- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

HOUSTON The Bush administration's war on terrorism poses a threat to minorities, which is the reason the theme of this year's NAACP national convention is "Freedom Under Fire," an official from the group said yesterday.

"We are focusing on freedom under fire from within," said Hilary Shelton, who heads the Washington, D.C., branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. His comment echoed the sentiments of several speakers since the convention began here Sunday.

Much of the concern has been over what many blacks perceive as the unjust treatment of people of Middle Eastern descent in the United States after September 11, and the broadened powers of the FBI and Justice Department.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said before the conference, the group's 93rd annual convention, that the theme "reaffirms the fact that our work continues even in the aftermath of the tragic events surrounding September 11 to ensure that the right to freedom and justice is enjoyed by every citizen."

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said in his keynote address on Sunday that "there is nothing the FBI could not do before September 11 that they need to do now in order to bring today's terrorists to justice or prevent another attack."

"White men commit most domestic, homegrown terrorism," he said, citing 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as an example.

The event has been marked by criticism of the Bush administration and Attorney General John Ashcroft. A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee said yesterday that the convention appeared to be only "an opportunity to get together and bash Republicans."

The administration sought yesterday to allay some of the civil liberties concerns of those gathered at the convention.

A two-page, double-sided flier from the Justice Department's Community Relations Service was circulated at the convention, with dated quotes from Mr. Ashcroft condemning discrimination and from Mr. Bush demanding "good will and respect."

But it did not sway many here, who remained convinced that the administration's war on terrorism posed a risk to the civil liberties of minorities living in this country.

"The bottom line is that what Mr. Mfume and Mr. Bond say is accurate," Mr. Shelton said.

Mr. Shelton said the NAACP is concerned about education issues, especially those involving the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans.

"And that is part of what we are talking about here," Mr. Shelton said. "We know that what makes this nation great is its freedom, but when we put laws into place that eviscerate that freedom then we have lost."

The NAACP, and particularly Mr. Mfume, praised President Bush for his response to the September 11 terrorist attacks and supported his careful deliberation before taking military action.

But this year's NAACP convention also has a larger attendance from uniformed soldiers than in past years, and there have been references to patriotism among blacks.

On Monday, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, presented Mr. Mfume and Mr. Bond with a U.S. flag.

Mr. Mfume opened his speech by announcing the NAACP's "unbroken solidarity with the proud men and women of our armed services they are the patriots of this new generation and they are all singularly American."

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