By Tenzin Shakya, staff writer
Hundreds of Bay Area residents gathered in front of the Human Rights Commission Sept. 23 to voice concerns regarding the San Francisco Police Department’s decision to hire additional Terrorist Liaison Officers.
“San Francisco, a city which prides itself on its progressive values, just hired 40 new terrorist liaisons and none of us even knows what that means,” said Veena Dubal, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus.
“Since Sept. 11th, we have received harrowing accounts from clients and ourselves witness the McCarthyist tactics of the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force against both political activists and the Muslim community at large,” Dubal said.
TLOs are active duty police officers who volunteer to receive training from other government agencies.
At the meeting, community members related their experiences after 9/11 and argued that San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón’s desire to change department rules on gathering intelligence infringes on their First Amendment rights.
The first speaker was Josh Singh, an 8-year-old Sikh boy who donned a red “patka,” a religious head garment. He said when he was at San Francisco International Airport, officials separated him from his parents and told him to remove the garment. His mortified parents stood aside, separated by a glass wall as they saw their young son go through the search. Singh said he continued to ask what he did wrong, but was not told anything. He asked, “Why was I the only boy behind the glass box?”
Sgt. Troy Dangerfield, a spokesman for the SFPD, said TLOs do not watch religious organizations or specific groups of people. Police officials must prove reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before opening an investigation, according to staff attorney Julia Mass of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The definition of First Amendment protected activity includes expression, advocacy, participation, expressed conduct to further any political or religious opinion,” Mass said.
SFPD’s “One Year Retrospective Report” was released by Chief Gascón in August 2009 and reported that Homeland Security decided to increase the number of TLOs from 40 to 100.
According to the report, TLOs reach out to the community by educating business owners about terrorist threats and reporting protocol.
In 2008, California Homeland Security Director Matthew Bettenhausen testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and urged them to give more authority to local governments by allowing full access to information gathered by terrorism prevention institutions created after 9/11.
Consistent with the 9/11 Act, homeland security grants states at least 25 percent of Urban Areas Security Initiative appropriated funds to go toward anti-terrorism efforts.
“We need local legal safeguards to prevent intrusions on the civil liberties of San Francisco’s residents,” said Hararah. “Because of police collaborations with the FBI or ICE, our communities do not feel we can rely on the local law enforcement for help.”