Thom Cincotta keeps an eye on justice
PRA is pleased to welcome new project director Thomas Cincotta, in charge of the organization’s newest initiative—a nationwide investigation of America’s domestic security structure.
As a criminal defense attorney, Thom led the Denver chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) [www.nlg.org] in support of peace groups, as well as others, during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
It was in helping to provide legal support and advice surrounding the DNC that Thom gained a firsthand appreciation of the chilling effect of government surveillance.
“People became more cautious. There was suspicion and paranoia— a lot more fingerpointing was going on behind the scenes and between rival groups.” says Thom. “It was a distraction from the issues and the organizing. Second-guessing whether someone was a government agent, or whether agents were in our midst, wasted time and fueled suspicion and distrust.”
Thom is quick to note that surveillance is a way to control people’s actions. “When a hall monitor or teacher watches over recess, it has an effect on a kid’s behavior. Likewise, when the government is known to be surveilling through informants, when people know the government is watching them, it chills their freedom of association and speech.”
The civil liberties project focuses on the structure of this type of surveillance, to see how resources are mobilized across the national, regional, and local levels in ways that repress the activities of immigrants, Muslims, and Arabs, as well as people from the Middle East and South Asia.
The project will deploy investigative researchers in Boston, the Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan, areas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Phoenix. These on-the-ground investigators will be able to glean new and fresh insights into what’s really going on. All sites will be operational this summer. As project director, Thom will synthesize PRA’s new findings with existing information to provide local and national advocates with tools to combat repression through surveillance.
PRA’s history of attention to domestic repression was a major draw for Thom. “PRA looks at civil liberties through a broader understanding of how the state can act as a repressive force,” he explains. “Especially against movements for change.”
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