As one of the organizers of the NATO protest last October, I was shocked to learn in last week's Independent that undercover police, including Patrick McElderry -- the son of Colorado Springs Deputy Police Chief Pat McElderry -- had been employed to spy on us. I thought those days ended 30 years ago with Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover.
I guess not.
In 2002, when the police "spy-file" scandal broke, it brought a federal lawsuit against the Denver Police Department by the American Civil Liberties Union and a subpoena of the "spy files" from the Colorado Springs Police Department on behalf of 3,200 groups, individuals and journalists. It was learned that Colorado Springs police had been spying on peace groups here for 18 years and sending information to the Denver police and the FBI. Our police initially denied monitoring people "involved in a peaceful activity," and Cmdr. Kurt Pillard of the intelligence unit said, "We don't follow anyone who we suspect is involved in peaceful activity."
Wrong then and wrong now.
At the time, the Denver City Council and then-Mayor Wellington Webb denounced the practice. Can we count on our council to finally denounce this continuing and escalating practice? Isn't it finally time to examine the issue that started when the council first considered hiring a new chief of police trained by Daryl Gates in Los Angeles? Isn't it finally time to evolve beyond these "L.A. tactics," McCarthyism and civil rights abuses?
And what comes next after undercover infiltration of "anyone who we suspect is involved in peaceful activity"? If the tactics I witnessed during the Nixon/Hoover era are to be used again, next will be undercover police creating confrontations to be blamed on protesters. Maybe that already happened last February when ours was the only police force in the nation to use tear gas as we joined millions around the world protesting a war we knew then had insufficient justification.
I guess next will be wiretaps on our phones and e-mail intercepts. Then the tax audits start. Will we be added to the terrorist "no fly" list and not allowed to go home for Christmas?
Where the hell is our Constitution?
At Kent State in 1970, undercover police chained the gates closed, barring the escape of the students before the National Guard opened fire, shooting nine and killing four. In 1972 the Gainesville 8 -- members of Vietnam Veterans Against War -- were arrested for planning a violent disruption of the Republican convention in Miami. The person advocating such deplorable tactics turned out to be an undercover cop. Hoover's COINTELPRO program put 3,000 phone taps and 800 bugs on the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
As far as recent activities employed by Colorado Springs police go, their tactics of going undercover and spying on us are not only a waste of time and resources, but they're also totally unnecessary. Our meetings are open to the public just as our protests are. Our Web sites and discussions are on the Net and anyone can sign up to participate and receive our daily news digest. The Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission's newsletter, "Active for Justice," is available all over town.
We inform the police of any planned activities and thought we had a cordial relationship with the department. We also provide our own "peacekeeper" force at all demonstrations to actively maintain our strict code of nonviolence.
So, has exercising our first amendment rights to free speech, peaceful assembly, and redress of grievances been deemed a crime in Colorado Springs? Where's the probable cause? Where's the due process?
Where the hell is our Constitution?
I call on the CSPD to obey the law like we do and reject these wasteful and antiquated policies. I call on the City Council to protect our civil liberties and investigate these tactics openly and thoroughly, now that they've been given a second opportunity.
I call on all supporters of the Constitution to stand with us in its defense. Your rights may be next!
Mark Lewis is a Colorado Springs photographer/illustrator and musician. He has been a peace activist for 35 years and works locally with the Springs Action Alliance and Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission.
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