Who are these people in the A-C-To-Hell-With-You, and why are they angry at me, just a poor colored guy from West Baltimore?
Stuart Comstock-Gay, head honcho of Maryland's chapter of the A-C-To-Hell-With-You, sent me a letter after reading my Nov. 1 column, the contents of which clearly displeased him.
"Given the tone of your column today," he wrote, "I imagine you don't much care about what the ACLU is really doing, but as an eternal optimist, I thought you should at least see the range of issues upon which the ACLU is working these days."
Gee, Stu, some of the things the A-C-To-Hell-With-You gets involved in bother me. What disturbs me even more is what the group doesn't tackle.
Remember December of 1964, Stu? Two miscreants named James and Earl Veney -- blood brothers -- shot two Baltimore police officers around Christmas, killing one and wounding another. Police then declared civil liberties null and void, barging into the homes of black citizens with only a warrant for the arrest of the Veneys as justification.
(Baltimore cops of that age figured all black people in Baltimore knew each other. But some less sarcastic but just as cynical claim police were simply engaged in a vendetta against the black community.)
At any rate, the A-C-To-Hell-With-You chose not to sully its hands with this clear violation of civil liberties. It was Juanita Mitchell and the NAACP that hauled Baltimore police into court and charged them with violating the rights of citizens. Fast forward 18 years, to an incident in Pimlico when police raided some 30 houses in a drug sweep. Some residents charged police terrorized children by pointing guns in their faces, stole money and had no warrants to enter their homes.
Sounded like a clear-cut violation of civil liberties to me. On a whim I called the Maryland A-C-To-Hell-With-You chapter, just to see if it would do anything. I talked to a woman. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Some Pimlico residents are charging serious civil liberties violations in the recent police raids. What does the ACLU plan to do about it?
Woman: Nothing. Those people are criminals.
Me: Thank you.
So, in the second most flagrant violation of civil liberties in Baltimore this century, the A-C-To-Hell-With-You tucked its tail between its legs, scurried off to a corner and cowered like a whimpering, whipped puppy. But am I bitter? Nah.
But I was happy to know that of the issues covered in the summer edition of "Free State Liberties" -- the A-C-To-Hell-With-You's paper -- some actually involved violations of civil liberties. Again, my problem is with those that don't. And believe me, it's worse than I thought. When I call this group the A-C-To-Hell-With-You, believe me I'm being kind. Read the list below and see if you agree.
* On registration of convicted sex offenders when they are released from prison: "ACLU argued against broad community notification, in favor of limited registration with law enforcement." Seems to me I would want to be notified if a convicted sex offender was being released from prison, especially if someone in my family was a victim.
* On legislation to make English the official language of Maryland: "ACLU and a broad coalition argued that the only effects of the measures would be to tell immigrants they are unwelcome, and perhaps lead to real discrimination." Does the A-C-To-Hell-With-You also suppose making English the official language might give some immigrants the incentive to learn it?
* Panhandlers: "ACLU had filed suit on behalf of three of the many homeless persons who panhandle for money in the downtown area. Indigent persons were routinely moved along and harassed." Anybody really think the A-C-To-Hell-With-You is going to file a suit on behalf of the many people who are harassed by aggressive panhandlers, who seem to believe they are entitled to be given the money we work hard to earn? Anyone? Anyone? I thought not.
* Death penalty: "ACLU strongly supported two measures which would have required consideration of whether or not race played a part in determination of guilt or sentencing." I've said it once, I'll say it again. If you're black and believe the death penalty is given disproportionately to blacks, DON'T KILL ANYBODY!
Not even, I would hasten to add, a member of the A-C-To-Hell-With-You.
Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.