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Humboldt County, CA June 6, 2006 Election
Smart Voter

Arcata, Civil Liberties and You

By Gregory P. Allen

Candidate for Green Party County Council; County of Humboldt

This information is provided by the candidate
Civil liberties are not only a concern for other times or in other countries, but here and now in Arcata, where a recent proposal sought to create two classes of citizens amongst landlords and tenants. With the Patriot Act and other ongoing challenges, we need constant vigilance to preserve this core conservative value.
"It couldn't happen here," is a common response when the subject of civil liberties is first raised. Civil liberties as a concept apparently is only relevant when discussing other countries, or other states, long ago and far away.

If only this were true. In California a little more than sixty years ago, Japanese Americans, US citizens, were arrested and interned in concentration camps when they were not charged with, or even suspected of crimes. Apparently the crime was being born of Japanese descent.

Of course we're past that sort of thing now aren't we? Well, in fact, no. Even now Muslim Americans are being arrested, detained, incarcerated, and deported without being charged or even suspected of crimes. Usually there is nothing approaching due process, which is defined as notice and a chance to be heard. These Americans of Muslim descent are being arrested and deported without government allegations of wrongdoing, any meaningful hearings, or recourse, in deprivation of their rights under the United States Constitution.

But we're in Arcata, not Tuscaloosa. The stuff that happened to Japanese Americans was over sixty years ago. Local Muslim Americans aren't being arrested and deported, yet. What could civil liberties have to do with a great town like Arcata?

Last summer, the city council considered an ordinance which would have created mandatory inspections of all non-owner occupied residential property in the city. The purpose was to protect renters from landlords renting substandard property. This would have protected tenants afraid of retaliation from angry landlords.

It also would have created two decidedly different classes of citizens in Arcata, those occupying their own property, and those who don't. Those who were not residing in their own property would have fewer rights than those who do. Most importantly, tenants would have a lower expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.

Who cares? Well, I do and think you should as well. This ordinance would have allowed inspectors from the city to enter the homes of each and every tenant in Arcata without their consent. The operative word here is consent. If the inspections were voluntary, there would be no problem. Without consent, we have a substantial intrusion on tenant's rights to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. Would you like government inspectors to search your home without your request or permission?

Fortunately the council acted responsibly and did not pass the mandatory rental inspection ordinance. The point is, they were considering it all! Did you know that it's a crime to have a leashed dog in certain parts of town unless walking? Merely stopping for any reason is a crime. Arcata Municipal Ordinance 5210(a),(b) If you happen to be homeless and have a dog with you, merely being present in some parts of town without actively walking through is a crime. In some parts of town merely standing conversing or eating, with your leashed dog is a crime. Not surprisingly, this ordinance is most frequently enforced against the homeless.

When laws are enacted that fall more heavily or one group of people than another, we set the stage for more discriminatory laws, which create different classes of citizenship in Arcata. Since the Constitutions of the United States and the State of California, require equal protection under the law, singling out particular groups for prosecution and not others strikes at the very core of the protections guaranteed us.

People generally believe that civil liberties are something already won, old news. In fact there are constant challenges to our civil liberties. As the above examples show, civil liberties are always challenged. The Patriot Act is another sad and all too recent example. For our civil liberties to be preserved, we need constant vigilance and the willingness to speak out.

I've always found it odd that civil liberties are frequently said to be the province only of liberals and activists. Civil liberties are the core conservative value as well. A supporter of civil liberties is not really an activist at all, but a preservationist. One who seeks to maintain the civil liberties we already have under the Constitution.

It has been said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Arcata is no different.

Contact me at .

Greg Allen is an attorney, Chairman of the Green Party of Humboldt County, and a board member of the ACLU Redwood Chapter and the ACLU Northern California Affiliate in San Francisco.

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