Polluted justice:
Politics played role in New York officers spying on citizens

Reading about New York Police Department intelligence officers combing the country for possible agitators and disrupters of the 2004 GOP convention in the Big Apple - even spying on people in Albuquerque and infiltrating church and peace groups - makes me think of the rancid history of politics polluting justice in America.

Add political spying - to what we're learning about the Bush Justice Department firing decent Republican U.S. attorneys for not being zealous enough in attacking Democrats, or pursuing so-called "voter fraud" when no evidence of fraud existed - and you get a disturbing look at the dark undercurrents of polarized America.

Unhappily, this is nothing new. Politics has undercut democracy often in our history, ruining the lives of completely innocent people or scaring them into silence.

From the Truman administration's loyalty oaths and lists of "subversive organizations," to McCarthyism and the CIA conducting surveillance on more than 300,000 U.S. citizens during the Vietnam War, we've seen such anti-American behavior pervade our history, and, thankfully, be revealed by the press and courageous public officials.

Even in Albuquerque, political spying on citizens got out of hand, as it did in many American cities. In the late l970s, some 3,000 dossiers, alleged to contain information on political figures in the state, were burned, before a court order could be delivered to prevent their destruction. To this day, no one knows whose names were in those files.

The NYPD, according to the New York Times, is opposing efforts to make public the files on individuals and organizations collected before the 2004 GOP convention.

"From Albuquerque to Montreal . . . undercover New York police officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists. . . . They made friends, shared meals, swapped e-mail messages and then filed daily reports with the (NYPD) Intelligence Division," the Times reports.

What is more odious to Americans than government agencies spying on innocent people who have no violence in their hearts and no plans to hurt anyone, simply because of their politics?

When newspapers use the term "political prisoner" or "prisoner of conscience," they are describing the fate of people who have committed no crime other than offending the powers that maintain the status quo.

In the United States, our Constitution and our legal system do not recognize the existence of political crimes. The Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court's calling, engraved in stone over its portals, assures "Equal Justice Under Law," no matter what your political persuasion.

I don't know which is worse, wasting time and resources spying on Americans for their political beliefs while real terrorists and thugs plot pain and suffering, or trying to turn the Department of Justice into the enforcer of the White House's political agendas.

I do know this, however. Justice in America should never be contaminated by politics.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
April 2, 2007