Oregon Rains on Ashcroft

Article excerpt


Things are quieting down here in Terror Town, and it's probably been days since a talk-show host has denounced Portland's leaders as politically correct, latte-loving traitors. Although city leaders said that local police would not conduct federally ordered interviews with local Middle Eastern aliens, the interviews have pretty much been completed by federal agents. But the whole experience has left at least one moral: In today's legal climate, a law is a dangerous thing to cite.

The explosion began when assistant police chief Andrew Kirkland, acting as head while the chief was out of town, told a New York Times reporter that Portland police would not conduct the local interviews. Kirkland, who is African-American, denounced the idea as racial profiling, which he said he'd suffered from while growing up in Detroit: "I hated the police with a passion." In retrospect, it probably wasn't a great phrasing, and Portland's leaders have been derided by TV talking heads and have received 1,500 hostile e-mails from around the country. Republican Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House judiciary subcommittee on crime, has repeatedly threatened to cut off federal law-enforcement aid to the city.

Kirkland's stance was grounded on an assistant City Attorney's finding that several of the federally ordered questions violated a state law declaring, "No law enforcement agency...may collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, [or] association...unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities, and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct." In other words, Oregon police can't legally ask people who aren't suspected of anything questions about whether they've ever been to Afghanistan or the phone numbers of everybody they know.

Says Portland City Attorney Jeff Rogers, "We've been assured these people are not suspected of anything, but these questions are things you would ask people if they were suspected of something. If that were the case, these questions would be perfectly appropriate, but then other safeguards might come into play"--such as advising people of their Miranda rights.

Rogers, a Yale lawyer in a gray suit and with a clipped gray beard, has seen these issues, and national politics, from lots of different angles. His father, William Rogers, was Dwight Eisenhower's Attorney General and Richard Nixon's Secretary of State. …