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LAPD Gang Injunctions Gave Cops a License to Harass and Control Black and Latino Residents

American Civil Liberties Union - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 17:45
The law enforcement “tool” unconstitutionally restricted people’s freedom without a shred of due process.

Peter Arellano’s life changed when a Los Angeles Police Department officer handed him a piece of paper informing him that he was now subject to a “gang injunction.” He could no longer visit his neighbors in their homes, drive to church with his family, ride his bike through the local park, or even stand in his own front yard with his father or brother. If he violated these terms, he could be arrested and jailed. Arellano, who has never been convicted of any crime, had effectively been placed on house arrest.

Gang injunctions are ineffective policing tools that primarily serve to criminalize young Black and Latino men. Nonetheless, Los Angeles has been operating a massive gang injunction program for decades. Like nearly 9,000 other Angelenos, Arellano was subjected to an injunction solely based on an LAPD officer’s opinion, a whim that was approved by a city attorney, that he was a gang member. He never got to challenge the allegation or even know what evidence was used against him. This decision to radically limit his freedom didn’t involve a court.

Gang injunctions represent a radical departure from constitutional due process. To obtain a gang injunction, a prosecutor files a civil “nuisance abatement” lawsuit against a particular gang, claiming that its conduct harms the community. The gang, which is not a formal organization and has no legal representation, does not appear at trial. With no one to argue against the need for an injunction, it is granted by default.

The police then serve people they claim are the gang’s members with copies of the injunction days, or years, later, asserting that they are now bound by its terms. While people could challenge after being served, it required proving they were not gang members without knowing why the city claimed they were. Unsurprisingly, only a handful of people were successful in getting freed from injunctions.

Gang injunctions turn common behavior into crimes, such as possessing everyday items like cell phones, drinking alcohol on your own front porch or in a restaurant, and associating with people the police also claim are gang members — even your own family. Officers’ gang designations are drawn from stereotypes and preconceptions based on clothing—anything from plaid shirts to basketball shorts to khakis—that they deem “gang attire,” associates, and if someone lives or socializes in alleged “gang areas”—which can include an entire community.

Officers use injunctions to circumvent the protections afforded by a criminal prosecution, which is exactly why gang injunctions have been a significant tool in the LAPD’s arsenal despite no evidence they create a significant or sustained crime reduction. What they provide is the justification to stop, harass, and arrest Black and Latino community members.

Critics of injunctions — such as the Youth Justice Coalition, an organization that has been fighting against their use for years — have observed that injunctions recently have been used more as a tool to push Black and Latino residents out of popular neighborhoods than to fight crime. Indeed, the gang injunction enforced against Peter was obtained in 2013 in Echo Park — a gentrifying neighborhood where crime was at an historic low.

But the tide is turning. The ACLU of Southern California just won a major victory against the city of Los Angeles’ use of these restrictive gang injunctions — effectively ending the city’s practice. In a class action lawsuit, which included Peter Arellano and Youth Justice Coalition, the ACLU and co-counsel Urban Peace Institute and Munger Tolles and Olson challenged the city’s enforcement of injunctions without first providing a hearing on active gang membership, claiming this practice violated their constitutionally protected due process rights.

A federal court agreed, finding that the process was prone to error and granting a preliminary injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing its injunctions against anyone who has not had the opportunity to challenge the designation in court before they were made subject to the injunction.

This is one of many recent victories both recognizing that police-imposed gang labels are often inaccurate yet carry serious criminal and immigration consequences, and creating a process to challenge these designations before they take effect.

Gang injunctions restrict people’s freedom, often without a shred of due process, on questionable “evidence,” and with no significant public safety benefit. The costs far outweigh even the alleged benefits and the ACLU and others will continue to fight to ensure that police don’t continue to destroy people’s lives by unilaterally imposing gang labels.


Cursing at Your Congressman Off of School Grounds Shouldn’t Get You Suspended

American Civil Liberties Union - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 16:30
A Nevada high school student was suspended for using profanity in a passionate message to his Congressman on gun control.

On March 14, students across the country joined a walkout to demand stricter gun laws following the Parkland shooting that claimed 17 lives. Among the protesters was Noah C., a high school junior who called the office of U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei with a passionate message.

“Members of Congress who haven’t acted on gun control reforms,” Noah C. told a staffer in the congressman’s office, “need to get off their fucking asses and do something to keep us safe.”

Noah was one of many students at the walkout who exercised their First Amendment right to use strong language in messages to their local representatives. But instead of seriously addressing the valid concerns of a young constituent, Amodei’s office decided to escalate the situation by reporting the call to Robert McQueen High School, where Noah is a junior. Within hours, Noah — who had never faced a detention or any academic issues — found himself suspended.

The move sets a dangerous precedent, considering Noah’s impassioned plea for gun control legislation did not occur during school or at a school-sanctioned or -sponsored event. That’s why the ACLU of Nevada is stepping in to defend him. Noah’s suspension is an unconstitutional attack on his First Amendment rights, which could have a chilling effect on others who might want to contact their representative. We urge the school to reverse its suspension and Amodei to withdraw his complaint.

Unfortunately, McQueen High School has a history of trying to tamp down on Noah’s speech.

At a McQueen debate tournament earlier this year, Noah went off-script to give his thoughts on how President Donald Trump’s policy positions and rhetoric is harmful to the community. Afterward, Noah felt compelled to write a letter of apology to his student opponent, who lodged an unfounded bullying complaint against him.

McQueen administrators have pointed to that incident as an example of prior bad behavior, even though he was never disciplined for it. The school said that Noah’s political speech as the debate tournament should have been a learning experience to keep his emotions under control.

Noah was similarly outspoken during the fall of 2017 when he noticed McQueen implementing its dress code in a discriminatory manner. The high school was punishing female students, but not their male peers, for baring their shoulders.

Noah protested the school’s discriminatory enforcement by starting the hashtag campaign, “#FreeTheShoulder.” Noah then wore a shirt to school that read “Free the Shoulder,” and the administration threatened him with disciplinary action unless he removed it.

Despite McQueen’s uncharitable characterization of him, Noah is an exemplary student and leader. He’s been a member of the Chinese Club, the Spanish Club, the Debate Club, Academic Olympics, and Academic World Quest, where his team was the Nevada state champion and placed 10th in the national finals. Noah’s mock trial team advanced to state championships both years he was on the team.

But his academic and extra-curricular achievements aren’t what matters. What matters is that Noah, like the rest of us, have rights under the First Amendment. You’d think public school administrators and a U.S. congressman would remember that, but we have no problem reminding them of that fact.

Gender Stereotyping Has No Place in My Classroom

American Civil Liberties Union - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 18:00
A science teacher speaks out against New Jersey school district’s stereotyping of boys and girls.

Friends and acquaintances said I had lost my mind when I chose to teach middle school nine years ago. I never felt that way, until a few months ago when the West Milford Township School District in New Jersey, where I work, required all teachers to attend a mandatory professional development workshop called “Boys and Girls Learn Differently.” It was to be supplemented by a study of the book by the same title by author Michael Gurian.

I walked into the session with an open mind, as I’m always open to discovering new strategies to reach the students in my science classroom. Instead, I was confronted with a series of generalizations about boys and girls that amounted to antiquated sex stereotypes cloaked in “brain science.”

I walked out of the session determined to do something about it. I contacted the ACLU, which sent a letter on Thursday warning the school district that the training and the teaching philosophy it is based on encourage discrimination based on gender.

The workshop claimed that the way we structure our classrooms is in conflict with how boys are hard-wired to behave, therefore hampering boys’ success. By contrast, the trainers said, girls are innately programmed to do well in our classrooms.

The instructors encouraged us to create gender-specific environments and lessons. Face-to-face seating is appropriate for girls but will promote conflict in boys; bright lights and strong teacher voices facilitate male learning but will elicit a stress response in females; boys learn best through competitive, dynamic games, but girls flourish in a more collaborative setting. They claimed our classroom structure was the primary cause of behavioral and scholastic problems among male students, and this could be remedied by adjusting our academic climate to be more beneficial to boys.

My “science teacher” brain was perplexed.

I knew plenty of girls who were struggling in school. And if boys are in crisis and our classrooms are structured to be more “girl-friendly,” why are we still seeing significant underrepresentation of women and girls pursuing advanced courses of study or careers in science, technology, engineering, and math? Why are women still underrepresented in politics and positions of power in business?

When I asked one of the presenters, who had years of experience in an all-boys school, he could not answer. Moments after, a few colleagues sent me supportive text messages, urging me to keep speaking up. I hoped that they, too, saw this training for what it was — harmful stereotyping that had no place in public schools.

Yet, of the more than 50 educators gathered with me that day, many of my colleagues were nodding along in agreement with these claims. Even worse, it’s possible that these strategies are actually being implemented in the classroom.

My science classroom contains a broad spectrum of learners. A few students have come from financially advantaged families with parents who are doctors or lawyers, while others are on free or reduced lunch. Some students are athletes. Some like to read. Others play video games or board games. A few love to dance. Some are outgoing; others are shy. None of these traits is determined by gender.

I don’t believe gender determines who will learn better with brighter or softer lights, louder or quieter voices, in collaborative groups or in competitive games. There is no such thing as a best strategy for girls as a group or boys as a group because every student is unique. Besides, every student can benefit from a diverse set of educational activities.

Putting the message out there that boys and girls are very different in how they learn reinforces dangerous sex stereotypes that can limit students’ potential, especially those whose gender or gender identity don’t conform to traditional expectations. That’s why I raised my concerns with the principal of my school, then to the district director of education, and finally — after the administration failed to take action — to the ACLU.

Although it is scary to speak out when those around you are nodding along in agreement, our students — future scientists, business people, artists, leaders — need to have a voice. And if their voices can’t be heard, I will do my best as a teacher to speak on their behalf.

If you are a student or parent whose child has been subjected to these “gender-based” teaching methods in the classroom, the ACLU wants to hear from you. Fill out our intake form here.

Locked Up as Punishment for Seeking Safety

American Civil Liberties Union - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 16:30
Because of ICE's illegal actions, Ansly has been behind bars for 16 months and counting. He's committed no crime.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Damus shared his story about his imprisonment from his jail in Chardon, Ohio. It was translated from Haitian Creole.

In another life, I was a teacher. I stood in front of young people, delivering lessons on ethics and morality, as well as math and physics. Now, I am a prisoner. For the past 16 months, I have been locked inside the Geauga County Safety Center in Chardon, Ohio.

“Safety Center” is a strange name for a jail with no outdoor space, where immigrant detainees are kept in windowless rooms. I have not felt fresh air in my lungs or the sun on my face for more than a year. I have not felt safe for years.

My troubles began on Sept. 15, 2014. I was leading a youth seminar in my hometown of Grand-Riviere-du-Nord, Haiti. I was mid-discussion on the problem of corruption in Haitian politics when I named a local government official — Benjamin Ocenjac — as an example of someone who works with gangs to terrorize the population.

That very day, I was attacked by members of “La Meezorequin,” the Shark Bones Army, a well-armed gang that supports Mr. Ocenjac. Men dragged me off my motorcycle and savagely beat me — breaking several bones and leaving me with scars which I bear to this day. They set my motorcycle on fire and threatened to kill me.

Fearing for my life, I fled Haiti 10 days later, leaving behind my wife, two young children, parents, and siblings. I was in Brazil for 18 months, living first at a refugee camp, and later in a shared, rented room. I found work in construction but faced discrimination. I was told I was an animal, that people like me were flooding the country to steal jobs. There was no life for me there, but I was afraid to go back to Haiti.

In October 2016, I arrived at the California border to seek asylum. I was interviewed by an officer who found that I had a credible fear of persecution. In April 2017, an immigration judge granted my asylum application, giving me the opportunity to start a new life in the United States. However, the government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals called for more proceedings to determine if my time in Brazil had rendered me ineligible for asylum, as the government claimed. I had a second hearing and, in January 2018, the judge once again granted my asylum. She found that I was eligible for asylum in the U.S. and that I would continue to face threats from La Meezorequin, who had since been harassing my wife, should I return to Haiti.

The government appealed again, sending my case into further proceedings.

All the while, I have been imprisoned. Some would call it detention, a euphemism. But I am a human being trapped behind metal bars and walls, with no access to the outdoors, the internet, or email. For the past 11 months, there have been no other French speakers at Geauga whom I can talk to. I spend my days in near total isolation, finding comfort only when I’m reading my Bible.

My teacher’s mind struggles to find a lesson in my experience, but I can’t make sense of this. The United States has allowed people fleeing persecution to apply for asylum for decades, both as part of its laws and culture. When I feared for my life and arrived at the border, it felt like the U.S. had extended an open hand to me. Yet in accepting it, I have been condemned to indefinite imprisonment, even though I have committed no crime.

I know that I am not the only one in this situation, and this isn’t the way that it should be in the United States. Growing up, I always heard talk about America and its promise. In previous years, those who sought asylum were released on humanitarian parole while their cases were decided, but now the government has simply stopped letting people out.

At Geauga, I have seen other asylum-seekers give up and return to countries where they fled danger because the price of seeking safety — imprisonment for months or years on end — was just too high. I am still fighting. The ACLU and partners filed a class action lawsuit on my behalf as well as for more than a thousand other asylum seekers who are currently locked up across the United States. We are suing the Department of Homeland Security for depriving us of due process.

In telling my story and fighting for basic rights, I’m hoping that America will prove to be better than this.

Tell Homeland Security to stop the illegal detention of asylum seekers

Reuniting a Mother and Child Torn Apart by ICE

American Civil Liberties Union - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 16:30
An ACLU lawsuit helped one family, but ICE’s practice of separating children from their parents continues.

Last week I visited our client Ms. L, a Congolese mother whose 7-year-old daughter was taken away from her by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials shortly after she entered the United States last year.

She was now at a shelter for formerly detained immigrants in Chicago, awaiting reunification with her daughter, whom she had not seen in over four months.

Ms. L, whose name we are withholding to preserve her privacy, showed me several photographs of her beautiful little girl. In one, the little girl was sitting on a staircase next to a woman, both of them grinning into the camera.  I asked who the woman was, and Ms. L looked at me with surprise.

“It’s me,” she said.

The smiling woman in the photo didn’t look anything like the distraught, gaunt woman with the empty stare whom I first met at a San Diego detention facility in February. It was taken a few months ago, before ICE took her daughter away.  Because of her distress, Ms. L hadn’t slept or eaten well in weeks.

Ms. L and daughter fled the Democratic Republic of Congo in grave danger, and when they reached the United States on Nov.1, they immediately asked for political asylum.

They were taken into custody together. But four days later, Ms. L said ICE officials handcuffed her, put a restraint around her waist and ankles and took her daughter away. Ms. L was locked up in the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego. Her daughter was taken to Chicago and put in a facility for “unaccompanied” immigrant minors.    

The two would still be on opposite sides of the country if we hadn’t filed a lawsuit on Feb. 26. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, announced in December that it was considering separating children from their parents when they came to the United States to deter others from coming. Evidence suggests it had already begun doing so.

Learn more about the case

According to organizations that monitor detention facilities and provide services to asylum-seekers, there are hundreds of other children who have been separated from their parents. On March 9, the ACLU filed a motion expanding our lawsuit on behalf of Ms. L. into a nationwide class action suit on behalf of the hundreds of other unnamed families who have been torn apart.

Ms. L and her daughter were given no explanation for the separation, had no lawyers and knew no one in the United States. Days after our lawsuit, and the media coverage and outrage that followed, the government abruptly released Ms. L.

Concerned citizens across the country began contacting the ACLU asking what they could do to help. Among them was a couple in San Marcos, a suburb of San Diego, who heard about Ms. L and her daughter on NPR and offered to take her in. The couple had no connection to the Congo. She is a retired nurse, and her husband had been a banker.

Ms. L speaks Lingala and a little bit of Spanish. This couple spoke neither, but pantomimed their way through five days together.

Ms. L and her daughter are Catholic and a church had helped them flee the Congo.  So, on the evening of March 13, the night before she was to fly to Chicago, where she would eventually be reunited with her daughter, the couple and Ms. L sat down to dinner, held hands and said grace.

The government agency in charge of “unaccompanied” immigrant minors, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, had said it would take at least a week to release the daughter.

“I thank God if I can be with her in a week,” Ms. L said.

The next morning, Ms. L boarded a flight for Chicago. Once there, she went to a shelter for immigrants newly released from immigration detention where the staff welcomed her with open arms. They introduced her to a couple of other residents — there are 12 living there – and showed Ms. L her room. One of the shelter volunteers had left a basket with a card and a stuffed animal for Ms. L’s daughter. The staff asked her if there was anything she needed. She said simply that she needed her daughter.

On Thursday, in Chicago’s Federal Plaza, people gathered to protest ICE’s practice of separating families. It was during the protest that I received a message saying that Ms. L would likely be reunited with her daughter the following day, Friday, March 16.

At 9 p.m., on March 16, Ms. L’s daughter walked through the door. Mother and daughter fell into each other’s arms and lay on the floor sobbing. Ms. L said something to her daughter in Lingala and pointed at me and the daughter came and hugged me. It is a moment I will never forget.

We were able to reunite Ms. L and her daughter, but there are hundreds of other children in the United States who are still separated from their parents in immigration detention. Our hope is that we can reunite them all and that ICE will stop the practice so no other family must endure what Ms. L and her daughter went through. 

Tell Homeland Security to stop separating children from their families

National Academies’ Report Finds, Once Again, That Abortion Is Safe

American Civil Liberties Union - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 12:00
The science hasn’t stopped state legislators from erecting unconstitutional barriers for patients seeking an abortion.

On Monday, the state of Mississippi banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It is the most extreme abortion ban in the country today, despite stiff competition. Fortunately, this baldly unconstitutional law was almost immediately blocked in court, but it’s worth reflecting on the faulty science — that is, the lies — underlying this latest outrage.

Mississippi lawmakers enacted this draconian ban in part based on what they claim are the “significant physical and psychological risks” that abortion poses to patients. That’s nonsense, according to an independent, comprehensive review of the science on abortion released just last week.

Based on a rigorous analysis of the full body of evidence on abortion, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirm what many reproductive health, rights, and justices advocates have been saying for decades: Abortion care in the United States is highly safe and effective, and the procedure can be safely provided in a variety of healthcare settings by a range of trained healthcare professionals.

The new study bolsters the ACLU’s position in numerous federal and state lawsuits challenging medically unjustified restrictions on abortion. These include challenges to targeted regulations of abortion providers, or “TRAP” laws; mandatory abortion delay laws; biased counseling requirements; and the Food and Drug Administration’s needless restrictions on the abortion pill.

According to the National Academies’ report, abortion care in the United States is extremely safe and rarely involves serious complications. Medication abortion has a particularly low complication rate, similar to other common prescription and over-the-counter medications. The study also confirmed that abortion can be offered safely in an office setting, without special equipment or arrangements, and that advanced practice clinicians — such as nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, and physician assistants — can provide medication and aspiration abortion safely and effectively.

In particular, the study gives strong support to recent lawsuits in Maine, Montana, and Hawaii. Together with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Maine, we’re challenging a Maine law that blocks qualified advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs, from providing abortions, despite their rigorous post-graduate training and extensive clinical experience. The law severely restricts access to abortion care in the rural and medically underserved state, forcing some patients to travel more than six hours for care that they could safely get from an experienced APRN in their own community. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU of Montana are challenging a similar law in Montana.

A third case filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii on behalf of a Hawaii doctor and several professional healthcare associations challenges federal restrictions on where a patient can fill a prescription for the abortion pill. As the National Academies’ report emphasizes, the abortion pill is a safe and effective method of ending an early pregnancy. But the FDA’s restrictions on this medication often add insurmountable hurdles to a patient’s ability to actually receive this care — for no medical reason.

Leading medical authorities, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have concluded that the restrictions we’re challenging in all three of these cases are medically unfounded. The National Academies’ study reinforces those conclusions.

The report also finds that medically unjustified restrictions on abortion can actually harm patients’ health and well-being. They interfere with the ability of healthcare providers to provide care in accordance with their patients’ needs and their own medical judgment. They can delay patients’ care, which increases costs and the potential for complications. Some restrictions prevent qualified clinicians from providing abortion care at all, which forces patients seeking to end a pregnancy to travel further — imposing additional delays.

And, according to the report, more than 15 states force clinicians to provide medically inaccurate information to patients, like that abortion increases the risk of depression or breast cancer. Such claims, the report confirms, are false.

The Supreme Court has held that states cannot burden patient access to abortion without a valid health justification. Laws restricting qualified clinicians from providing abortion care or limiting where patients can fill a prescription for the abortion pill simply cannot survive that constitutional test. They do nothing to protect patients’ health, only serving to push abortion care out of reach. And the notion that a law banning a patient from ending her pregnancy after 15 weeks — and forcing her to remain pregnant and give birth against her will — is based on science would be laughable if it weren’t so upsetting.

We look forward to the day when lawmakers stop trampling on people’s rights and bodies in the name of false science. Until then, we’ll continue to reveal these lies for what they are in court.

Internal Email Reveals Racism in Madison County Sheriff’s Department

American Civil Liberties Union - Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:30
New evidence further supports ACLU case against racialized policing of Black people in Mississippi county.

“Arrested. Black. Male.”

These are the words that have been pre-filled on a cover sheet to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department Narcotics Unit’s case files. All other fields have been left blank. These words tell the story of racially biased policing in the county that begins before officers even go into the community.

The internal racism of the department represented in this form is just one piece of a larger body of compelling evidence that the sheriff’s department has a culture of racism that threatens Madison County’s Black community. 

In June of, 2009, current Sheriff Randall Tucker, while a deputy under former Sheriff Toby Trowbridge, received and forwarded a racist email titled, “White Pride.” It contained the statements, “when I call you Nigger, Kike, Towel head, Sand-nigger, Camel Jockey, Beaner, Gook, or Chink . . . You call me a racist.” The email concludes by encouraging the reader to express support for its sentiments by forwarding it along, which Sheriff Tucker did.

The ACLU of Mississippi, along with its co-counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and the ACLU’s national office, uncovered these and other documents during six months of legal discovery before proceeding to file a motion for class certification on March 14, 2018, in Brown v. Madison County. In the case, we sued Madison County and its sheriff’s department for operating a policing program that targets Black people on the basis of race.

The problem, however, runs deeper — much deeper — than racist sheriff emails.

The Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s policy of racialized policing stretches back at least as far as the prior sheriff’s administration. In 2006, Black residents of Canton, Mississippi — a predominantly Black town in Madison County and the county seat — presented a petition bearing 664 signatures to the Madison County Board of Supervisors demanding an end to “frequent roadblocks in the predominantly black neighborhoods” and “racial profiling.”

The response? Former Sheriff Toby Trowbridge refused to even meet with the protestors.

Trowbridge denied using racial profiling and vowed to continue using roadblocks as a policing tactic, despite the evidence that they were disproportionately affecting Black people. His casual brushing aside of community outrage dovetails with the casual racism exhibited by the sheriff’s department. Tellingly, current Sheriff Tucker later pledged to “maintain the quality of law enforcement that we have under Sheriff Trowbridge,” and upon taking office in 2012, officially adopted all of Trowbridge’s policies.

The roadblocks and racial profiling continue to this day.

During his deposition in this case, former Sheriff Trowbridge testified about the use of racial slurs at the sheriff’s department by MCSD personnel, including by him, and a MCSD patrol supervisor testified that he has used racial slurs in the course of his duties and had not been disciplined. Far from being punished for racism, the department appears to have institutionalized it.

Other evidence and data collected during the discovery phase support the fact that MCSD has a longstanding policy of stopping and searching Black drivers and pedestrians who travel in Madison County on the basis of their race. For example, over 30 people, including the named plaintiffs, submitted declarations explaining their experiences with MCSD that reflect this racism — testimony that corroborates the existence of a racially biased policing program and the department’s abuse of authority.

Lawrence Blackmon, one of our named plaintiffs, was tackled, made to lay face down, and then handcuffed at gunpoint after he asked to see a warrant before allowing deputies to enter his home. He asked them to show the warrant. They did not. Instead, they searched his home, looking in drawers and cabinets for a full-grown man they claimed to have a warrant for.

The evidence of our plaintiff’s personal stories are supported by hard numbers.

Black individuals make up only 38 percent of Madison County’s population, but they accounted for 77 percent of all arrests made by the MCSD between 2012 and 2017. In addition, the per capita rate of roadblocks in substantially Black census tracts is nearly double that of predominantly white census tracts.

Sadly, our claim of racially biased policing in the county is not new.

MCSD’s racist and discriminatory culture has been felt in communities of color for years. The stories of our plaintiffs and the data analysis support this history of injustice. The eight named plaintiffs in our case against the county are Black men and women ages 28 to 63 who were unconstitutionally searched, detained, or arrested by the MCSD, sometimes violently. These incidents happened while our clients were going about their daily lives — walking to work, driving in their neighborhood, celebrating with family, or just spending time in their own homes.

The ACLU and Simpson Thatcher are asking the court to certify the lawsuit as a class action and put an end to MCSD’s policy and culture of racial discrimination. All residents of Madison County deserve to be treated equally regardless of their race. They deserve justice, and we intend to ensure they get it.

No, the President Can’t Legally Gag White House Staffers

American Civil Liberties Union - Tue, 03/20/2018 - 13:00
The First Amendment protects the free speech rights of government employees to help ensure government accountability.

It’s no surprise that the Trump administration would like to find a way to stop the flood of leaks coming from the White House. But avoiding embarrassment is no grounds for government censorship, and the latest leak-plugging effort we’ve heard of violates the First Amendment.

The Washington Post has reported that senior White House staff members were pressured to sign nondisclosure agreements prohibiting them from revealing any non-public information they learn of at work. The draft NDA supposedly requires them to stay silent, not just while they are employed at the White House, but even after they leave — and to pay damages into the federal treasury if they speak out. In other words, it aims to muzzle them forever.

Such a broad agreement is unenforceable because the First Amendment protects federal employees’ right to speak in a private capacity about matters of public concern — and certainly the functioning of a presidential administration raises many issues that are of public concern.

Indeed, countless former White House officials have talked and written books about their time working for presidents, covering everything from decision-making processes and substantive policy debates to interagency turf battles and personal vendettas. Putting a gag order on these officials would leave the public in the dark about how the government works, preventing the kind of informed debate that is critical to democratic accountability.

To be sure, the government can restrict its employees from sharing certain information, such as properly classified material. But even then, laws restricting the sharing of classified information should allow room for whistleblowers to reveal evidence of government illegality or misconduct.

The ACLU has previously attempted to shed light on the federal government’s restrictive prepublication review system, which requires certain past and present federal employees to submit any works for security review before publishing them. That system gives government officials too much power to censor messages they don’t like.

The White House NDA, as reported, is far too broad to pass First Amendment muster. It purports to bar the discussion of basic details about the inner workings of the White House, even if the government has no legitimate interest in keeping that information secret. This would prevent the public from learning about many issues of critical public importance, including what decisions get made and who is making them.

It is ironic that the very existence of this unconstitutional tool meant to plug White House leaks was exposed by the press. But these NDAs can be harmful even if the White House never attempts to enforce them, because of the potential chilling effects they could have. Former aides could self-censor to avoid the risk of a legal fight, depriving us all of relevant information and opinions that could affect public debate. The First Amendment protects government employees’ free speech rights to avoid that very outcome.

Democracy Just Got Stronger in Washington State

American Civil Liberties Union - Tue, 03/20/2018 - 10:15
The state’s Voting Rights Act will help ensure minority representation in a system of majority rule.

After years of work by activists, stakeholders, community groups, and lawmakers, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Washington Voting Rights Act into law. This historic legislation paves the way for communities across Washington state to find local solutions for an issue that has existed since the founding of our democracy — how to ensure minority representation in a system of majority rule.

The WVRA improves voting rights by expanding on the protections of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Almost all local elections in Washington currently use an at-large system where the entire community chooses who represents them on multi-member bodies such as city councils, school boards, and port districts. In areas where polarized voting occurs, at-large elections may prevent a minority group from electing any candidates that represent their community. Because the votes of the minority group become diluted in the at-large system, the makeup of the elected body does not truly reflect the community it is supposed to represent. This has had damaging effects for minority groups in Washington and around the country.

For example, the city of Yakima, Washington, was found to be in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. No Latino official had ever been elected to the city council despite the fact that over 40 percent of the city’s population is Latino. Because Yakima held at-large elections, this entire community was effectively shut out of council elections and having a voice in city government. The alternative used to fix this imbalance was switching to district-based elections, which divided the city into districts from which members of the legislative body were chosen. Because these districts were drawn to better reflect the demographics of Yakima than a single at-large district, the resulting elected body can now more accurately represent the population it serves. In the first election after Yakima switched to district-based elections, three Latina candidates were elected to the city council.

Yakima’s history isn’t unusual. Cities and counties from California to Georgia also used at-large voting systems that undermined the representation of minority groups, and they were challenged in the courts by activists.

Before the WVRA, no mechanism existed for local governments in Washington state to change their election systems without first undergoing a lawsuit that was often expensive and time-consuming. This law now empowers communities to voluntarily reform their election systems without resource-draining litigation.

Any voter in a community who feels that the local election system is not in accordance with the federal Voting Rights Act can now file a notice with the local government that describes both the potential violation and a proposed remedy. The local government and the notice filer can then work together to find a solution that fixes the problem. It is only if no satisfactory remedy is implemented within the prescribed time frame that legal action is taken. While district-based elections could solve such issues, the WVRA does not prescribe them as the only solution and allows room for creativity in developing the proper system for each individual community.

Activists with ACLU’s People Power like me worked to support the WVRA as part of the nationwide Let People Vote campaign, which began in October. We and our partners reached out to state lawmakers, attended committee hearings at the statehouse, and advocated for this change through grassroots organizing in our local communities alongside allies in the Washington Voting Justice Coalition.

In tumultuous times, we need to find solutions to common problems while ensuring minority rights and representation. Washington’s new voting rights law will help to do just that. Its passage shows that committed activism makes our democracy stronger and more representative.

Kobach Exposed at Trial

American Civil Liberties Union - Mon, 03/19/2018 - 18:00
Kobach utterly failed to present convincing evidence for his claim of rampant voter fraud.

The federal trial over a law that disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters in Kansas is expected to end tomorrow. For the past two weeks, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has attempted to defend not just his signature legislation, which requires people to show documentary proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or passport when registering to vote, but to support his claim of rampant voter fraud.

He failed spectacularly on both scores. Here are the courtroom highlights:

Kobach’s “iceberg” of fraud:

Kobach has been looking for proof of illegal voters for years, and he’s had unparalleled resources to do so. In 2015, he successfully pushed Gov. Sam Brownback for the power to criminally prosecute cases of voter fraud, making him the only secretary of state in the country with such sweeping authority.

So what exactly did he come up with?

At trial, Kobach was only able to identify 18 noncitizens — out of 1.8 million voters —who have successfully registered to vote over a nearly 20-year period. Only five of them actually cast a ballot. Kobach was not able to show that these 18 instances constituted intentional cases of fraud, rather than mistakes stemming from clerical errors.

Regardless, Kobach claims that these numbers represent “just the tip of the iceberg.” In his crusade to find the rest of the non-existent mass, he seems willing to accept the more than 35,000 people who were actually blocked from registering to vote under his law as collateral damage.

Kobach’s expert witness failed to identify a single federal election changed by noncitizen voting. 

Kobach presented Hans von Spakovsky to the court as an expert on elections, election administration, and voter fraud. A senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, von Spakovsky has been a vocal proponent of restrictive voter ID laws to combat noncitizen voting. He previously served with Kobach on President Trump’s now-disbanded commission on Election Integrity.

Prior to trial, von Spakovsky produced a report stating that Kansas’ documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements pose no burden to voters. And during cross-examination, von Spakovsky said he could not name a single voter registration requirement in effect that he would consider burdensome to voters.

He was unable to name a single federal election where the outcome was changed by noncitizen voting.

Von Spakovsky is no expert on voting, and it appears he knows nothing about citizenship in the United States. He does not believe that anyone born on American soil is, in fact, an American citizen. Rather, he said on the stand that “to be a U.S. citizen at least one of your parents has to be a U.S. citizen.” This is absolutely false.

Kobach’s other expert witness offered no evidence of rampant voter fraud in 2016.

Kobach has repeatedly cited research by Jesse Richman, an associate professor at Old Dominion University, to support his claims about voter fraud. He cited that research to support his theory that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, costing Trump the popular vote.

Under cross-examination, Richman said that his study does not support Kobach’s conclusions and he doesn’t know of any studies that do.

Before the trial, Richman had produced several highly questionable estimates of the number of noncitizens registered to vote in Kansas, which ranged from 1,000 to 18,000 individuals. When asked about the 18,000 figure, Richman admitted that it was an unweighted estimate with a small sample size and that a weighted sample size would, in fact, produce a better estimate.

The ACLU also presented an open letter signed by 200 political scientists who criticized Richman’s work and methodologies for identifying noncitizens on the voter rolls. One of these methods was flagging “foreign-sounding” names.

During cross-examination, Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, asked Richman if he would have flagged the name “Carlos Murguia” as a foreign-sounding name. After Richman answered yes, Ho informed him that Murguia is a federal judge in the same courthouse as the trial.

As trial wraps, opposing sides will make closing arguments and the judge will rule on a motion to hold Kobach in contempt of court for repeatedly refusing to comply with the court’s preliminary order blocking the law, and with related orders on notifying the public about voter registration requirements. A federal magistrate has already sanctioned Kobach for making “patently misleading representations to the court."

Ultimately, we’ll need to wait until Judge Julie Robinson rules to know the trial’s outcome – and whether Kobach’s law will pass muster under the National Voter Registration Act. However, the trial has already shown that while Kobach can cry voter fraud all he wants, but when it comes time to offering proof, he came up empty-handed.

The next time President Trump trots him out as a national authority on voting, we should all remember that.

The Trump Administration’s Multi-Pronged Assault on Immigrants’ Rights

American Civil Liberties Union - Mon, 03/19/2018 - 16:30
President Trump and Congress seek to pass a federal budget that would put the deportation machinery into even higher gear.

At first glance, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ lawsuit against California, the current federal budget negotiations, and the continuing crisis facing Dreamers may seem like separate storylines. But they are intertwined, key planks of the Trump administration’s sustained assault on immigrant communities and fundamental constitutional values.

Right now, President Trump and Congress seek to pass a federal budget that would put the deportation machinery into even higher gear. The administration’s budget request asks taxpayers for $21.5 billion for its immigration and border enforcement agenda, an amount greater than the budgets of all other law enforcement agencies combined. This would mean more agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and border patrol agents, more detention beds in private immigration prisons, and the further militarization of border communities. In light of what we are witnessing across America, we should be ending, not enabling, the Trump deportation agenda.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit against the state of California over three pro-immigrant state laws is the latest effort by the Trump administration to force states and local communities into carrying out its deportation agenda. But California and other states resisting this agenda have the Constitution and the public’s interest on their side. The administration continues to lie about immigrants and crime, and it’s obvious that its actions are not motivated by public safety concerns. Indiscriminate arrests and practices such as detaining witnesses at courthouses sow fear in immigrant communities and make it harder for local law enforcement to maintain trust with the entire community.

Multiple courts have already ruled against the administration’s attempts to force state and local governments to serve its goals. The outcome in the suit against California should be no different. Disentangling local law enforcement from ICE is needed in the face of continued sweeping and indiscriminate arrests, detentions, and deportations. Under Trump, arrests by ICE have already spiked 41 percent compared with 2016.

And if Congress doesn’t hold the line against this agenda, these immigration raids will soon have a new target: Dreamers. The lives and futures of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers, either too young or too old to apply for DACA, are in peril as the Trump administration moves to increase arrests and deportations while Congress does nothing.

The federal courts have temporarily blocked a full rescission of the DACA policy, allowing those who have DACA to renew their status, but the courts cannot deliver the permanent solution Dreamers need. Young undocumented immigrants deserve certainty to live their lives in this country, which is their home.

It’s time for all of us to take a clear-eyed view at what is happening in this country and to stand up for our vision of a humane and inclusive America. As Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California recently said of his state’s approach, “we’re in the business of public safety, not deportation.” And the Trump agenda, clearly, is in the business of deportation, not public safety.

The Assault on Environmental Protest

American Civil Liberties Union - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 16:45
Lawmakers are trying to give corporate interests tools to punish people for speaking up for their communities.

More than 50 state bills that would criminalize protest, deter political participation, and curtail freedom of association have been introduced across the country in the past two years. These bills are a direct reaction from politicians and corporations to the tactics of some of the most effective protesters in recent history, including Black Lives Matter and the water protectors challenging construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. 

If they succeed, these legislative moves will suppress dissent and undercut marginalized groups voicing concerns that disrupt current power dynamics.

Efforts vary from state to state, but they have one thing in common: they would punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment.

For example, bills introduced in Washington and North Carolina would have defined peaceful demonstrations as “economic terrorism.” In Iowa, legislators are currently considering bills that would create the crime of “critical infrastructure sabotage.” Labels like “terrorists” and “saboteurs” have long been misused to sideline already oppressed groups and to vilify their attempts to speak out.

Other bills are written so broadly that they could impose criminal penalties and devastating fines simply for offering food or housing to protestors. For instance, a bill currently being considered in Wyoming would impose a $1 million penalty on any person or organization that “encourages” certain forms of environmental protest. Legislation introduced in Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, and North Dakota would have allowed drivers to hit protesters with cars without criminal repercussions.

Corporations like Energy Transfer Partners — the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline — and industry groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council are encouraging these bills. Not surprisingly, the efforts have gotten the most traction in states key to oil and gas interests. 

Proponents of these bills are using “protection” of critical infrastructure as a guise for these First Amendment attacks. That framing completely ignores the many laws already on the books addressing those concerns, from trespass to property damage. Indeed, protesters are already being arrested under those laws across the country. 

Legislation is not the only tool the oil and gas industry is deploying in its effort to silence opposition. Six months ago, Energy Transfer Partners filed a $900 million dollar lawsuit against several environmental groups, including Greenpeace, alleging that a “criminal enterprise” was put in place to stop the pipeline project.

Similarly, 84 members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the Department of Justice earlier this fall, asking officials to prosecute pipeline activists as “terrorists” — a troubling policy that resembles the one being lobbied for at a federal level by the American Petroleum Institute.

Corporations are already abusing existing laws to silence dissent and shut the public out of decision-making. Now, lawmakers are trying to give corporate interests even more tools to punish people for speaking up for their families and communities. That is an attack on democracy — one our organizations will continue to resist. 

This piece was originally published on March 2 by The Hill.

It’s Time to Make Voting More Accessible and Secure in Michigan

American Civil Liberties Union - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 16:45
The Promote the Vote campaign aims to make voting more accessible, secure, and fair for all Michiganders.

Recently, I visited Alabama with the Faith and Politics Institute for Congressman John Lewis’ Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. We visited civil rights monuments in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama, before heading to Selma to commemorate Bloody Sunday. As we reflected on the rights that were so bravely fought for on that Sunday decades ago, we recognized that the fight continues on across the country. In Michigan, we’re taking the fight to the ballot and aiming to ensure all can vote. We want to make voting more accessible, secure, and fair for all Michiganders.

Earlier this year, the ACLU of Michigan, along with the NAACP and League of Women Voters, launched the Promote the Vote, a ballot measure campaign that would secure the right to vote for all eligible voters in Michigan. This initiative would amend the state constitution to allow voters to register at any time — up to and including on Election Day; automatically register voters; require post-election audits; expand access to absentee ballots; allow for straight-ticket party voting; and ensure those in the military get their ballots with enough time to vote. Our goal is to put the amendment on the ballot this November.

For too long Michigan has lagged behind other states in knocking down the unnecessary road blocks voters encounter when trying to exercise their right. Working families have to face long lines, travel long distances to their polling place, and take time off work to vote. Military service members overseas aren’t always sure they’re going to get their ballot in time. This needs to change.

We know making it easier to register to vote means more people will vote. In the 15 states that allow people to register up to and on Election Day, voter turnout has increased by an average of about five percent. Automatic voter registration has the potential to do the same.

The policy ensures those eligible to vote will be registered, unless they decline, after any interaction with the secretary of state’s office. This includes getting a driver’s license or a permit. It makes registering to vote more efficient and saves localities from having to process paper registrations. Nine states already have this in place with an additional 15 state considering adopting the policy for this election year.

Michigan makes it hard for individuals who can’t vote on Election Day to vote by absentee ballot. Our Promote the Vote measure would amend this. For a single working mom like Angela Willson of Grosse Pointe Park, easier access to an absentee ballot means she does not have to take off time from her two jobs to vote. Almost 30 states do not require a reason to vote absentee, so this ballot initiative would bring Michigan in line with the majority of the country.

All these updates would make voting more of a sure thing in Michigan, guaranteeing a fair and accessible process. Following in the footsteps of civil rights leaders, we’re continuing their work today. We want every eligible person who can vote to vote, and we want to ensure that every vote will count.

We’re off to a strong start to collecting signatures from Michigan residents to qualify for the November ballot. You can join our effort at Promote the Vote:

Congress Proposes to Fight Online Trafficking By Harming Sex Workers

American Civil Liberties Union - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 16:15
This legislation will harm the people it is seeking to protect.

The U.S. Senate is poised to pass legislation that is intended to stop the internet from being used for sex trafficking — a worthy goal aimed at addressing a serious problem. However, the legislation known as the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA, could harm the very people that it is intended to protect. The legislation also threatens the vibrancy of the internet as the world’s most significant marketplace of ideas, and it will inhibit its growth as a place of creativity and innovation.

Proposals to address sex trafficking should not make workers in the sex trade more susceptible to violence and exploitation. FOSTA threatens the lives and safety of sex workers — people who are disproportionately LGBTQ and people of color. The legislation does this through a dangerously broad definition of “promotion of prostitution,” which is not limited to trafficking and could sweep in any trading of sex for money or other goods. The bill also creates a new, vaguely defined federal crime for the facilitation of prostitution which could result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years. FOSTA’s definition of “facilitation” is so open to interpretation that it could include critical harm reduction and anti-violence tactics that sex workers depend on to survive.

These harm reduction tactics include being able to share information and techniques online, such as screening clients for violence; online advertising, which allows people to work in safer locations off the street and to be more discerning about clients; and “Bad Date Lists,” which host information online about individuals who have previously victimized those who trade sex.

Taking away the ability of sex workers to utilize online platforms to meet clients will force them back into street-based work where there is less time to negotiate safety needs and a higher risk of violence from both clients and law enforcement. An important 2017 study from West Virginia University and Baylor University found a 17 percent drop in rates of homicide against women correlated to Craigslist opening its Erotic section because it made sex work safer.

As our colleagues at the National Center for Transgender Equality and dozens of other organizations that advocate for the rights of sex workers correctly noted in a recent letter to Congress:

After the closure of RedBook and, sex workers were instantly thrown from the online spaces and communities which provided the ability to screen clients, find out safety and health information and form community. The ability to access online platforms to advertise means that sex workers are able to screen clients for safety, negotiate boundaries such as condom use, and work in physically safer spaces.

FOSTA threatens to take these essential survival tools away from sex workers. Doing so will not help victims of trafficking, but it will endanger some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. As my colleague Chase Strangio wrote:

Whether because LGBT people – particularly those of color, transgender women, and youth – face job discrimination, family rejection, homelessness, and criminalization or because our bodies and desires are at once demonized and exoticized, our community has long-turned to the sex industry for critical means of support and survival.

Eliminating sex trafficking and protecting those who are the victims of it is an important effort and one that Congress should address, but doing so in a way that makes sex workers more vulnerable to violence and exploitation is unacceptable. Rather than advance FOSTA, members of Congress should – as our partners urged in their letter – sit down with key stakeholders, including sex workers and survivors of trafficking, to develop legislation that would establish standards, while avoiding serious, unintended consequences for sex workers and victims of trafficking.

Reflexive support for this overly broad and dangerous bill will fuel mass incarceration, harm sex workers and survivors of sex trafficking, and further compromise the ability of so many LGBTQ people to navigate and survive criminalized economies.

Chicago's Top Prosecutor Walks the Walk on Transparency

American Civil Liberties Union - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 18:00
Elected prosecutors nationwide have no excuse not to follow Kim Foxx’s lead.

Earlier this month Kim Foxx, the state’s attorney for Cook County, Illinois, which covers Chicago, released six years’ worth of raw data regarding felony prosecutions in her office. It was a simple yet profound act of good governance, and one that is all too rare among the nation’s elected prosecutors. Foxx asserted that “for too long, the work of the criminal justice system has been largely a mystery. That lack of openness undermines the legitimacy of the criminal justice system.”

She’s right on both counts.

The trove itself is massive — roughly 45 million sortable, searchable data points spanning tens of thousands of cases from investigation to resolution. Granted, the data covers a period prior to Foxx’s ascension (2010 to 2016). However, it’s her office and her budget that are on the hook for any inquiries, legal or otherwise, that the data begets. More importantly, she’s set a precedent of transparency that will be hard to abandon when it comes time to release data about her own performance in office. (Indeed, she simultaneously released a 2017 “data report” that summarizes her office’s work over the past year, though not the underlying raw data.)

This is real accountability. Unfortunately, it’s sorely lacking in most of America’s top prosecutors, which is ironic for a group whose very job is to hold others to account. Most prosecutors’ offices are chronically allergic to sunlight. They routinely fight public records requests and legislative transparency efforts, often claiming, somewhat perversely, that public safety would be harmed if the public knew how its safety was being achieved.

But what if the prosecutors are the ones doing the harming? How are we to know? And how can we cast informed votes or tell our prosecutors to adjust their priorities if we don’t know how those priorities are being implemented on the ground?

Raw data can help us answer these questions, which is why transparency is a necessary tool to remake our broken criminal justice system. Prosecutors, after all, are elected officials who have played a significant role in the nation’s mass incarceration crisis. Without the relevant raw data on how prosecutors wield their immense power, voters will have a more difficult time electing those who are committed to reforming the system in a deliberate and transparent way.

Data transparency also promotes justice. Defense attorneys can use data to assure fairer outcomes for their clients, particularly minorities who receive harsher sentencing recommendations from prosecutors for the same crimes as their non-minority counterparts. The data can identify patterns of constitutional violations that can be rectified by prosecutors’ offices, state oversight agencies, or, where necessary, outside civil rights organizations. In Louisiana, the ACLU and Civil Rights Corps have sued to end a secret witness intimidation program that DA Leon Cannizzaro’s office fought to keep secret by — you guessed it — opposing public records requests.

Prosecutors themselves can also benefit from releasing their data. It shows that they have nothing to hide and, when crime goes down, they can claim verifiable credit. That’s the thing about data: If collected honestly and thoroughly, it does not lie – which makes opposition inherently suspect.

Transparency is also a smart move for prosecutors who want to stay in office. Voters overwhelmingly support increased transparency in the criminal justice system, and a recent ACLU national poll showed that a whopping 85 percent of voters are much more likely to support a prosecutor who believes in sharing data and policies with the public.

Whatever Foxx’s data ultimately reveals, the release itself is a vital signal that she does not intend to hide from her constituents. She and a few others have proven it can be done. Now your local prosecutor — your local elected prosecutor, that is — has no excuse. Show us the data, or we’ll show you the door.

Chicago's DA Walks the Walk on Prosecutorial Transparency

American Civil Liberties Union - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 18:00
DAs nationwide have no excuse not to follow Kim Foxx’s lead.

Earlier this month Kim Foxx, the state’s attorney for Cook County, Illinois, which covers Chicago, released six years’ worth of raw data regarding felony prosecutions in her office. It was a simple yet profound act of good governance, and one that is all too rare among the nation’s elected prosecutors. Foxx asserted that “for too long, the work of the criminal justice system has been largely a mystery. That lack of openness undermines the legitimacy of the criminal justice system.”

She’s right on both counts.

The trove itself is massive — roughly 45 million sortable, searchable data points spanning tens of thousands of cases from investigation to resolution. Granted, the data covers a period prior to Foxx’s ascension (2010 to 2016). However, it’s her office and her budget that are on the hook for any inquiries, legal or otherwise, that the data begets. More importantly, she’s set a precedent of transparency that will be hard to abandon when it comes time to release data about her own performance in office. (Indeed, she simultaneously released a 2017 “data report” that summarizes her office’s work over the past year, though not the underlying raw data.)

This is real accountability. Unfortunately, it’s sorely lacking in most of America’s top prosecutors, which is ironic for a group whose very job is to hold others to account. Most prosecutors’ offices are chronically allergic to sunlight. They routinely fight public records requests and legislative transparency efforts, often claiming, somewhat perversely, that public safety would be harmed if the public knew how its safety was being achieved.

But what if the prosecutors are the ones doing the harming? How are we to know? And how can we cast informed votes or tell our prosecutors to adjust their priorities if we don’t know how those priorities are being implemented on the ground?

Raw data can help us answer these questions, which is why transparency is a necessary tool to remake our broken criminal justice system. Prosecutors, after all, are elected officials who have played a significant role in the nation’s mass incarceration crisis. Without the relevant raw data on how prosecutors wield their immense power, voters will have a more difficult time electing those who are committed to reforming the system in a deliberate and transparent way.

Data transparency also promotes justice. Defense attorneys can use data to assure fairer outcomes for their clients, particularly minorities who receive harsher sentencing recommendations from prosecutors for the same crimes as their non-minority counterparts. The data can identify patterns of constitutional violations that can be rectified by prosecutors’ offices, state oversight agencies, or, where necessary, outside civil rights organizations. In Louisiana, the ACLU and others have sued to end a secret witness intimidation program that DA Leon Cannizzaro’s office fought to keep secret by — you guessed it — opposing public records requests.

Prosecutors themselves can also benefit from releasing their data. It shows that they have nothing to hide and, when crime goes down, they can claim verifiable credit. That’s the thing about data: If collected honestly and thoroughly, it does not lie – which makes opposition inherently suspect.

Transparency is also a smart move for prosecutors who want to stay in office. Voters overwhelmingly support increased transparency in the criminal justice system, and a recent ACLU national poll showed that a whopping 85 percent of voters are much more likely to support a prosecutor who believes in sharing data and policies with the public.

Whatever Foxx’s data ultimately reveals, the release itself is a vital signal that she does not intend to hide from her constituents. She and a few others have proven it can be done. Now your local prosecutor — your local elected prosecutor, that is — has no excuse. Show us the data, or we’ll show you the door.

Beaten, Tased, and Arrested for Jaywalking While Black

American Civil Liberties Union - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 13:00
Racial bias in policing reared its head in North Carolina when officers used excessive force on a Black man for jaywalking.

Johnnie Rush, a Black resident of Asheville, North Carolina, was brutalized by police simply for jaywalking late at night. His story is yet another in the seemingly endless, endemic tragedy of police violence against people of color. Unlike many of those, it was all caught on video.

Rush was walking home after a 13-hour shift washing dishes at a local restaurant when he was approached by two white police officers. It was after midnight, and one of the officers told Rush that he failed to use the crosswalk.

“All I’m trying to do is go home, man,” Rush said. “I’m tired. I just got off work.” “I’ve got two options,” replied Verino Ruggiero, an officer in training. “I can either arrest you or write you a ticket.” “It doesn’t matter, man,” Rush said. “Do what you got to do besides keep harassing me.”

Video of the exchange, and subsequent use of excessive force by police, was captured by a body camera worn by Chris Hickman, the officer who was training Ruggiero. Hickman orders Rush to put his hands behind his back. Rush curses and runs. The officers chase him and tackle him to the ground.

After they pinned Rush to the ground, Hickman beat his skull with a closed fist, shocked him with a Taser, and appeared to choke him. With officer Hickman’s hands around his neck, Rush shouts out several times, “I can’t breathe.”

The officers who assaulted Rush charged him with second-degree trespassing, impeding traffic, assaulting a government official, and resisting a public officer.

Rush told local news outlets that the officers’ supervisor did not believe his account of what happened, even as they sent him to a hospital to treat his wounds. The charges were dropped, however, after a district attorney reviewed footage from Hickman’s body camera. Hickman was eventually ordered to turn in his gun and badge, according to reports. He ultimately resigned.

While the incident occurred on August 25, 2017, the public did not learn about or see the body camera footage of Hickman beating Rush until the recording was leaked to the Asheville Citizen-Times on February 28, 2018. The video’s publication six months after it was recorded sent shockwaves through the city of Asheville. But the community should never have had to wait that long. It should have seen the video directly following the incident.

Within a week of the video’s release, Hickman was arrested and charged with assault, and members of the Asheville City Council called for the police chief to resign. The FBI has now opened its own investigation.

This series of events shows racial bias at play, the scourge of excessive force by police, and both the power and limits of body camera technology to ensure police accountability. Injustice was captured by an officer-worn body camera but never released to the public. Without transparency, body cameras aren’t worth a damn.

But the Asheville police department doesn’t seem too concerned with transparency.

Asheville’s police chief, Tammy Hooper, disturbingly threatened to investigate and charge whoever “unlawful[ly]” leaked the footage, which only highlights how both the culture and policies of the police need to be changed. Had the footage not become public, Hickman may not have been charged with assaulting Rush. Without the footage, community members would not know to call for reforms. And reforms that include implicit bias training, deescalation training, and better data collection on stops and searches are sorely needed.

While there are good privacy reasons, in certain instances, for not making all body camera footage public, this is not one of those times. When a video captures police use of force – particularly when officers are abusing their power and brutalizing a community member, the public has a right to see that video. State laws, like the one we have in North Carolina, that prevent or limit the release of body-cam footage not only block transparency — they also block people’s right to justice.

Chief Hooper should concentrate on ending her officers’ racially biased and violent policing tactics rather than finding the leaker who made justice possible. It’s clear that the Asheville Police Department needs to do a better job at hiring good officers and training them to treat all communities with dignity. Hooper has an opportunity now to show communities of color that justice is not a hollow promise but a reality for all.

ICE Is Illegally Imprisoning Asylum Seekers

American Civil Liberties Union - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 11:00
Under Trump, asylum seekers are being illegally locked up without due process.

Ansly Damus has been locked up for one year, four months, and counting. Held behind bars by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he has not been outside for more than a year. His crime? In October 2016, Damus fled violent, political persecution in Haiti. When he arrived in the U.S., he presented himself to immigration authorities and applied for asylum. He passed his “credible fear” interview. And then a judge granted him asylum — not once, but twice.

Damus committed no crime, and yet the U.S. government has put him behind bars. He’s not alone — thousands of other asylum seekers are also being held in jails across the country.


Today, the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s pattern of illegally locking up immigrants who are seeking asylum in the United States. The plaintiffs are fleeing persecution, torture, or death in their countries of origin. Like Damus, they all followed procedure and presented themselves at the border to apply for asylum, were screened by a government official, and found to have a credible asylum claim that should be heard in court. Instead of offering a humane response, the Trump administration has locked them up indefinitely while their cases are adjudicated.

The arbitrary imprisonment of people like Damus is part of the administration’s larger strategy of deterring immigrants from seeking refuge in the U.S. even though our laws permit them to. This same cruel and abusive deterrence strategy underlies tactics like brutally separating parents from their children, and criminally prosecuting individuals who cross the border to seek asylum.

The administration’s detention of asylum seekers is not only cruel and wasteful. It violates the Constitution, breaks U.S. immigration laws and international law, and goes against the Department of Homeland Security’s written policy.

The Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from depriving any person, regardless of citizenship, of their liberty without due process of law. Due process requires a valid reason for putting a person behind bars, and it also requires that meaningful procedures are in place to make sure detention actually serves those goals. The Constitution does not permit the government to take people’s liberty away arbitrarily, regardless of whether the Trump administration wants to send a message that asylum seekers “need not apply.”

Moreover, immigration laws require the government to consider the facts in each case to determine if the individual is a flight risk or a danger to public safety before it detains that person. Similarly, international law prohibits the use of detention to deter asylum seekers from pursuing their claims, without an individualized determination that detention is justified because the person is a danger or flight risk. But the administration is jailing asylum seekers without providing them a meaningful opportunity to show that they don’t need to be locked up in the first place.

Finally, the indiscriminate detention of asylum seekers violates the Department of Homeland Security’s own policies. In 2009, the Obama administration issued a directive instructing ICE Field Offices to grant release on humanitarian parole to asylum seekers, provided that they met a series of stringent requirements: pass their credible fear screening (an interview in which an immigration official determines whether there’s a “significant possibility” the person is eligible for asylum); prove their identity; pose no danger to the community; and provide an address where they will be living and commit to appearing for court dates.

Tell DHS to stop the illegal detention of asylum seekers

This directive is still in place. Yet in practice, people are being illegally detained for months on end, even though they met the directive’s requirements.

Ansly Damus, for example, poses no danger to anyone and has strong claims for protection under our laws. He is an ethics teacher from Grand-Rivière-du-Nord in Haiti and was forced to flee Haiti because of political persecution by “La Meezorequin,” known as the Shark Bones Army, an armed gang that supported a local official, Benjamin Ocenjac. In one of his seminars, he cited Ocenjac as an example of a politician who had used gangs to terrorize the population. As retribution, members of La Meezorequin attacked Damus while he was riding home on his motorcycle, beat him, set his motorcycle on fire, and threatened to kill him. Fearing for his life, he fled Haiti 10 days later.

In October 2016, Damus traveled to the border at Calexico, California, presented himself to the immigration authorities, and requested asylum. After interviewing him, an asylum officer verified that he had a credible asylum claim and referred him for a hearing before an immigration judge. The judge then granted him asylum twice. But because the government appealed each asylum grant, he’s been locked up ever since in a detention facility in Chardon, Ohio, where detainees are kept in windowless rooms. “I have not breathed fresh air or felt the sun on my face,” he says, “and I never know if it is cold or hot outside, if the sun is out, and if the seasons are changing.”

Damus’ case reflects a nationwide problem. Our lawsuit focuses on five ICE field offices covering detention centers in California, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. In 2013, these field offices granted 95 percent of asylum seekers’ applications for humanitarian parole. Since Trump took office, their rates of parole grants have dropped to nearly zero. It’s estimated that more than 1,000 asylum seekers have been denied humanitarian parole in these five ICE districts alone.

Immigrants like Ansly Damus are exactly the people the directive was designed to protect, yet the Trump administration is ignoring it entirely. Donald Trump may want to keep immigrants out of America, but he is not above the law or the Constitution as he pursues his inhumane agenda.

The Asylum Seekers Who Were Locked Up by ICE for No Reason

American Civil Liberties Union - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 11:00
These asylum seekers fled violence and persecution abroad, only to be illegally jailed in the United States.

The Trump administration’s decision to indefinitely lock up asylum-seekers, instead of releasing them on humanitarian parole while their cases are decided, is ruining lives across the country. It’s estimated that more than 1,000 asylum seekers have been denied release in the five ICE districts named in our lawsuit alone.

Before arriving at the U.S. border, our clients led lives that were strikingly different from one another. These men and women represent five different countries; some are teenagers and some are grandparents. Before they were “asylum seekers,” they were teachers, software engineers, drivers, and students.

But at some point, all of them encountered a level of danger so great that it forced them to flee their homes and countries. They arrived to the United States looking for safety.

All of our clients have proved their identity, passed a government screening, and have sponsors to live with in the U.S. while their cases are decided. DHS’s own policies stipulate that asylum seekers should be released under “humanitarian parole” as their cases are decided, provided they meet a series of strict requirements. But under the Trump administration, rates of parole grants have plummeted and asylum seekers are being categorically jailed without due process.

Ansly Damus
Ansly, an ethics teacher in his early 40s, fled violence and political persecution in Haiti after speaking out against the corruption of a local politician. He was attacked by a local gang whose members severely beat him, set his motorcycle on fire, and threatened to kill him. Fearing for his life, Ansly fled Haiti, leaving behind his wife, eight-year-old daughter, and four-year-old son. Ansly not only passed his screening, an immigration judge has granted his application twice. However, in each instance, the U.S. government appealed the decision, extending his case proceedings. Ansly is currently locked up in Geauga County Safety Center in Chardon, Ohio, where immigrant detainees are kept in windowless rooms, and he has not been allowed outside in 16 months.

Alexi Ismael Montes Castro
Alexi, an 18-year-old, fled Honduras after being harassed, beaten and threatened at gunpoint because he is gay. Fearing for his life, Alexi requested asylum in November 2017. Even though an immigration officer found he has a credible fear of persecution, Alexi has been detained for approximately four months. Without even interviewing him, ICE denied Alexi’s release, even though he has a relative in Virginia with whom he can stay while his case is decided. Alexi is currently detained at the York County Prison in York, Pennsylvania.

Abelardo Asensio Callol
Abelardo, a software engineer and project manager for a specialized computer services company belonging to the Ministry of Tourism, fled Cuba after being persecuted by the government. After refusing to join the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) and attend a rally held in memory of Fidel Castro, the Ministry of Tourism removed Abelardo from his position as a project manager. Government officers then came to his home and accused him of various crimes and holding anti-government opinions. In December 2017, Abelardo passed his credible fear interview, but ICE denied him parole without ever interviewing him. He has since submitted several requests to ICE to submit additional documentation that would establish his identity, he is not a flight risk, and has sponsors in the U.S. with whom he can live while his case is decided. Abelardo is currently detained at the York County Prison in York, Pennsylvania.

A.M.M. and H.A.Y.
A.M.M. and H.A.Y. are a husband and wife seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing dangerous criminal elements in Mexico. In October 2017, an armed wing of a criminal cartel in Mexico began targeting their family, seeking to take control of the family’s house, cattle, and farm. The cartel members repeatedly came to their home looking for A.M.M. and threatened to kill him. Fearing for their lives, the couple came to the United States in December 2017. In February 2018, the El Paso ICE Field Office denied both H.A.Y.’s and A.M.M.’s requests for humanitarian parole, even though they had established their identities, identified a sponsor with whom they could live, and shown that they pose no flight risk or danger to the community. The couple is currently detained separately; H.A.Y. is locked up at the El Paso Processing Center in El Paso, Texas and A.M.M. is at the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, New Mexico.

After L.H.A., a 22-year-old refused to join a gang in El Salvador, gang members threatened to kill him and his family. They demanded a monthly payment in exchange for staying alive. Fearing for his life, L.H.A. came to the United States in May 2016 and presented himself to immigration authorities in El Paso, Texas. On June 14, 2017, L.H.A. applied for parole, but the El Paso ICE Field Office denied L.H.A.’s request, even though he had established his identity, identified a sponsor with whom he could live, and shown he poses no flight risk or danger to the community. L.H.A. has been detained for more than twenty-one months. He is currently locked up at the El Paso Processing Center in Texas.

E.E.C.S., a 23-year-old, fled El Salvador after being targeted by both MS-13 and the Salvadoran police. MS-13 gang members tried to recruit E.E.C.S. to join them, and when he refused, they beat and threatened to kill him. The police also targeted E.E.C.S. because his cousin is a leader of MS-13. Fearing for his life, he left the country, and presented to U.S. immigration authorities in December 2017, stating his desire to seek asylum. The Los Angeles ICE Field Office denied E.E.C.S.’s request for humanitarian parole, even though he has established his identity, identified a sponsor who he could live with, and shown that he poses no flight risk or danger to the community. E.E.C.S. is currently detained at the James A. Musick detention facility in Irvine, California.

L.I.L.M., a 31-year-old father of two, is seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing a dangerous criminal cartel in Mexico. Members of the cartel kidnapped L.I.L.M.’s two brothers and threatened to kill him and his family. When L.I.L.M. investigated their disappearance, the cartel members came to his family home with guns and threatened to “disappear” him if he did not stop. Fearing for his life, L.I.L.M sought asylum in San Ysidro, California in October 2017. After passing his asylum screening, L.I.L.M. submitted two requests for parole, including evidence of his identity and letters of support from a family member who can serve as his sponsor. The Los Angeles ICE Field Office orally denied both his parole requests without providing him any explanation or written decision. L.I.L.M. has been detained for over four months and is currently locked up at the James A. Musick detention facility in Irvine, California.

The Trump Administration Is Using the Parkland Massacre as an Excuse to Roll Back Civil Rights

American Civil Liberties Union - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 17:00
An Obama-era Department of Education guidance sought to remedy discrimination in school discipline. Trump might repeal it.

On Monday, the White House announced the creation of a Federal Commission on School Safety, chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to recommend proposals for school violence prevention. Included in the mandate of DeVos’ commission is a starkly worded objective: “Repeal of the Obama Administration’s ‘Rethink School Discipline’ policies.”

It’s fair to wonder what this plan is doing on a list of items supposedly responding to school shootings. Prior school discipline history does not indicate that a youth will commit a school shooting. In Parkland, discipline policies did not thwart the district from taking action, and the attacker had been expelled from school. In fact, while most perpetrators of school shootings are white, children of color and students with disabilities are the ones disproportionately subject to school discipline.

These race and disability-based disparities prompted the Obama-era Department of Education to issue school discipline guidance to combat this bias in the nation’s public schools. The guidance is based on a substantial body of research as well as the department’s own investigations, which included findings of “cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students.” The department’s final analysis: “Racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.”

This realization isn’t confined to the Department of Education. Educators across the country, including the Florida Department of Education, have recognized the benefits of reforming overly punitive and discriminatory school discipline practices. There is no reason to think that these policies conflict with the ability to respond to school shootings. The Department of Education itself concluded that: “The goals of equity and school safety are thus complementary, and together help ensure a safe school free of discrimination.”

The plain truth is that this has nothing to do with preventing school shootings — the administration has had its eye on repealing the Obama-era discipline guidance for some time already as part of its deregulation agenda. And while the guidance is still characterized as under review by the administration, Secretary DeVos tipped her hand on Sunday.

In an appearance on 60 Minutes, she stated that racial disparities in school discipline come “down to individual kids.” To be clear about the implications of this statement, Ms. DeVos is saying that when Black students are disciplined more harshly than their white peers, the fault lies with Black youth. Secretary DeVos isn’t grappling with the right approach to disparate school discipline; she’s denying the problem exists.

The call to repeal the guidance on disparate school discipline has nothing to do with addressing gun violence in schools. While the administration has backed away from efforts to examine real solutions, like sensible gun regulations, it is boldly and shamefully exploiting this tragedy to advance its efforts to roll back civil rights.


© 2014 National Deaf Freedom Association, Inc. All rights reserved.

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