Friday, December 30, 2005

AHH News Feature: Rappers Talk Patriot Act & Presidential Powers
By Nolan Strong
Date: 12/29/2005 6:00 pm

Last week, the U.S. Senate struck a deal to extend requirements within the Patriot Act that are set to expire soon, ending a dispute between prominent Democrats and Republicans.

On Dec. 21, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) announced that Congress had reached a compromise to extend expired portions of the act until Feb. 3, 2006.

The Patriot Act was passed in 2001 and gives the government sweeping surveillance powers, which were set to expire Dec. 31, 2005.

Republicans wanted the act permanently extended before its Dec. 31 expiration date, but various senators from both parties used obstructionist tactics, filibustering the anti-terrorist act and claiming it does not protect American civil liberties.

Rappers M-1 of Dead Prez and Immortal Technique, Rock The Vote director Hans Reimer, and Hip-Hop historian, journalist, DJ and community activist Davey D offered their thoughts on the controversial act.

M-1 stated that civil liberties could be compromised or worse.

"The Patriot Act in general is a violation of the human rights of the citizens of the United States," M-1 told "Even though I consider myself a world citizen, I also recognize this abuse of power a continuation of government programs such as the counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), which was historically put together to undermine the forward progression of the Black community."

COINTELPRO was founded by infamous FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in 1956, out of the government's frustration with Supreme Court rulings limiting the government's prosecution power against dissident groups in the United States.

The once-secret program was expanded to include domestic surveillance and actions against various U.S. counter-cultural organizations and leaders, including the Black Panther Party, the Ku Klux Klan, the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1971, COINTELPRO became public when a group of radicals broke into FBI offices, sending classified files to various news agencies. In the midst of the controversy, Hoover publicly disbanded the program, although many believe the FBI continues its surveillance activities today.

In 1976, a Senate committee investigating the program found that "the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence."

"What's ironic about COINTELPRO is that it effectively destroyed many of the pro-black militant youth movements of the time, which in turn created a void [that helped give] birth to Hip-Hop," Davey D. said.

Like the COINTELPRO program, the Patriot Act has been criticized by various civil liberties groups since being passed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on Washington, D.C. and New York.

The act grants federal authorities across-the-board rights for warrantless searches and wiretaps on individuals or groups who they believe pose possible terrorist threats.

Other controversial sections of the act grant government access, without court authorization, to business records and library patron files, and the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain records from "electronic communication service providers."

Immortal Technique said he believed the short-term effects of the Patriot Act were not as important as the long-term effects it can potentially have on civil liberties.

"It's not what liberties it will deprive the American public of today or tomorrow, but rather if it's renewed indefinitely," Immortal Technique said. "What liberties will be sacrificed on its altar many years from now when it's no longer an issue? This Federal Republic is run by patient architects, patient enough to wait two presidential terms for a war in Iraq. They can wait for things to fall into place," he added.

A recently-exposed secret executive order issued by President Bush in 2002 created uproar among U.S. legislators, prompting members of Bush's own Republican Party to question the president's powers.

"There is no doubt that this is inappropriate," said influential Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who vowed to hold hearings into the matter in 2006.

"If this could be helpful in any way to the population, why then does President George 'Washington' Bush [get] the consent of not only the population, but even his own people in leadership around him?" M-1 pondered about the secret executive order.

Bush defended the secret order and the Patriot Act, stating the surveillance was within the "inherent powers" of the president.

Opponents of the bill fear it can easily be abused and used against individuals for reasons other than those related to terrorism.

"Many of Hip-Hop's pioneers and political groups, including Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, X-Clan, and Paris to name a few, have all come under surveillance for their political activities, especially when they began traveling overseas," Davey D. said. "Artists like Bambaataa who worked to raise money for Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress during South Africa's apartheid regime, really caught hell. Others like Public Enemy and Paris, who were connected to or did things with the Nation of Islam as well as artists affiliated with the 5 Percenters (The 5 Percent Nation of Gods and Earths) also came under fire."

In a statement, Bush said the Patriot Act has helped disrupt terrorist plots and cells, and that he would work closely with the House and Senate to ensure the United States is not without the act "for even a day."

According to Immortal Technique, "This country and this system never needed an act like this to conduct surveillance on its citizens; it has always been done, especially with Black and Latino people."

While the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits "unreasonable" searches, including eavesdropping, some Republicans rallied behind President Bush to support passage of the act.

"You could argue it one way and you might argue it the other," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). "But the White House certainly has some case law on their side and the inherent powers of the president on their side, and those two, I think, would cause any reasonable person to side with the executive branch."

"These surveillance tactics were later applied to so-called 'Gangsta rappers' as an extension of the war on drugs," Davey D. stated. "The recent realization of a Hip-Hop Task Force underscored this fact."

According to Hans Riemer, director of Rock The Vote, upcoming 2006 elections could be decisive for the current adminstration's agendas.

"The 2006 election will be about whether people are happy with President Bush and his buddies in Congress," Riemer told "Right now the winds are blowing against them. If young people vote against the Bush agenda again the way they did in 2004, and turn out in big numbers just like they did in 2004, that could spell real trouble for these guys. The only thing these people fear is losing an election, so the only way to impact them is to make them worry about their job security."

The debate will continue as the 109th Congress enters its second session on Jan. 3, 2006.


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