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Providence residents press anti-Patriot Act stance

A crowd of residents this week urged the Providence City Council to join the more than 200 US communities that have taken an official stand against the USA Patriot Act.

Chris Goldrick, 28, a public-relations professional from the East Side, was one of those who made her views known. Although she hasn’t been previously been a political activist, Goldrick says the threat posed by the Patriot Act to civil liberties and the Bill of Rights motivated her to speak out. "The thing that I talked about was my concern that the Patriot Act can be abused and twisted in ways not stated to the public," she says, citing a recent New York Times story, which indicated how the act is being mostly used in a variety of prosecutions unrelated to terrorism.

Goldrick estimates that more than 100 residents — a diverse crowd encompassing Democrats and Republicans, young and old, advocates for immigrants and minorities, and other residents —turned out for the city council’s meeting on Tuesday, October 7 at City Hall. "They mostly just listened," she says, and councilors suggested the matter would be considered at a subsequent meeting.

Although Bush administration officials, like Attorney General John Ashcroft, say the Patriot Act is meant to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to track terror groups, librarians, some bookstore owners, and political activists describe it as a major threat to civil liberties. In one example of the changes made possible by the law, the FBI can get a secret court order to make libraries provide lists of books borrowed by patrons, information about library computer use, and other details that libraries have about their visitors.

While the threat to citizens is worrisome enough, Goldrick says, the ways in which the Patriot Act can be used against non-citizens are particularly troubling. "They really have almost no rights if someone on the federal level thinks they might be related to terrorism," she says. "They can be held without bail, without trial, they can be threatened with a military tribunal, and they can be denied access to a lawyer. All of this just really disturbed me deeply," as does her belief that Ashcroft and other Bush officials are using 9/11 as a pretext for diminishing civil liberties.

After many communities, including Chicago and the town of New Shoreham, on Block Island, have passed anti-Patriot Act resolutions, local activists plan to continue their efforts in Providence (more information can be found on the Web site of the Rhode Island Bill of Rights Defense Committee at www.citizeninfo.org). As Goldrick says, "We will be keeping up with the city council. We’ll continue to call, and write, and e-mail, to encourage them to pass this resolution."

Issue Date: October 10 - 16, 2003
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