Our humble mayor, Mike Bloomberg, has been basking in the glow of largely unmerited approval around the country, ranging from his purported resurrection of the city’s school system (many parents and students beg to differ) to his handling of the city budget, among other feats of the managerial prowess that has made him a billionaire. Encouraged by the buzz, Bloomberg has been consulting specialists in national election law even as Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey diligently studies the terrain for a possible Bloomberg vault to the White House.
Even that inflated kingmaker, the Reverend Al Sharpton, has knighted the mayor for diminishing the “tone of ugliness”in this city.
Since Bloomberg has given his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, free rein to curtail civil liberties (and has warmly encouraged Kelly to try succeeding him at Gracie Mansion), Sharpton might have mentioned one particularly noticeable and ugly mark of the Bloomberg regime, described here by Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union: “The black community continues to bear the brunt of police stops, [and] blacks continue to be singled out for stops that don’t ever result in an arrest.”
(However, a cop would have to be a rookie policeman recently moved from Juneau, Alaska, to stop and frisk the renowned Al Sharpton.)
But now our mayor has proposed an assault on the most fundamental constitutional rights of New Yorkers—one that exceeds the contempt for the Constitution shown by any mayor in all the years I’ve been covering civil liberties in this city. Not even Rudy Giuliani thought of this one, which was reported by Jim Dwyer in the January 19 issue of The New York Times:
“This week, the mayor proposed that everyone arrested for any crime in New York City—before the case has been judged—should be required to provide a sample of DNA.” (Emphasis added.)
Under New York State law, DNA can only be collected from those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors. But in New York City, the mayor’s proposal would force anyone who’s merely arrested to give up a DNA sample for a data bank even before they can appear in court (as the Constitution requires).
The New York Civil Liberties Union release, “Myths and Facts About DNA Data Banks,”makes clear that each of us “has a privacy interest in the information contained in their DNA—it is information you would not want falling into the hands of employers, insurance companies, and other actors who could use it against you. . . . While a fingerprint is a two-dimensional representation of the surface of your fingers, DNA contains a tremendous amount of sensitive information about you, including your susceptibility to certain diseases, family history and ancestry.”
What Bloomberg wants to do is take away our Fifth Amendment guarantees of “due process of law”—the foundation of our system of justice—and our Fourth Amendment protections against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”Having your fundamental privacy ransacked before you ever get the chance to defend yourself against a criminal charge not only magnifies Giuliani’s reckless legacy of imperial executive power in this city, but also sharply reveals Bloomberg as a presidential aspirant who will continue the Bush-Cheney administration’s subversion of the Bill of Rights.
As of this writing, I’ve seen very little press attention given to this omen of what Bloomberg’s America would be like. Where are the outraged editorials? Where are the protests from the city’s lawyers? And will there be a response from the New York City Bar Association—the nation’s most influential, as far as civil liberties are concerned—which has condemned past “revisions”of the Constitution by the Bush-Cheney regime in the most acutely critical terms.
New York City’s criminal-justice coordinator, John Feinblatt, told Jim Dwyer that the mayor’s proposed DNA search-and-seizure policy “will prevent crime,”and that even though there’d be some resistance on the basis of privacy concerns, its adoption was “inevitable.”
Do you agree? It would be extremely interesting to find out what the current presidential candidates of both parties think of Bloomberg’s proposal. Then again, the mayor’s total disdain for due process isn’t entirely surprising in view of his enthusiastic support for his police commissioner’s actions before and during the 2004 Republican National Convention here. As I described it in an earlier column, “J.
Edgar Bloomberg: COINTELPRO in NY” (April 24, 2007), teams of undercover New York City police officers were sent around the country, as well as to Canada and Europe, to infiltrate and spy on not only anti–Iraq War groups, but also such potential dangers to national security as church groups, environmental organizations, and anti-death-penalty groups.
And during the NYPD’s decidedly extra-constitutional arrests during the Republican convention, those people incarcerated (not all of them protesters) were asked by police what they thought of George W. Bush and questioned on their other political views. After forceful objections by New Yorkers—and the New York Civil Liberties Union—the cops stopped violating the First Amendment with such questions, which were obviously none of their damn business. The mayor, of course, didn’t object to the policy of asking such questions.
As a further indication of J. Edgar Bloomberg and Ray Kelly’s need for a crash course on the Constitution, the New York Law Journal reported on February 16, 2007, that U.S. District Court Judge Charles S. Haight—who has had a busy time of it trying to force the NYPD to abide by the constitutional guidelines for police surveillance—charged the department with “egregious”spying on “political activity”after the Intelligence Division videotaped a protest by (I kid you not) the Coalition for the Homeless in front of Mayor Bloomberg’s residence.
If that Putin-style police surveillance was “egregious,”what is the word for probing the most intimately personal information of New Yorkers after they are arrested—and only arrested?
With any luck, the mayor may have unintentionally performed an educational service, quickening interest in other investigative uses and abuses of DNA by the police. Next week: What the mayor obviously doesn’t know about the maze of problems in implementing his proposal. For example: Such massive expansion of DNA testing greatly increases the likelihood of error that is already inherent in the system. Or perhaps he simply doesn’t care—until, God forbid, there’s a mix-up, and a perpetrator’s DNA is mis-labled as Michael Bloomberg’s.
On the January 23, 2008, Letters page, Ethan Young calls me “reactionary”for being pro-life. On the same page, Joseph Carducci provides one of the reasons I am indeed pro-life. He writes: “Yes, Barack Obama is half-black and talks about change, but he does not want to change Roe v. Wade, a ruling that eliminates more black
people than any other cause of death.”