Patriot Raid: a foretaste of US fascism


Richard Moore


Patriot Raid
Jason Halperin
t r u t h o u t | Report

Saturday 03 May 2003

A month ago I experienced a very small taste of what
hundreds of South Asian immigrants and U.S. citizens of
South Asian descent have gone through since 9/11, and
what thousands of others have come to fear. I was held,
against my will and without warrant or cause, under the
USA PATRIOT Act. While I understand the need for some
measure of security and precaution in times such as
these, the manner in which this detention and
interrogation took place raises serious questions about
police tactics and the safeguarding of civil liberties
in times of war.

That night, March 20th, my roommate Asher and I were on
our way to see the Broadway show "Rent." We had an hour
to spare before curtain time so we stopped into an
Indian restaurant just off of Times Square in the heart
of midtown. I have omitted the name of the restaurant
so as not to subject the owners to any further
harassment or humiliation.

We helped ourselves to the buffet and then sat down to
begin eating our dinner. I was just about to tell Asher
how I'd eaten there before and how delicious the
vegetable curry was, but I never got a chance. All of a
sudden, there was a terrible commotion and five NYPD in
bulletproof vests stormed down the stairs. They had
their guns drawn and were pointing them
indiscriminately at the restaurant staff and at us.

"Go to the back, go to the back of the restaurant,"
they yelled.

I hesitated, lost in my own panic.

"Did you not hear me, go to the back and sit down,"
they demanded.

I complied and looked around at the other patrons.
There were eight men including the waiter, all of South
Asian descent and ranging in age from late-teens to
senior citizen. One of the policemen pointed his gun
point-blank in the face of the waiter and shouted: "Is
there anyone else in the restaurant?" The waiter,
terrified, gestured to the kitchen.

The police placed their fingers on the triggers of
their guns and kicked open the kitchen doors. Shouts
emanated from the kitchen and a few seconds later five
Hispanic men were made to crawl out on their hands and
knees, guns pointed at them.

After patting us all down, the five officers seated us
at two tables. As they continued to kick open doors to
closets and bathrooms with their fingers glued to their
triggers, no less than ten officers in suits emerged
from the stairwell. Most of them sat in the back of the
restaurant typing on their laptop computers. Two of
them walked over to our table and identified themselves
as officers of the INS and Homeland Security

I explained that we were just eating dinner and asked
why we were being held. We were told by the INS agent
that we would be released once they had confirmation
that we had no outstanding warrants and our immigration
status was OK'd.

In pre-9/11 America, the legality of this would have
been questionable. After all, the Fourth Amendment to
the Constitution states: "The right of the people to be
secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not
be violated; and no warrants shall issue, but upon
probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and
particularly describing the place to be searched and
the persons or things to be seized."

"You have no right to hold us," Asher insisted.

"Yes, we have every right," responded one of the
agents. "You are being held under the Patriot Act
following suspicion under an internal Homeland Security

The USA PATRIOT Act was passed into law on October 26,
2001 in order to facilitate the post 9/11 crackdown on
terrorism (the name is actually an acronym: "Uniting
and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate
Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism
Act.") Like most Americans, I did not recognize the
extent to which this bill foregoes our civil liberties.
Among the unprecedented rights it grants to the federal
government are the right to wiretap without warrant,
and the right to detain without warrant. As I quickly
discovered, the right to an attorney has been seemingly
fudged as well.

When I asked to speak to a lawyer, the INS official
informed me that I do have the right to a lawyer but I
would have to be brought down to the station and await
security clearance before being granted one. When I
asked how long that would take, he replied with a coy
smile: "Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe a month."

We insisted that we had every right to leave and were
going to do so. One of the policemen walked over with
his hand on his gun and taunted: "Go ahead and leave,
just go ahead."

We remained seated. Our IDs were taken, and brought to
the officers with laptops. I was questioned over the
fact that my license was out of state, and asked if I
had "something to hide." The police continued to hassle
the kitchen workers, demanding licenses and dates of
birth. One of the kitchen workers was shaking
hysterically and kept providing the day's date -- March
20, 2003, over and over.

As I continued to press for legal counsel, a female
officer who had been busy typing on her laptop in the
front of the restaurant, walked over and put her finger
in my face. "We are at war, we are at war and this is
for your safety," she exclaimed. As she walked away
from the table, she continued to repeat it to herself?
"We are at war, we are at war. How can they not
understand this."

I most certainly understand that we are at war. I also
understand that the freedoms afforded to all of us in
the Constitution were meant specifically for times like
these. Our freedoms were carved out during times of
strife by people who were facing brutal injustices, and
were intended specifically so that this nation would
behave differently in such times. If our freedoms
crumble exactly when they are needed most, then they
were really never freedoms at all.

After an hour and a half the INS agent walked back over
and handed Asher and me our licenses. A policeman took
us by the arm and escorted us out of the building.
Before stepping out to the street, the INS agent
apologized. He explained, in a low voice, that they did
not think the two of us were in the restaurant. Several
of the other patrons, though of South Asian descent,
were in fact U.S. citizens. There were four taxi
drivers, two students, one newspaper salesman --
unwitting customers, just like Asher and me. I doubt,
though, they received any apologies from the INS or the
Department of Homeland Security.

Nor have the over 600 people of South Asian descent
currently being held without charge by the Federal
government. Apparently, this type of treatment is
acceptable. One of the taxi drivers, a U.S. citizen,
spoke to me during the interrogation. "Please stop
talking to them," he urged. "I have been through this
before. Please do whatever they say. Please for our

Three days later I phoned the restaurant to discover
what happened. The owner was nervous and embarrassed
and obviously did not want to talk about it. But I
managed to ascertain that the whole thing had been one
giant mistake. A mistake. Loaded guns pointed in faces,
people made to crawl on their hands and knees, police
officers clearly exacerbating a tense situation by
kicking in doors, taunting, keeping their fingers on
the trigger even after the situation was under control.
A mistake. And, according to the ACLU a perfectly legal
one, thanks to the Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act is just the first phase of the erosion
of the Fourth Amendment. From the Justice Department
has emerged a draft of the Domestic Securities
Enhancement Act, also known as Patriot II. Among other
things, this act would allow the Justice Department to
detain anyone, anytime, secretly and indefinitely. It
would also make it a crime to reveal the identity or
even existence of such a detainee.

Every American citizen, whether they support the
current war or not, should be alarmed by the speed and
facility with which these changes to our fundamental
rights are taking place. And all of those who thought
that these laws would never affect them, who thought
that the Patriot Act only applied to the guilty, should
heed this story as a wake-up call. Please learn from my
experience. We are all vulnerable so speak out and
organize, our Fourth Amendment rights depend upon it.


Jason Halperin lives in New York City and works at
Doctors Without Borders/Medicins San Frontieres. If you
are moved by this account, he asks that you consider
donating to your local ACLU chapter.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this
material is distributed without profit to those who
have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational

© Copyright 2003 by


    For the movement, the relevant question is not, "Can we
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