Last year the news broke that Maryland Police were spying on anti-death penalty and anti-war groups. State Senator (and my colleague at American University Washington College of Law) Jamie Raskin vowed to introduce legislation to block the practice. But now it turns out that LGBT advocacy group Equality Maryland was also the target of surveillance. The organization was on a list of "political protest groups thought to be a threat to public safety." In other words, a terrorist watch list.
Equality Maryland -- A Threat to Public Safety????
Apparently, the Equality Maryland executive director until the end of last year, Dan Furmansky, did not originally believe the group was on the list. Nonetheless, he authorized the Maryland ACLU to file a request for information from the state. The response showed, among other things, that someone used a fake name to find out details about a rally. And that Dan's photo was part of the police files.
I cut my political teeth in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Government surveillance of protest groups was the norm. It was the era of J Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO. In the late 1970's, one of the garbage collectors at my DC home told me that the "police" were having him deliver my garbage to them; I never figured out whether it was my legal representation of politically controversial individuals or the fact that one of my roommates had once gone to jail in another city for refusing to answer questions about her radical feminist community. Or something else entirely.
Since 9/11, it's been easy to think that the only "terrorist" surveillance around was of Islamic or Arab-American groups. LGBT people who don't fall into those groups might have thought that the issue had nothing to do with them.
It shouldn't take something so close to home for all of us to defend civil liberties -- across the board. Are we going to find that surveillance like this happened in other states?