From AlterNet comes this interesting account by Jason Halperin of being in the wrong place at the wrong time: Patriot raid. Halperin was sitting with a friend in an Indian restaurant in New York City, eating dinner.
All of a sudden, there was a terrible commotion and five NYPD in bulletproof vests stormed down the stairs. They had their guns drawn and were pointing them indiscriminately at the restaurant staff and at us.
“Go to the back, go to the back of the restaurant,” they yelled.
I hesitated, lost in my own panic.
“Did you not hear me, go to the back and sit down,” they demanded.
I complied and looked around at the other patrons. There were eight men including the waiter, all of South Asian descent and ranging in age from late-teens to senior citizen. One of the policemen pointed his gun point-blank in the face of the waiter and shouted: “Is there anyone else in the restaurant?” The waiter, terrified, gestured to the kitchen.
It goes on from there. Over 90 minutes, Halperin and the other patrons and workers in the restaurant were threatened and intiimidated by federal and local agents, acting, they were told, under the authority of the US Patriot Act.
When I asked to speak to a lawyer, the INS official informed me that I do have the right to a lawyer but I would have to be brought down to the station and await security clearance before being granted one. When I asked how long that would take, he replied with a coy smile: “Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe a month.”
I know the 9/11 attacks were freaky, and constituted a rude awakening not only for ordinary citizens like you and me, but also for law enforcement types, all the way up to Attorney General John Ashcroft, who, prior to 9/11, was explicitly not interested in the warnings coming from the previous administration about this al Qaeda thing, having his hands much too full pursuing important goals like cracking down on Interent smut. In that context, I can see how it was politically expedient to railroad through some dramatic expansions in police powers.
But now is not then. With the passage of time, we have a much clearer picture of the threats we face, not only from terrorists, but also from people willing to trade away our freedoms in pursuit of security. It’s time to take a serious look at what we’re giving up in our efforts to stay safe, and this experience of Halperin’s provides a nice illustration of that.