News

Advocacy Groups Issue Joint Statement on Revisions to TANF Procedures

August 19, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408, mmiller@aclu-ms.org
Sid Scott, Mississippi Center for Justice, 769-230-2841, sscott@mscenterforjustice.org

JACKSON, Miss. — The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Justice issued the following joint statement in light of the Mississippi Department of Human Services release of revisions to the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) rules:

“We applaud DHS for adopting a provision that protects TANF payments for children. This action comes after a July 22 public hearing that we called for and that featured heartfelt testimony calling for the change to protect payments for children, among other things. While we are generally very pleased with the new regulations, we continue to express concern about the viability of the chosen screening instrument, and reassert that TANF recipients should not be required to pay for the treatment process.”

Ferguson is Everytown, U.S.A.

August 18, 2014

By Nusrat Choudhury, Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program at 5:07pm

The tragic killing of college-bound teenager Michael Brown has raised questions about the frequency with which police kill unarmed black men in America. The answer, unfortunately, is far too often.

Just three months ago, on a warm April afternoon, a white police officer shot and killed Dontre Hamilton, a 31-year-old black man, in downtown Milwaukee's Red Arrow Park. According to the Milwaukee police chief, the officer was "defending himself in a violent situation." But the eyewitness report of a Starbucks barista paints a very different picture.

According to the barista, Hamilton had been sleeping on the concrete sidewalk next to Starbucks when two police officers approached him, asked him questions, and left after determining that he was doing nothing wrong. But an hour or so later, she heard yelling. Looking out the Starbucks window, she saw a different white police officer standing up against Hamilton, "who was holding the officer's own baton in a defense posture." The officer "lunged" at Hamilton in an attempt to get the baton, but failed. The barista watched in horror as the officer stood 10 feet away from Hamilton, pulled out a gun, and shot Hamilton 10 times in quick succession without issuing any verbal warnings. The barista reports that she never saw Hamilton hit the officer with the baton.

The tragic killing of Hamilton bears a striking – and deeply troubling – resemblance to the killing of Michael Brown, who was shot by an officer six times, including twice in the head, after being stopped for walking down the middle of a street. Including Hamilton and Brown, at least six black men were shot and killed by police since April in circumstances that suggest the unjustified use of excessive force and possible racial profiling.

In July, Eric Garner was killed in New York by officers who placed him in a chokehold – a banned tactic – and slammed his head into a sidewalk during an attempt to arrest him for allegedly selling illegal cigarettes.

In early August, police in Beavercreek, Ohio, fatally shot John Crawford III in a Walmart, where Crawford had been holding a BB gun that he had picked up on a store shelf.

Just days after the killing of Brown, Ezell Ford was killed by police on a Los Angeles sidewalk during an investigative stop. While police contend that officers opened fire after a "struggle," Ford's mother reports that he was lying on the ground complying with the officers' order when he was shot three times in the back.

And the very next day, pressman Dante Parker was killed in Victorville, California, after being repeatedly shocked with a stun gun by police attempting to arrest him as a suspect in a nearby robbery. Apparently, police suspected him because he was riding a bicycle, and the robbery suspect was reported to have fled on a bike.

The stories of these six people make one thing painfully clear: The killing of black men in incidents that begin as investigatory police stops are anything but unusual in America. In this sense, Ferguson is Everytown, U.S.A.

There is a reason for this. More than 240 years of slavery and 90 years of legal segregation in this country have created a legacy of racialized policing. Killings and beatings lie at one end of a spectrum in which black people ­– and young black men in particular – are routinely stigmatized, humiliated, and harassed as targets for police stops, frisks, and searches, even when they are doing nothing wrong.

The numbers show the reality.

Studies of Rhode Island traffic stops and New York pedestrian stops confirm that police stop blacks at higher rates than whites. Even more troubling is that the New York study determined that a neighborhood's racial composition was the main factor for determining NYPD stop rates, above and beyond the "role of crime, social conditions, or the allocation of police resources." In other words, New York cops targeted blacks because of their race – not because they happened to live in a dangerous place or in an area flooded by police.

Data from Ferguson mirrors these racial disparities. Last year, blacks not only accounted for 86 percent of stops, 92 percent of searches, and 93 percent of arrests by Ferguson police, the state attorney general's office calculated that blacks were overrepresented in these encounters in light of their population figures. Even more damning is the fact that although police were twice as likely to search blacks than whites after initiating a stop, whites were far more likely to be found with contraband.

It is not a leap to conclude that the same biases that cause those racial disparities also make it more likely that black men will die during the course of police arrests. According to the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, although black men made up only 27.8 percent of all persons arrested from 2003-2009, they made up 31.8 percent of all persons who died in the course of arrest, and the majority of these deaths were homicides.

Why does racialized policing persist despite the end of slavery and Jim Crow? While explicit racial bias may be less prominent today (albeit anything but eliminated), implicit racial biases plague all of us, including those charged with keeping our streets safe. A large body of compelling research has demonstrated how these unconscious, automatically activated, and pervasive mental processes translate into action with devastating consequences for black people.

In particular, researchers have well-documented shooter bias. One video game study simulated the nearly instantaneous decisions made by police officers to shoot armed individuals and to refrain from shooting the unarmed. The study revealed that participants were more likely to shoot black people than white people in error.

Both explicit and implicit biases lead far too often to the killing of black men in police-civilian encounters. And they undergird the daily indignity and humiliation experienced by blacks who are stopped, questioned, and searched by police when they have done nothing wrong.

Police are sworn to serve and protect everyone equally, not disproportionately stop and harass only certain communities. Rather than express surprise and shock during a summer where six black men have been killed by police in highly questionable circumstances, it is up to us to do something.

The single most important first step is to provide accountability—including through the Attorney General's issuance of a comprehensive ban on racial profiling. Accountability will advance justice for past harms and pave the way forward for a future in which we are closer to the promise of equal justice for all.

Sign our petition asking the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice to stop funneling billions into the militarization of state and local police forces.

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ACLU of Mississippi Requests Harrison County Chancery Court Record Vital Documents

August 14, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 14, 2014

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; mmiller@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – On Thursday, August 14, the ACLU of Mississippi sent the Harrison County Chancery Court a letter requesting the clerk record the out-of-state marriage licenses of two same-sex couples for public record. The letter is in response to a refusal on the part of the Harrison County Chancery Clerk to record the marriage licenses during the Campaign for Southern Equality’s day of statewide action. The letter requests the Clerk comply with the law and record the vital document. It also asks that the Clerk treat all people with dignity and respect.

Read the letter.

Empowering and Protecting Our Students

August 12, 2014

By Constance Gordon, Advocacy Coordinator

I remember waiting anxiously for the last day of school, then by July, being ready for the first day again. That was the rollercoaster that was summer break! Only after the bad years was it any different. There were so many good times but the bad times to a child are the ones that shape their future. Each day, a child is bullied or discriminated against in their school. Each day, an innocent child leaves their school campus with a frown and many have no one to turn to once they arrive home. I know that I can’t be there for each child, but I do know that we can educate and empower them through knowledge. The first step in protecting our children is empowering them with the knowledge of their rights.

In a 1969 case called Tinker v. Des Moines, a Supreme Court judge deemed that students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. The Constitution still applies, therefore it still protects. Students have the right to feel comfortable and not threatened in schools. Students have the right to equal education. Students have a right to tell an adult and that adult must protect that child. If not, that child’s rights have been violated. There is no room for bias in an environment that is to nurture the future decision makers of our country. There is no specific look of success and no specific personality trait that leads to it. All children must know they are equal and be treated that way.

Knowing that there are systems in place to criminalize our children for normal adolescent behavior makes it imperative that we educate them on their rights. Many times, a student simply “didn’t know,” or someone “told me I couldn’t do this,” or more importantly, “didn’t think anyone would do anything.” This is where we (adults) come in because the more of their rights they know, the less wrongs they will be a victim of. Bullying, harassment and/or discrimination does not always come from other students. Sometimes students are being mistreated by faculty and/or staff. That’s why it’s as important for you to be involved in a student’s school life as it is for you to make sure they know their rights. Sometimes knowing isn’t enough and they need guardians or other caring adults to step in.

It’s hard for a kid to tell an adult that they are afraid. Know this. Know and pay attention. There are things you can look for such as: decline in grades, lack of social activity, depression, unexplained fear or lack of interest in attending school, or blaming themselves for everything with feelings of helplessness or rage. Never disregard a cry for help. Many children don’t know adults care and feel like no one will do anything to protect them. Act.

I couldn’t imagine my rights being violated by my educators and others I look to for guidance and protection. Most importantly, I don’t want to think about youth not being heard, not being led and not being protected. School is about to start, not only for the kids but for the adults who make up their community. We all have to know our rights and protect the rights of students! Make sure the youth in every community are protected, educated and leave their school campus with a smile.

Learn about student rights.

ACLU and Planned Parenthood Release Infographic on TRAP Laws

August 08, 2014

Continuing the Conversation After Arizona's Execution

July 25, 2014

By Alison Steiner, President, ACLU of Mississippi Board of Directors

"The capital punishment system is discriminatory and arbitrary and inherently violates the Constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. The ACLU opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, and looks forward to the day when the United States joins the majority of nations in abolishing it.” -ACLU Policy Statement on Capital Punishment

The ACLU has long been known and respected for its unstinting efforts at the elimination of capital punishment, and to securing systemic reform of the death penalty process so long as it is still with us.

Success of the abolition campaigns has been particularly impressive of late. In the last six years six states have decided that they, like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, will “no longer tinker with the machinery of death,”i.e.will no longer try to systemically reform something that is not worth the effort of fixing.

Arguments for abolition have successfully invoked the undeniable racial discrimination in who is even prosecuted for death-eligible offenses. They have also relied upon disproportionate rate of DNA-based exonerations of people on death row and the unacceptably high risks of condemnation and execution of the innocent. Where they have worked, these arguments have propelled legislatures and executive branches to find the death penalty not worth its very considerable expense any more.

However, this has happened mostly in states where the death penalty was already falling in to disuse, or, as in Illinois, had already been stopped by executive moratoria and pardons. In most of these places, new death sentences were rare. In some, actual executions so uncommon that no one in the corrections systems had ever performed one.

These same arguments have not had as much traction in the hard core, particularly southern, death penalty states where death rows are large, new sentences, though rarer than before, are still regularly imposed, and executions are being conducted with disturbing frequency.

I think that this may be because the debate has mostly focused on the condemned people – is it unfair to them to be subjected to this racially disproportionate punishment, or face a not insignificant possibility that they are innocent yet condemned, when other, effective means of punishment are also available? Only indirectly does it talk about “us” and our distaste at collaborating in these injustices.

The event in Oklahoma, where the slow, agonizing death suffered by Clayton Lockett was, at least for a short time, witnessed by the world, have shifted that focus. Though it was Mr. Lockett who was being tortured to death, it was “us” – and by “us” I mean even the people conducting the execution – who were horrified by what we were witnessing. Even strong death penalty proponents had to admit that what happened to Clayton Lockett violated the Eighth Amendment.

Most recently, in Arizona, it took the state 1 hour and 57 minutes to execute Joseph Wood who gasped for air 660 times. Arizona rushed to execute him in secret and ignored the warnings of the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Dennis McGuire in Ohio.

The conversation about capital punishment is once again questioning whether death penalty can, at least in practice, ever be anything other than a barbarity to which we must just say no, and that taints us as much as it harms the person we have condemned to suffer it.

The mostly conservative, mostly white politicians who, for now at least, still control legislatures and state-houses in the hard-core southern death penalty states, including Mississippi, have no reason to put themselves out politically for the people on death row, even the innocent ones. They can easily rationalize, ignore or deny the arguments that focus on the condemned people.

But like all human beings, most of these powerful men and women want to appear morally upright to the rest of the world. When the conversation focuses on their own part in maintaining a system that can allow someone to be strapped down, improperly sedated and then given just enough poison to cause a fatal heart attack half an hour later, we may be able to get their attention.

At the very least, we need to try.

President Obama Signs Executive Order Protecting LGBT People from Workplace Discrimination

July 21, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

WASHINGTON – President Obama signed an executive order today to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from workplace discrimination during a ceremony at the White House.

The order bars businesses that contract with the federal government from engaging in discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also explicitly bans discrimination against federal employees based on their gender identity, building upon prior actions by the administration to extend basic fairness and explicit protections to transgender people.

The following statement can be attributed to ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero:

"This is one of the most important actions ever taken by a president to eradicate LGBT discrimination from America's workplaces. By signing this order, President Obama is building on a bipartisan tradition, dating back over 70 years, of barring discrimination without exception when taxpayer dollars are involved. While there remains much work still to do to achieve the goal of full civil rights protections for LGBT people, we must take time to celebrate the landmarks along the way, and this is a huge win."

The executive order notably does not include a religious exemption that would have given religiously affiliated government contractors a special license to discriminate using taxpayer dollars against LGBT people. The ACLU recently withdrew its support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) over the bill’s religious exemption.

ACLU Withdraws Support for ENDA

July 08, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today announced that it is withdrawing its support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in a statement also signed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Transgender Law Center. The ACLU objects to a provision in the bill that would allow religiously affiliated employers to continue to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Federal legislation to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination is way beyond overdue, but Congress has no place giving religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT workers," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. "We can no longer support a bill that treats LGBT discrimination as different and somehow more legitimate than other forms of discrimination."

President Obama has announced his intention to sign an executive order that would ban discrimination against LGBT people employed by federal contractors. The ACLU opposes any inclusion of a discrimination exemption in this executive order.

The full statement announcing the withdrawal of support can be found here:https://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/aclu-statement-withdrawing-support-enda

Reflecting on Freedom Summer Youth Congress

July 02, 2014

By Jed Oppenheim, Advocacy Coordinator

They came from all over. By bus, train, airplane and car. From June 23-28, young people from all over Mississippi and our country came to Jackson, MS to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer. Part of this contingent was a large scale Freedom Summer Youth Congress (FSYC). Although participants commemorated the civil rights victories achieved partly because of Freedom Summer ’64, such as the Civil Rights Act and, later, the Voting Rights Act, the FSYC was a deliberate call to action by youth-led organizations. These organizations are on the forefront of the current movement defining what we need to do to keep pushing social justice and civil liberties forward.

In the last decade, we have seen our public education system attacked by private interests (much like they were just before and after Brown v. Board); we have seen SCOTUS back track on the pre-clearance required by the Voting Rights Act; at the state and federal levels we have seen attack after attack on a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions (most recently, the June 30 SCOTUS decision regarding contraception); we are hearing of young people who have only ever known what life is like in America—being deported to countries they have never known due to decisions their parents made decades ago; we are seeing black and brown youth incarcerated more than ever because private corporations are looking for profit; and so much more. We will not resolve these issues without the engagement and leadership by and for our young people.

If you’ve paid any attention to the news over the last year, you’ve seen the youth-led Dream Defenders sit-in over the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida; you have seen the DREAMers take to Capitol Hill and push the Obama Administration on immigration reform; and, right here in Mississippi, you have seen the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance (MSJA) organize for a union at the Nissan plant in Canton for workers’ rights. These stories often get missed in the mainstream because our elders and our media are quicker to judge young people as apathetic, uninvolved and selfish. By the end of last week’s Youth Congress, it was obvious that this paternalistic rational was debunked.

At the FSYC, the youth, who came to Tougaloo College in Jackson, strategized, collaborated and shared ideas that cut across the highly-silo’d way in which we normally operate in social justice work. Youth, who normally work on access to quality education, were working with youth on access to the ballot. Youth “DREAMers,” who came together as undocumented students, collaborated with other youth on breaking down the Prison Industrial Complex. Every issue is inter-connected and nowhere was that more clear than at the FSYC.

At FSYC, political power was a main topic of how to change perception, but also how to change the power structure. On the last day of the Youth Congress, I walked into a room where representatives from the Dream Defenders, United We Dream, Freedom Side, The Young People’s Project, Advancement Project and many other groups were talking about a new political structure with more political voices. The discussion revolved around political power and how to obtain it. Amazingly, FSYC was filled with rooms of young people who have made a drastic impact on their communities, yet young people are constantly told to wait their turn. Moving forward, these young activists will be the voices of change because it is their turn.

In 2064, I hope we will not be talking about the same topics in 2014 nor the topics of 1964. Going forward from FSYC, we will use youth-driven people power to create new conversations and institutions. We will also continue the work to creatively break down systems that don’t work for black, brown, LGBT or DREAMer youth and create new one’s that actually serve the people. Most of the youth who came to FSYC are already doing the work. FSYC was an opportunity to build and expand on that foundation.

The ACLU of Mississippi applauds these courageous young people and were glad to participate in the FSYC. It is this youthful base that will forge into our future and finally allow our potential to be realized. It is this potential that will make our state and our nation great. A place where justice, fairness and equity are not just words on a paper (or in a blog) to be academized, but real acts of vision and love meant to exist in a great society.

Supreme Court Allows Employers to Discriminate Against Employees by Denying Contraception Coverage

June 30, 2014

Employers Allowed to Use Religious Beliefs to Refuse to Comply With Law Requiring Contraception Coverage

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of closely held corporations that sought an exemption to a federal law requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception. The owners of the plaintiff companies – Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based craft supply store chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania furniture company – cited religious objections to contraception as a reason not to comply with the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union, religious organizations, other civil rights and women’s health groups, business leaders, and members of Congress filed friend-of-the-court briefs arguing that the companies’ owners cannot impose their personal religious beliefs on employees to withhold coverage for health services with which they disagree.

"This is a deeply troubling decision. For the first time, the highest court in the country has said that business owners can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law," said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. "Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but that freedom does not include the right to impose beliefs on others. In its ruling today, the Court simply got it wrong."

More information about these cases can be found at:
aclu.org/reproductive-freedom/challenges-federal-contraceptive-coverage-rule