FBI trampling rights of bookstore owners
Police agencies seem to have great difficulty discerning the difference between protecting the First Amendment rights of bookstore owners and violating them. In 1967, an array of police agencies set out to frame and convict Martin G. Sostre, owner of the Afro-Asian Bookstore at 1412 Jefferson Ave., on a variety of trumped-up charges that later proved to be fabricated by an FBI COINTELPRO operation. Sostre was vindicated and granted clemency by New York Gov. Hugh Carey and, I imagined, that closed the book on this despicable form of police behavior.
Therefore, it was with surprise that I read The News article regarding FBI surveillance of Burning Books and its co-owners Leslie Pickering, Theresa Baker-Pickering and Nathaniel Buckley. I found the contention of FBI Special Agent J. Michael Tapen that the agency investigated the bookstore with an “eye toward preserving Pickering’s civil liberties” to be preposterous. As one who has been on the receiving end of the FBI’s civil liberties protection efforts, I shudder to think of what a chilling two-year surveillance effort has on the civil liberties of the proprietors. I see this as nothing more than an act of government intimidation.
While I was pleased to read that the FBI has ceased its investigation, I do find this impossible to believe. Burning Books still sells the same books, sponsors similar lectures and presents progressive films. These activities are what attracted FBI surveillance in the first place. Why would it now be dissuaded from those efforts? If not for lawyers, I believe I would be visiting these young activists in prison rather than attending activities at Burning Books.
Bruce L. Beyer