November 13, 2002

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SAN FRANCISCO - The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, in collaboration with a group of local and national advocacy groups, today released a new report documenting the experiences of 20 individuals whose lives have been altered by the backlash following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

"These stories show that, more than a year after the attacks, the backlash is not over," said Dorothy Ehrlich, Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California. "It lingers on in the stores, schools and streets of Northern California, and it continues to touch the lives of people in our communities in varied, surprising, and often shocking ways."

Caught in the Backlash: Stories from Northern California, was produced by the ACLU together with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Intergroup Clearinghouse, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, National Lawyers Guild and the United Response Collaborative (a group of five community-based organizations).

The report profiles individuals who have been the targets of hate crimes, discrimination and government surveillance since Sept. 11. The people whose stories are told are of Arabic, Asian, Filipino, European, Latino and South Asian heritage; they are Christian, Druse, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh. They are students, retirees, parents and children, business owners, workers, academics and activists, from San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Union City and Santa Clara, including: 

  • Mustapha Ghezali, a student at San Jose State University who was arrested at gunpoint, jailed, and barred from campus during final exams based on unsubstantiated allegations by another student; 
  • Sugako Green, a half-Palestinian, half-Japanese American Muslim from Oakland who has been the victim of vitriolic hate incidents since Sept. 11; 
  • Marcia Perez, whose 8-year-old son was ejected from his Daly City roller hockey team after she talked politics with his coach; and 
  • Charlotte Wu, a UC Berkeley student who opened her dorm-room door to three police officers after she talked on the telephone about a videogame that involved "planting bombs."

According to Helal Omeira, Executive Director of CAIR in Northern California, people in the Muslim community continue to be exposed to discrimination, a situation that is compounded by government policies targeting individuals based on their ethnicity, and by the inflammatory rhetoric of some high profile figures. 

"The growing anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic rhetoric by some in the media and by certain religious leaders is reflected in the increase in hate crimes and hate incidents against the American-Muslim community of this great country and region," Omeira said.

Jill Tregor of the Intergroup Clearinghouse, which works to reduce hate-related violence, said that while violent hate crimes have tapered off, hate incidents continue. Many victims, says Tregor, are afraid to report their experiences. 

"So many people are being harassed or detained by the government that they are fearful of law enforcement," she said. "When concerns about immigration or language capacity enter the equation, those fears are only exacerbated. When people call us, the first thing they ask is 'What are the repercussions?'"

Ehrlich said that the people profiled in the report "are the tip of the iceberg" because so many of those caught in the backlash are afraid to speak out. "At this crucial time," she said, "we are calling on local policymakers to take concrete steps to keep our communities both safe and free." 

The report offers the following recommendations:

  • City and County Councils: Pass resolutions that affirm support for constitutional rights, express opposition to the anti-civil liberties provisions of the USA Patriot Act (USAPA), and condemn racial profiling and scapegoating of immigrants. 
  • Local Police Departments: Report to the City or County, and not accede to, any requests by federal law enforcement for cooperation with investigations that violate Californians' constitutional right to privacy. 
  • California's Congressional Delegation: Work to repeal all provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that infringe upon civil liberties.  
  • State & Local School Boards and University Authorities: Develop guidelines that ensure a safe environment for freedom of expression and protect the rights of students to express unpopular opinions. 
  • Attorney General Bill Lockyer: Issue a recommendation that local police departments not accede to any requests by federal law enforcement for cooperation with investigations that violate Californian's constitutional right to privacy. 

The photographs taken for the report by award-winning photographer Rick Rocamora will form part of a series, Caught in the Backlash, that he plans to show alongside his critically acclaimed exhibit Freedom and Fear: Bay Area Muslims After Sept. 11.

The report, online at http://www.aclunc.org/911/backlash.pdf, is part of the ACLU's ongoing national campaign to protect civil liberties in the post-Sept. 11 world. The ACLU's campaign, Keep America Safe and Free, was launched last month and includes paid television advertising and a massive mobilization of its members and supporters in a nationwide effort to protect the Constitution. For more information on the ACLU's Keep America Safe and Free campaign, go to /safefree

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