City Council Challenges Congressional Act

USA PATRIOT Act abridges civil liberties, councillors say

In a five-to-four decision, the Cambridge City Council voted last week to uphold civil liberties that it said are “under siege” because of the federal government’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Stating that the USA PATRIOT Act has limited and even eliminated certain civil liberties, the council renewed its commitment to freedom of speech, assembly and privacy.

“I feel very strongly that we send a message right now to [U.S. Attorney General] John Ashcroft and others that we oppose terrorism but we also support our civil liberties,” said councillor Brian P. Murphy ’86-’87, who co-sponsored the resolution.

The resolution was a reinstatement of Cambridge’s 1985 declaration to be “A Sanctuary City,” in which city departments and employees are committed to protecting immigrant refugees from inquiries about citizenship status that could lead to deportation.

Community members and activists gave about two hours of public testimony on the resolution in a packed Sullivan Chamber.


“This is really making the city more of a home,” said Emma Lang, a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School who testified before the council.

But a few residents testified against the measure, saying it could hurt efforts to protect the city from potential terrorist attack.

“With Harvard and MIT in Cambridge, we are at risk for attacks,” said Alexander Sagan, who had been part of the initial sanctuary movement in the ’80s. “To suggest that we might not be cooperating with federal authorities would be a mistake in this regard.”

Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, another co-sponsor of the resolution, said that the resolution sent a good signal but did little to actually prevent abridgement of civil liberties under the USA PATRIOT Act.

“There’s no teeth in this,” she said. “What we are doing tonight is simply affirming that we as a community believe in the Constitution, believe in civil rights.”

Decker said the people with “real courage” were the members of Congress who voted against the USA PATRIOT Act, including Democratic U.S. House members Michael E. Capuano, Barney Frank ’61-’62, James P. McGovern, John W. Olver and John F. Tierney.

Councillors who voted against the measure said that they did not want to interfere with the Cambridge Police Department’s ability to do its job.

“We need to have our city manager weigh in and bring our law enforcement officials in and have a conversation,” said councillor Anthony D. Galluccio.

Decker responded by saying that there was nothing in the resolution that interfered with the police.

But while a vote on the resolution had already been delayed from the previous council meeting, several councillors said they wanted to further consider the resolution.