Dear Tea Party Members and Supporters of the 112th Congress
Later on today as many as 90 men and women backed by you will be among the 434 members of the 112th Congress that will be sworn in today. There has been a lot of speculation as to what the Tea Party will do and how your influence and potential power will be respected. Almost everyone agrees the shift in power with Nancy Pelosi stepping down and John Boehner stepping in as Speaker of the House, is due to the enthusiasm you all touched off in people.
As an acknowledgement to that influence for the first time, the Constitution will be read. As I understand it will take more than an hour and a half and the point of reading it is so that everyone in the chambers, the country and for that matter the entire world, is reminded exactly what sort of principles we as a country should ideally be embracing.
I have a couple of questions about this reading and your next actions as members of Congress. The first involves the 4th amendment around the issue of search and seizures and our collective protections from them..The amendment reads as follows:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and Warrants shall not be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Now as you all are aware over the past few years surveillance on the American people is an at an all time high. Some of this has been a result of so-called ‘War on Drugs‘ and in more recent days the ‘War on Terror‘. We went from a nation that prided itself on having a right to privacy to one where police can stop you at any time under the loosely interpreted ‘suspicion of illegal activity‘.
For example, in places like New York City under their infamous Stop and Frisk policy anywhere from 300 thousand to more than half a million people stopped each year in New York with the police looking for guns. Very few are found, but there are high numbers of lower level summons issued.We recently come to find that New York police are under pressure to meet a quota. 20 summons is the equivalent to one arrest.
In cities like Oakland, LA and Chicago we see the government has created far-reaching gang injunctions. If it’s done thing to stop criminal activity. I think we can all agree to that, but what many of these cities are doing is establishing gang data bases.
Many of the people entered into the database are young men and women who live in high crime neighborhoods but have no gang affiliations. How they wind up being placed in the database is the police will stop many under that pesky little ‘reasonable suspicion‘ clause and then look for literally anything to associate them with a gang.
It could be they have a red, blue, purple etc backpack or jersey from a school that happens to have the same color or initials favored by a gang. They could’ve had their hats worn backwards or they were observed saying ‘hello’ to a family member or friend who is a suspected gang member. The police observe this sort of activity and the next thing you know the person they’re profiling winds up in the gang database. Once this happens, that person is subjected to all sorts of unwarranted surveillance, stop and frisk measures and even civil lawsuits.
This is all happening more often than not, without due process or the person’s knowledge they were even added to the database. Years later if that person is pulled over for a minor traffic violation, the officer punches in their name and voila, suddenly they’re viewed as a gang member.
Recently a new law was enacted in states like California which allows the police to confiscate and search our cell phones or computers to seek additional evidence in the form of text messages and emails to qualify their suspicions.
Does this sound fair? Does this sound reasonable?
Now what I described is going on in many urban areas, but I’m sure these search and seizure tactics, are manifesting themselves in other areas, probably in the form of warrantless wiretapping and are being applied to ‘suspected’ groups of varied backgrounds.
I know earlier this year while at the Netroots convention in Las Vegas I attended a panel discussion that focused on increased government surveillance. I was shocked to hear about recent reports that had come out identifying the top three targets for profiling and monitoring were Muslims with Middle Eastern Backgrounds, students at historically Black colleges and Ron Paul supporters are considered Constitutionalists. This was discussed at length at the netroots convention and I know its been discussed in other circles.
As the constitution is being read today, will you in the Tea Party be looking to put an end to all this government surveillance of innocent people? Will you be fighting to put an end to to intrusive policies like stop and frisk, warrantless wiretaps, no knock warrants and all this government monitoring on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter?
As members of the Tea Party we understand that you are all about making sure we have Due Process. This is outlined in the 5th Amendment which reads as follows:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
As you are probably aware the past few years we’ve seen government violate this amendment on all sorts of grounds. In recent days we’ve seen the Department of Homeland Security shut down websites without due process. Popular websites like Onsmash.com and RapGodfathers.com were shut down on the suspicion of copyright infringement.
The owners say they are innocent but that didn’t seem to matter to DHS. What was most disturbing there was no warrant, no letter inquiring about so-called infringement or whether or not the site owners had permission to post particular material. In fact with RapGodfathers they didn’t post material, but instead pointed links to sites where music was hosted.
There was no discussion or place to appeal the shut downs. There was no letter issued asking sites to remove material. Similar fate was met with 80 other sites also shut down by DHS. These sites were shut down completely along with years worth of robust discussions and exchanges on message boards and a wealth of information in the form of articles and reviews submitted by visitors to the sites. Where was the due process for those who posted up writings and material to a site. What laws did they break?
These sites were suspected of copyright infringement and for those who respect the law that may seem like an open and shut case, but as those who love the constitution we all know that due process is paramount and a precedent should not be set by allowing increased government encroachment. Today its the rap sites, but tomorrow it could any of our own sites if we don’t do proper attributions to quotes from newspaper article or if a visitor to our message boards post up a copyrighted picture.
It wasn’t to long ago Tea Party backed candidate Sharon Angle found herself the subject of lawsuit for posting up an article from a local newspaper about herself. Although it was a private entity that sued her and not the government, there was suspicion that the government was behind it. In addition, no letters were written requesting she remove material,she was dragged into court.
Angle is high profile but thousands of others have been hit with similar fate.
Will this sort of activity be vigoriously opposed by the 90 Tea Party backed members in congress?
Lastly I read this morning that Congressman Darrell Issa, who is set to lead the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has written to over 150 corporations asking what sort of regulations they need lifted. Is this something the Tea Party supports?
Maybe I’m cynical but last year we saw 29 miners get killed in West Virginia with the company Massey being cited as one that routinely scoffed the few regulations already in place. In fact they are cited as having the worse record in US mining history.
In San Bruno California, 6 people were killed and entire neighborhood destroyed because of faulty gas pipe that was supposed to be repaired by PG&E. At first we thought it was an unfortunate accident, but came to find out PG&E had increased rates in 2007 to justify the 5 million dollars which they had on hand needed repair faulty pipes including the one that exploded which was deemed by them to be one of the most at risk.
PG&E never did the work instead they spent 46 million dollars on Prop 16 this past summer to prevent other gas companies from coming into the area and being contracted by local municipalities. The people of California rejected PG&E’s proposition.
We won’t even speak about the negligence that led to the explosion and repair efforts around the BP Gulf Oil Spill.
All in all we hope you in the Tea Party who railed against the government clamping down on our freedoms will step up and make sure the government backs off some of these egregious intrusions. At the same time we hope that you are wary of powerful forces and corporations that have access to lawmakers like yourself and have used their money, resources and influence to literally put elected officials in their back pocket. An unchecked corporation can be just as oppressive as an unchecked government and from what I gathered y’all should be opposed that as well or are you? We look forward to seeing how you will reform Washington or if Washington will reform you.
peace out for now