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Civil Rights Trivia Night Spotlights Need for Protections

Civil Rights Trivia Night Spotlights Need for Protections

Published: August 16, 2011
Moderators ask questions during trivia night in Northhampton, MA

Moderators ask questions during trivia nights in Northhampton, MA

Photo: Photo: Evelyn Crunden

How would you score in a civil rights trivia game covering topics such as immigration, domestic surveillance and racial profiling by police departments?   Nearly 30 people, many of them area college students, found out at an AFSC-sponsored trivia night at the Yellow Sofa Café in Northampton, MA on August 3.   

“I can’t think of a more entertaining way to deliver all the information we delivered.  It would be hard to talk about these issues in a panel without it being boring, but we managed to turn it into a game,” said Jeff Napolitano, AFSC’s Western Massachusetts program coordinator.

The trivia night brought new faces to AFSC’s Western Massachusetts campaign to protect civil rights.  The campaign seeks passage of municipal ordinances to stop local police involvement in federal programs for immigration control and to put the brakes on widespread domestic surveillance.    It also asks local police to thoroughly report on the racial demographics of those they stop and arrest, which would make racial profiling practices more apparent. 

The campaign started last winter in Northampton, which plans to vote on a resolution opting out of the so-called “Secure Communities” program later this month.  Secure Communities involves local and state authorities in immigration and customs enforcement.   The program has encouraged racial profiling, divided families, and eroded basic community trust in law enforcement where implemented, prompting several cities and states to opt out, including Springfield..

 In a surprising announcement made to advocacy groups August 5, the Department of Homeland Security indicated that it will unilaterally rescind the memorandum of agreements between state, local jurisdictions and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when implementing Secure Communities.   Despite this news, the city of Northampton intends to proceed with its vote.

Participants were less familiar with “Fusion Centers,” which the federal government has   established nationwide to feed information from local authorities, emergency personnel, and even corporate partners into a national database used to track residents. Most of this information is collected without probable cause, warrants, and has no oversight outside of Washington, D.C.   Everything from emergency calls to consumer purchases to casual observations by police officers can end up in the system.   Western Massachusetts is preparing to come online with the program, which already exists in the eastern half of the state.

Jeff Napolitano joked that some trivia contestants may have gained an advantage by noticing the correlation between right answers and worst-case scenarios in the multiple choice game.   But whether they won or lost, everyone at the Yellow Sofa gained a better understanding of modern challenges to civil rights – and efforts to protect them in Northampton.