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A small town joins growing nationwide backlash against the USA Patriot Act

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A small town joins growing nationwide backlash against the USA Patriot Act


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

On a good day -- a day when no one is born and no one dies -- there are around 19,000 Americans residing in Carrboro, N. C. In that respect it reminds me of my own adopted hometown of Xenia, Ohio (population a little less than 28,000 on a good day).

Carrboro is a typical Southern town. Its people are church-goers, fiercely independent, patriotic and increasingly non-native. Almost 70 percent of its population is white non-Hispanic, really no surprise when you consider its ancestral history. In its founding day, the population was German, 14 percent; English, 13.8; Irish 12.9; Italian 4.8, and Scottish 4 percent.


Today, the non-white population makes it quite cosmopolitan -- blacks, 13 percent, Hispanic, 12.3, Chinese 1.9, Asian Indian 1.3, American Indian 0.9, Korean 0.8, and other Asian, 0.5 percent. Not bad for a little down-South town.

Carrboro is no backwater, one-horse town. Its people are well-educated, with 90 percent of its population having achieved a high school diploma or higher, and a whopping 61 percent with college degrees or professional degrees. The unemployment rate is an astonishingly low 3.5 percent.

According to data it proudly touts on a website, there were no murders or rapes in Carrboro the last time such data was collected.

Throw in an average temperature that hovers around 60 degrees, and all in all, no question, Carrboro is a nice place to put down some roots and raise some youngins', as the old folks say.

Carrboro has also joined the every growing backlash against the USA Patriot Act.

"We're all patriots," Allan Spalt told an ABC News reporter. "We're all against terrorism. We all believe in protecting the country."

He pretty much summed up the feelings of other residents and many Americans across this nation who not only oppose, but are made uncomfortable by the sweeping broadness of the Patriot Act, as well as the manner in which the war on terrorism has been managed by the Bush administration. Unfortunately, those who find themselves in opposition have been labeled by conservatives as "haters of America," "unpatriotic," and worse.

None of the vile name-calling or unfair labeling or the potential for government action against them deterred the citizens of Carrboro in supporting the city council's passing of the "Bill of Rights defense resolution," several weeks ago.

Similar resolutions have been passed across the country. What these hamlets and cities -- at last count at least 100 have these resolutions on track for passage -- are seeking is some measure of protection, no matter how symbolic, against the trampling of citizens' rights.

Under the Patriot Act, the main cornerstone in the Bush administration's homeland security program, the FBI and CIA have more authority to wiretap and monitor Americans than at any other time in modern history. For example, federal agents no longer need cause nor court authorization to monitor all religious gatherings in mosques, synagogues, Baptist tent revivals, and any and all political meetings. Federal agents can also go into any public library or bookstore or county clerk's office and demand public records, sales receipts and addresses of consumers. If clerks or librarians refuse to follow those orders, they can be arrested. Employees can also be arrested for discussing the visit by federal agents with anyone, including their families.

Sounds bizarre, right? And quite, well, unpatriotic -- un-American.

It's true.

"The Patriot Act passed overwhelmingly in the hysteria following the Sept. 11 tragedy," a resident explained. "I don't think the American public has had a chance to digest the sweeping ramifications."

It was those ramifications that prompted the God-fearing citizens of Carrboro and other towns and cities to put their collective foot down.

Carrboro citizens told ABC that they were most concerned about what is called the "sneak and peek" warrants that allow federal investigators to come into your home, without your knowledge, search everything and everywhere without a warrant. The feds have what the court has deemed a "reasonable," but unspecified amount of time to inform you of why they were there, but no other details.

Carrboro resident Alex Zaffron told ABC News: "If they can do that to somebody else, they can do it to anyone."

For at least a year now, constitutional scholars have warned that the Patriot Act is at the very least troubling and, at the other end of the legal spectrum, probably unconstitutional.

"Under this standard of terrorism," explained constitutional scholar Kimberly Crenshaw of Columbia University during an ABC interview, "the civil rights movement, the freedom riders, the sit-in demonstrations, all of these people [involved registering black voters and in the civil rights movement] could conceivably have been prosecuted as terrorists."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the most revered figures of the 20th century, would have fit the Bush administration's definition of a "person worth watching," or a terrorist.

But the citizens of this great country are not the only ones grown skittish about the Patriot Act. President Bush, his domestic policies stalled in the Republican-led Congress, has elevated renewing the act to a cornerstone position in his re-election bid. However, Congress made a bold and surprising move last week and blocked Bush's effort to not only strengthen the Patriot Act, but to reauthorize it this year instead of next when it expires.

Asked by ABC News, the people of Carrboro said they realize that the resolution, their police chief and their mayor will end up in court, and that they are ready for the fight.

"It may be David against Goliath, but it's a fight worth fighting," said Carrboro's Mayor Mike Nelson.

Those small-town folks come from strong stock -- red, white and blue, all-American stock.

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