall Street denouncing Bush and Ashcroft’s mad-repressive USA PATRIOT Act, a lead NYCLU lawyer Christopher Dunn saw me being singled out by NYPD for a frisk and backpack search. Guess what: I was one of the speakers entering the speakers’ designated area behind the makeshift podium. Guess what: ever before I spoke, I was already a perceived criminal! So, attorney Dunn thought I could be an ideal plaintiff on their up and coming civil liberties lawsuit.
I said yes. I was scared about the unknown, uncertain prospects of it; especially as a poor, brown, first-generation immigrant with no political or money power, you should be scared, unless you’re absolutely crazy or naive. I was neither.
Yes, I was scared to death. Still, in hindsight, I’m glad I joined in on the lawsuit as one of the five high-profile plaintiffs. It was a difficult but rewarding experience.
I don’t want to bore you to death describing all the nitty-gritty details of the lawsuit. You can read about it online. I also do not want to comment on the verdict of the case; as I said, I have no legal expertise to do it. NYCLU and the five of us plaintiffs (four white males and yours truly) whom they represented, after going through the harrowing ordeal of standing on the much-publicized trial, going through many hours of examination and cross examination by big-name lawyers from our side and the government’s side, and in front of a big-name judge too, we lost on the lower courts.
NYCLU decided not to move it further; I had personally hoped they’d taken it up all the way to U.S. Supreme Court; I thought our case had strong merit and moral uprightness. But the political climate was extremely adversarial; media did not do a good job telling people about the real reasons behind the lawsuit (surprise!). They did not explain how the people in power were using the post-terrorism climate of fear and apprehension to strip people away of their constitutional human rights and liberties, and scoring political mileage that way. Nothing new: we’ve seen the same repression and mass-spreading of fear and paranoia all across the world — under the false pretext of fighting war against terror and preserving safety and security. We’ve seen how they’ve used a phony WMD excuse too (read my previous posts on this blog).
Nowhere in the world governments of U.S., U.K. or India type have been able to protect the lives of the ordinary and innocent people efficiently and proactively. In fact, 9/11 in USA or 26/11 in India are two prime examples of that abject failure.
I thank and compliment NYCLU and ACLU for showing guts to stand up against mass-manufacturing of consent for repression and scapegoating. I feel privileged to have worked closely with them.
Of course, then, I had strange experiences of being harassed and insulted on the subway. I’ll tell you more about it soon. Please come back for those stories.
Brooklyn, New York