Finally, at long last, I have something in common with Muhammad Ali.
No, I’m not the heavyweight champion of the world, but, like “the Greatest,” I have been a target of state police surveillance for activities–in my case, against the death penalty–that were legal, nonviolent and, so I assumed, constitutionally protected.
In classified reports compiled by the Maryland State Police and the Department of Homeland Security, I am “Dave Z.” This nickname was given by an undercover agent known to us as “Lucy.” She sat in our meetings of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, smiling and engaged, taking copious notes about actions deemed threatening by the former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich. Our seditious crimes, as Lucy reported, involved such acts as planning to set up a table at the local farmers market and writing up a petition. Adding a dash of farce to this outrage, she was monitoring us in the liberal enclave of Takoma Park, Maryland, a place known more for tie-dyeing than terrorism. Incidentally, current Governor Martin O’Malley says he opposes this kind of surveillance. He also opposes the death penalty. No word yet on whether he, too, is being spied upon.
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and the ACLU, we now know that “Lucy” was only one part of a vast, insidious project. The Maryland State Police’s Department of Homeland Security devoted nearly 300 hours and thousands of taxpayer dollars in 2005 and 2006 to harassing people whose only crime was dissenting on the question of the war in Iraq and Maryland’s use of cruel and unusual punishment.
My friend Mike Stark, a board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, is at times referred to in Lucy’s report as a “socialist” and an “anarchist.” One can only assume this is the pathetic, time-honored tradition of reducing people to simple caricatures, all the better to garner Homeland Security grant money.
Veteran Baltimore peace activist Max Obuszewski, who has initiated a lawsuit against the Maryland State Police, has also consistently been shadowed by authorties. His “primary crime” (their terminology) was entered into the homeland security database as “terrorism-anti govern[ment].” His “secondary crime” was listed as “terrorism-antiwar protesters.” The database is known as the Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). A respected peace organizer of many decades is identified as a terrorist, his actions listed as criminal, for doing nothing more than exercising his rights.