Shortly after 9/11 the New York Police Department, resurrecting the lawless spirit of COINTELPRO, initiated a vast surveillance and disruption program against local Islamic citizens and organizations. The program was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles by Associated Press. The AP chronicled the constitutional abuses of a well-orchestrated system of policing, omnipresent but operating in secret, designed to use the most sophisticated technology and investigatory techniques to monitor, control, and harass countless Muslims and members of racial and ethnic groups commonly associated with Islam. The NYPD’s program was a paradigmatic example of unconstitutional racial and religious profiling.
In Hassan v. City of New York the Third Circuit Court of Appeals re-interpreted the rules regarding discriminatory surveillance programs and held that those targeted by the NYPD had standing to sue. However, shortly after the court’s ruling, the Department of Homeland Security initiated “The Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program,” which is actuated by the same unconstitutional discrimination as the NYPD’s program. Cynthia Gonzalez’s “We’ve Been Here Before: Countering Violent Extremism through Community Policing” explains the dangers of this new program and how, because it originates in racial and religious pro ling, it violates the Third Circuit’s holding in Hassan.
Since Trump’s inauguration in January his administration has been caught in a urry of dysfunction and scandal. Every day seems to bring new revelations of corruption and incompetence. Some are serious and potentially harmful to the country, like the steady drip of information suggesting collusion with Russia to manipulate the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Some, like his tweets attacking journalists, merely confirm Trump’s bizarre and dangerous personality. Pushed into the background, however, are under- reported, yet important, policy decisions.
Laura Riley’s “Sessions’ Reversal of the Private Prison Phase-out” shines a spotlight on one such decision. Shortly after assuming office Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he would abandon the Obama administration’s decision to scale back the federal government’s reliance on private prisons. The Obama administration’s decision was based on strong evidence of rampant prisoner abuse, poor working conditions for correctional staff, and a host of other problems. In this article, Riley explains how the symbiotic relationship between the corporations who run these prisons and the Trump administration makes the escalation of for-pro t incarceration both inevitable and dangerous.
The next two features in this issue pro le two members of Trump’s cabinet. In “Betsy DeVos and the Voucher Vision of Education” Brett De- Groff, an attorney and education activist from Michigan, DeVos’s home state, explains the dangers of the new Secretary of Education’s right-wing ideology and contempt for public education. In “James Mattis: Trump’s Military Decider” Marjorie Cohn describes the military record and political views of the new Secretary of Defense. Only in an administration led by someone like Donald Trump is it reasonable to hope, as so many have begun to, that a Defense Secretary who once said “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet” might be a stabilizing influence.
Next are three book reviews that should be of special interest to NLGR readers. Paul Von Blum reviews Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File by John Edgar Wideman, which explores the racist military criminal procedures whereby Louis Till, father of famous murder victim Emmitt Till, was hanged during World War II. Kris Hermes reviews A Tilted Guide to Being a Defendant by The Tilted Scales Collective, designed to aid political dissenters and activists charged with crimes. And Michael Avery reviews Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson, a massive tome chronicling the legendary Attica prison uprising.
Alan Levine’s career as a people’s lawyer began during 1964’s Freedom Summer when he represented civil rights activists in the most racially segregated and hostile parts of the nation. For over 50 years he’s boldly embodied the Guild’s values in his legal practice. It is a privilege to close this issue with his speech upon accepting the “Champion of Justice” Award from the Guild’s NYC Chapter.
—Nathan Goetting, editor in chief