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On transparency and democracy

by YES! Staff

We knew months ago that YES! Weekly reporter Eric Ginsburg was sitting on a bombshell, the minute he unearthed an e-mail in which Sgt. Mike Richey of the Greensboro Police Department identified at-large Greensboro Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter as a “CI,” police jargon for “confidential informant.”

The e-mail, obtained through a public records request, was part of Ginsburg’s research into police surveillance of local grassroots political groups.

We were floored. For years we’ve admired her stance on social justice, her advocacy for human rights, her outreach into communities that don’t always rate a seat at the political table. We’ve backed that up with endorsements for her city council campaigns going back to her first in 2007.

The news drove another records request with an eye towards Abuzuaiter and her communication with the criminal intelligence division. From the documents the city provided, Ginsburg discerned a pattern: Abuzuaiter had been conveying pieces of  information about political groups to the department for years, including demonstration plans, the names of members of the groups, attendance numbers for meetings, photographs of parade routes and more. Marikay takes ownership some of the e-mails, but insists that she has no idea where the more egregious ones came from, though they originate from her e-mail. Ginsburg has more on page 10.

DEMOCRACY DEPENDS ON A TRANSPARENT GOVERNMENT SO THAT THE PEOPLE CAN PROVIDE A FINAL CHECK ON THE POWERS THAT BE.

We knew the city government wouldn’t be happy about Ginsburg’s story, “Under Surveillance.” But we didn’t think they’d try to subvert the Constitution to keep it from hitting the streets.

In a way, we’re almost disappointed that Judge Ronald Spivey so staunchly defended the freedom of the press, that crucial element of our democracy so important to its function that our Founding Fathers mentioned it right up front and center.

Had he censored our newspaper, the story might have gotten even more attention — a sure way to get people to read something is to tell them they’re not allowed to see it.

But had the city been able to exercise an illegal prior restraint, there would be nothing to stop them from doing it again in the future, and soon enough they might just decide that YES! Weekly probably shouldn’t be allowed to print at all. Then they’d come for our colleagues at the Rhinoceros Times and the News & Record. City government would run much more efficiently, they might argue, without all these pesky questions from geeks with notebooks in their hands. Then perhaps they’d come for the blogs.

But that’s not how it works. And frankly, we’re astonished that our city leaders didn’t understand that until Judge Spivey pointed it out. Our democracy depends on a transparent government so that the people can provide a final check on the powers that be.

We’re willing to brush aside the fact that the city tried to shut us down — it was just business, after all. Instead we concentrate on the city’s actions prior to that, when our records requests got filled thoroughly and in the timely manner laid out by law.

And in the spirit of transparency, we’re releasing some of the documents we obtained in our records requests. You can find them at our blog, yesweeklyblog.blogspot.com. They should neatly illustrate how we came to our conclusions.

YES! WEEKLY chooses to exercise its right to express editorial opinion in our publication. In fact we cherish it, considering opinion to be a vital component of any publication. The viewpoints expressed represent a consensus of the YES! Weekly editorial staff, achieved through much deliberation and consideration .

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