Process used by city council
In May, Council president Schweder announced that the resolution would be placed on the agenda by June 15, but the resolution has been dropped from the agenda because “a majority of council members decided that this does not pertain to city business.”
- Was it really a majority or did one or two people block this?
- Are some council members afraid to divulge their positions?
- Does Schweder want to prevent any action that would reveal differences of opinion within council?
- At least one, and possibly two, council members were NOT asked about dropping it from the agendaWas there any outside influence, such as from D.A. John Morganelli (good friends with the two council members known to oppose the resolution, Robert Donchez and Joseph Leeson) or from the justice department?
- Council’s action certainly violates the spirit of the Sunshine Act – Secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society . Decisions and policy formation are considered official actions [Section 703)
Council president Schweder’s response to pleas from the floor
(No council member acknowledged anything that was said by people at the meeting, even people who specifically asked for a response.)
I don’t know what to say about this except that it seemed extraordinarily rude to tell people he would respond at the end and then come out with something that didn’t acknowledge, reflect, or take into account anything that anyone said. If YOU spoke at the meeting — and especially if you asked council to respond — please remind everyone what you said (remember some people could not attend the meeting) and tell us how you reacted to his “response” .
Why protecting civil rights is “city business”
Their oath of office says so – All local officials in Pennsylvania take an oath “to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” … We are fortunate that in this country civil liberties are guaranteed in the constitution. Without the right to free speech, the right to assemble peacefully, and the right to disagree with the government we would not have a free society. And without due process — including a warrant based on probable cause, the right to counsel, the right to confront the evidence against them, and the right to judicial review of every step — no one is free from the threat that they will be detained based on unfounded suspicion, rumor, profiling, incompetence, or just for daring to disagree with the government. That’s why the founders created the Bill of Rights.
- Public safety is one of the most important responsibilities of local government — protecting people from threats to their personal freedom, property, or quality of life. This is true whether the threat comes from a common criminal, from someone who disturbs the peace, or a business that has no regard for neighbors — or from a federal employee that is willing to violate the constitution. City employees should do their best to protect people and should not violate — or help others to violate — anyone’s rights. (The resolution directs all city employees to protect civil rights and civil liberties and to refrain from assisting in any activity that violates people’s constitutionally guaranteed rights.)
- It would reassure people – Bethlehem Police Commissioner Francis Donchez told council that a resolution or ordinance would help reassure people that Bethlehem police will not violate their rights.
- Successful law enforcement depends on trust – The success of local law enforcement depends on the professionalism of the officers — and on trust between residents and law enforcement. This is one of the reasons why the City of Bethlehem recently established a task force to make community policing in the city even stronger. When federal agents recruit local police to investigate or detain people unjustly, it destroys this essential trust.
- Federal requests for services cost the city money – In addition to possible violations of people’s rights, federal requests for services amount to “unfunded mandates” that increase local costs or divert city employees from what they are paid to do. By directing city employees not to participate in such activities except when it serves a local purpose, the proposed resolution would protect local taxpayers.
- It could help the city avoid violating people’s rights even under pressure – Bethlehem Police Commissioner Francis Donchez told council that a local resolution would help the city — in fact, he suggests that an ordinance would be even more helpful. A resolution would strengthen the city’s hand if federal agents do come with inappropriate requests.
- It could help avoid liability for damages, and under the sunshine act, any action that creates a liability to the city is city business
Planning to act only AFTER a disaster happens
I don’t know what to say about this without just being totally sarcastic — should each town wait and develop building codes only after a disaster occurs in that town or do we learn from what happens elsewhere?
Commissioner Donchez (who has a law degree from Temple in addition to his many years of law enforcement experience) personally researched the Patriot Act and told council that it presents many opportunities for abuse, and numerous abuses have been reported both in the media and the Justice Department’s own reports
- If a person in Bethlehem is harmed under some sections of the USA PATRIOT Act, it would be a federal crime for library staff or police to report it to council or anyone else.
- Council is refusing to protect people against a known threat, and injured people will then pay the price for council’s inaction — suppose someone is “disappeared” and spends months in detention? What about their children, their spouses, their employers?
- Refusing to act risks the city being sued – If the city was informed of a threat to public safety and regused to act, I’m sure some clever lawyer will find a way to sue the city.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” —English philosopher Edmund Burke
“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in time of great moral crises maintain their neutrality,” —Dante Alighieri, The Inferno
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” —Rev. Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984)
“As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air — however slight — lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.” —Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (1976)
“It is not only under Nazi rule that police excesses are inimical to freedom. It is easy to make light of insistence on scrupulous regard for the safeguards of civil liberties when invoked on behalf of the unworthy. It is too easy. History bears testimony that by such disregards are the rights of liberty extinguished, heedlessly at first, then stealthily, and brazenly in the end.” —Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter
“The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. …” —Supreme Court decision (1866)
The biggest threat to civil liberties in the country is the Justice Department, which is “running amok and out of control” —Conservative former House Majority Leader Dick Armey
“In a democracy, personal liberties are rarely diminished overnight. Rather, they are lost gradually, by acts of well-meaning people, with good intentions, amid public approval. But the subtle loss of freedom is never recognized until the crisis is over and we look back in horror. And then it is too late.” —Judge Andrew Napolitano, writing in the New Jersey Law Review one month after 9/11
“It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.”