News

A Plug-and-Play Model Policy for Police Body Cameras

May 21, 2015

By Chad Marlow, Advocacy and Policy Counsel, ACLU

Ferguson.

Staten Island.

Pasco.

North Charleston.

Baltimore.

An unarmed person of color. Dead at the hands of law enforcement. And then another. And another. And another. And another.

Seeking to stem the tide of senseless death, a national search began for an appropriate response. In short order, a growing chorus of elected officials, law enforcement, and community leaders settled on a common answer: police body cameras. Recent surveys suggest that more than one in four police agencies have already started using them.

Unfortunately, the violence, injustice, and inequity that plague our system of law enforcement will not be solved simply by affixing tiny cameras to officers' lapels. In fact, without the proper policies in place, the widespread deployment of police body cameras could do more harm than good. If body cameras are used to cast a net of roving surveillance over communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, they will cause harm. If police officers are given discretion as to when to turn on and off their cameras and key moments go uncaptured when violence erupts, they will cause harm. If video footage is captured but state laws or law enforcement policies prohibit the public from viewing it, they will cause harm. And if body camera videos are released en masse, resulting in the widespread violation of American's privacy with no public benefit — except perhaps to fans of TMZ and "COPS" style reality shows — they will cause harm.

If, however, police body cameras are deployed within the framework of a well-considered policy that strikes the proper balance between promoting transparency and protecting privacy, police body cameras might just do some good. To that end, and in response to overwhelming demand, the ACLU is releasing a model bill for use by state legislatures and local police departments to guide the development of their laws, policies, and procedures on the use of body cameras. This model bill is far more than a wish list — it is a comprehensive plug-and-play policy for those seeking to implement a sound police body camera program.

Continue reading here....

Why Are We Still Asking if a Dying Woman Should Be Able to Get an Abortion to Save Her Life?

May 08, 2015

By Jennifer Dalven, Reproductive Freedom Project

A recent analysis of abortion attitudes by The New York Times came to the right conclusion: The divide on how Americans feel about abortion is much smaller than partisan politics would have us believe.

But there's a bigger idea that the piece in the Times — and the poll it relies on — missed: All too often, we're still asking the wrong questions when it comes to gauging public opinion on abortion. We're too focused on questions at the margins — death versus abortion, rape, and incest or abortion under all circumstances or no circumstances. These questions do little to illuminate the reality of most women's lives and the range of feelings people have about abortions that happen in the real world.

Much of the piece centers on how Americans feel about two questions. The first is whether a woman who needs an abortion to save her life should be able to get one. Why are we still asking this? Is whether a woman should be forced to die rather than have an abortion really still up for debate when it comes to public opinion? I don't think so.

The other question examined at length concerns a woman who wants an abortion because of the sex of the baby. To set the record straight, that's a largely imagined scenario, designed in part by abortion opponents to communicate the stigmatizing idea that a woman who has decided to have an abortion is doing so for a frivolous reason.  Not to mention that it's racist, relying on ugly stereotypes about women of color. Asking this question doesn't get at any kind of truth on abortion attitudes.

I'm thrilled that the analysis in the Times' got the real answer. But it's still not asking the right questions.

Women have abortions for complex reasons — to better take care of the children they already have, to pursue an education or career and improve their life circumstances, or simply because they know they are not in a position to be the best parent they can be.

For many years, it's been clear that when you ask people about how abortion impacts real women's lives — instead of party-line questions about abortion under all circumstances or no circumstances — you get surprising answers and high levels of agreement.

Vox recently took this wholly different approach. Instead of asking the standard questions, the poll asked questions like:

"Which comes closer to your view: The law says a woman has a right to an abortion. As long as this is the law, women should have access to safe and affordable abortion care. Or even though there is a right to abortion, we should work to reduce abortions by making it harder for women to access care."

And:

"Think about a woman who has decided to have an abortion. How would you want that experience to be for her?"

And even:

"If a close family member or friend told you she decided to have an abortion, would you give her a lot of support?"

When you ask these types of questions, a much deeper, more nuanced, and more accurate picture of attitudes on abortion appears. In that picture, it's clear that Americans are in overwhelming agreement that a woman who has decided to get an abortion should be able to get one without additional hurdles. They're in overwhelming agreement that we shouldn't be passing laws that make a woman who has decided to get an abortion feel ashamed about her decision.

And Americans agree that lawmakers who are determined to restrict access to abortion are moving our country in the wrong direction.

Buried in the Times piece, even with it's strange focus on scenarios that have little connection to most abortions, is one clear truth: "Focusing on the exact details of abortion decisions may reveal more about when Americans agree on this difficult issue than when they disagree."

View this blog on ACLU.org.

ACLU of Mississippi Releases Mobile Justice App for iPhones

May 04, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Morgan Miller, 601-354-3408, mmiller@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi launched the iPhone version of a smart phone application (app) called Mobile Justice Mississippi—an empowerment tool for those who feel their civil rights are being violated by law enforcement officers.

The iPhone app, which can be downloaded for free through the ACLU of Mississippi website, has three main functions and Know Your Rights information.Recordallows citizens to capture exchanges between police officers and themselves or other community members in audio and video files that are automatically sent to the ACLU of Mississippi.Witnesssends out an alert when someone is stopped by police so that community members can move toward the location and document the interaction.Reportgives the app user the option to complete an incident report and send it directly to the ACLU of Mississippi for review.Know Your Rightsprovides an overview of what rights protect you when you are stopped by law enforcement officers.

The Mobile Justice Android app, released last November, has been downloaded approximately 300 times. “We are glad that Mobile Justice is now available for iPhone. Most smartphone users can now access this important tool to hold Mississippi law enforcement agencies accountable for their actions,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director.

ACLU affiliates in Missouri, Oregon and Nebraska are joining the ACLU of Mississippi in releasing the Mobile Justice iPhone app. Funded by a grant from the National ACLU, the Mobile Justice app was developed by Quadrant 2 – the same developer that created the Stop and Frisk Watch app for the New York Civil Liberties Union to address racial profiling.

Learn more about Mobile Justice Mississippi and download the app from the ACLU of Mississippi website. For those who do not have smart phones or have limited capacity to utilize them because of limited cellular coverage in more rural areas, the ACLU of Mississippi is conducting Know Your Rights trainings.

Why I Am Afraid of the Bathroom

April 24, 2015

By Carl Charles, Skadden Fellow, ACLU LGBT Project

As a transgender person, I don’t take small things for granted. I appreciate the store clerk who calls me “sir,” my colleagues who don’t struggle with my name or pronouns, and most important to my daily routine, I appreciate every uneventful trip to and from the bathroom.

To cisgender (non-transgender) people, going to the bathroom is a small thing, a normal and thoughtless part of their day, as routine as breathing air. To me, many other trans people, and anyone who doesn’t fit rigid norms of masculinity and femininity, just locating a bathroom  where we will be safe causes anxiety, fear, and takes a great deal of time and effort.

There is widespread fear about trans people being able to go to the bathroom like everyone else does. Fear of how we might be different. Misinformation that somehow letting us go to the bathroom will make other people unsafe. Though there is no data to support that fear, there is data to show that trans people continue to be bullied, harassed, and worse just for simply existing. 

Efforts to legalize this discrimination towards and harassment of trans people through so-called “bathroom-bills” have taken center stage in state legislatures in places like MassachusettsFloridaTexasKentucky,MissouriArizona, and Nevada. These bills would not only fine trans people for using the restroom (up to a $4,000 dollar fine included in a recent California ballot initiative), but also criminalize and potentially send trans people to jail. We face fear, anxiety, and violence just by existing each day and these bills encourage further harassment and violence, attempting to legislate us out of public spaces.

Read more on ACLU.org...

The Sun Must Go Down on the Patriot Act

April 22, 2015

By Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director

This piece originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Not long after the Patriot Act was passed in 2001, I had dinner with the late Senator Paul Wellstone in Washington, who was a stalwart defender of civil liberties throughout his career. I asked him how he could have possibly voted for a law that so vastly expanded the government’s spying powers. He told me that he was facing a tough election, but as soon as it was over he’d invite my organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, to testify before Congress about the Patriot Act’s flaws and the threats it presented to privacy and civil liberties. “We’ll work together to get this repealed,” he promised. Unfortunately, that day never came, as the senator tragically died in a plane crash in October of 2002. 

Almost 13 years later, the most egregious part of the Patriot Act, Section 215 – which underlies the National Security Agency’s call-records program – is scheduled to expire on June 1. Some legislators want Congress to reauthorize it in its current form – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has just introduced a bill that would do exactly that, extending it for another five years. Others want to make relatively minor changes. Congress shouldn’t do either of these things. Unless Congress can coalesce around far-reaching reform, it should simply let the provision expire.

Congress hurriedly enacted the Patriot Act just weeks after the September 2001 attacks. Few legislators read the 321 pages of proposed legislation; many simply concluded that the political climate necessitated that they vote for the bill, even if they didn’t understand it.

Read more on ACLU.org...

MS School of the Arts Allows Transgender Student to Wear Dress to Prom after ACLU-MS Action

April 07, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

JACKSON, Miss – The Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven has reversed their decision to prevent a transgender student from wearing a dress to the prom. The school affirmed the student’s rights following a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi. In the letter sent on April 3rd, the ACLU of Mississippi asserted that requiring all boys to wear traditionally male attire to school dances constitutes gender discrimination and violates First Amendment right to the freedom of expression.

“We are satisfied that the school has complied with the law and has resolved this issue. Every student has the right to be themselves in school by expressing their gender identity,” said Charles Irvin, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

View the ACLU-MS letter

Learn more about LGBT student rights 

Update: Bills Dead or Alive - March 30th Deadline

March 31, 2015

Monday, March 30th was the deadline for conference reports to be filed or the bills will die. The conference report must be adopted by April 2nd. The Governor may sign bills into law or veto them throughout the week. The 2015 Legislative Session adjourns on April 5th. 

Bad Bills

HB177 - Prohibits the application of foreign law. Signed into law by the Governor.

We opposed HB177. It is unnecessary for the Mississippi Legislature to define foreign law. 

HB257 - To provide for DNA collection (for HIV AIDS testing) from persons arrested for violent crimes. Signed into law by the Governor.

We opposed HB257 because collecting and storing DNA from arrestees turns a fundamental tenet of our justice system—innocent until proven guilty—on its head. This is a due process issue, as the taking and use of DNA by law enforcement constitutes a “search” and therefore requires a court order or warrant that is supported by probable cause. Automatic testing of arrestees provides law enforcement a way to circumvent this essential safeguard.

Good Bills

HB602 - Authorizes the creation of the Re-Entry Council, purpose of which is to help inmates successfully reintegrate into society. Signed into law by the Governor.

We support HB602 because the bill promotes principles of restorative justice and rehabiliation. Mississippi must continue to evaluate it's prison system to ensure that former offenders have a fair chance at living a crime free life beyond bars. This will in turn reduce recidivism rates and decrease our prison population.

HB836 - Requires state agencies to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Conference report adopted. 

We support this bill because there are too few opportunities for people with disabilities to be able to get real employment that pays real wages. Therefore, requiring that the state agencies responsible for administering services to people with disabilities also prioritize finding opportunities for their employment is both advantageous and for the good of all Mississippians.

HB404 - Authorizes the MS Dept. of Youth Services branch of the Dept. of Human Services to operate "Adolescent Opportunity Program" instead of Adolescent Offender Program. Program would include academic, tutoring, literacy, mentoring, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, family counseling and anger management. Programs may include, but shall not be limited to, after school and weekend programs, job readiness programs, home detention programs, community service conflict resolution programs, restitution and community service. Signed into law by the Governor.

The state of Mississippi must find practical alternatives to sending children into the industrial prison complex. We support HB404 because the bill seeks to address the needs of troubled youth by getting to the root of the problem. By providing academic tutoring, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, family counseling and anger management instead of sending youth to juvenile offender programs, we give kids an opportunity at a life outside of the confines of jail and makes an investment in the future of the State of Mississippi.

SB2545 - To Create The Mississippi Public Defender Oversight And Accountability Commission, creates statewide standards. Died in conference.

We support SB2545 because it promotes community policing, transparency, and accountability.

SB2332 - Training for school resource officers. Amended to just include training prior to placement and a pathway to access additional training by parent or school district complaints. Conference report filed. 

We support SB2332. School Resource Officers must be provided with the tools necessary to ensure safety, while respecting the rights of students and the overall school climate. By requiring that SROs be trained about their roles prior to entering the schoolhouse, and equipping them with knowledge regarding adolescent development, this bill creates a safe school environment for all and reduces reliance on the criminal justice system.

SB2107 - Person First in Government Language. Amended to coincide with current law, conference report filed.

We support this bill because currently Mississippi's laws use outdated and offensive terminology in reference to people with disabilities. Everyone deserves respect. The language that we use on a daily basis demonstrates the respect, or lack thereof, that we have for one another. Therefore, we must change our language to reflect that people with disabilities are valued citizens in the state of Mississippi.

SB2780 - The Mississippi Medical Emergency Good Samaritan Act, is a bill to provide immunity from arrest or prosecution for certain drug violations by a person seeking treatment for a drug overdose. Veteod but combined with HB 692 and signed into law by the Governor.

We support this bill because it has the potential to save lives. It is a step back from the enforcement mentality toward drug use. Mississippi cannot incarcerate its way out of the drug abuse problem. It is past time to address substance abuse as a public health matter, not a law enforcement matter. This bill is a small step in that direction.

HB2127 - To clarify the provisions of law that authorize in-state tuition for nonresident students who are United States Veterans; to authorize in state tuition for persons who are eligible for Veterans’ Educational Assistance under Title 38 of the United States Code. Signed into law by the Governor.

HB957 - To create the Commission on the Future of Medicaid and Health Care in Mississippi. Died in Conference.

We support HB957 as amended by the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. The intention of this legislation is supportive of needed systemic reforms but the composition as written does not include people affected by any proposed reforms. 

Faith Leaders across Mississippi Unite for Prison Reform

March 19, 2015

A new organization of faith leaders addressed for-profit prisons at the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) task force hearing on Friday, March 20th. The coalition is called Clergy for Prison Reform (CPR) and they are seeking to highlight the desperate need to reform the state's deeply flawed corrections system.

We are pleased with the faith leaders' interest and initiative regarding the issue of mass incarceration and the impact of private prisons as a contributing factor to Mississippi's prison population.

For more information about CPR visit: www.clergyforprisonreform.com

View the press release about CPR. 

ACLU-MS Comment on Revised JPS Restraint and Seclusion Policy

March 06, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

JACKSON, Miss – On February 17, the Jackson Public School (JPS) Board of Trustees adopted a revised student restraint policy after advocacy groups publicly commented at a JPS Board meeting. After the meeting, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi worked in partnership with Dr. Cedric Gray and members of the school board to craft a policy that outlines the use of restraint and seclusion techniques in school.

In December, the ACLU of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Parent Training Institute, and Families as Allies asserted that the policy failed to focus on creating a safe environment for students and faculty, lacked clarity in the definitions of the techniques that open the door for harm, and did not promote positive behavioral interventions, among other concerns.

The following is a statement from the ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director Charles Irvin about the revised policy:

“The changes enacted by the Jackson Public School District ensure that students can be assured that school is a safe place and are free to learn. The revised policy has more emphasis on prevention, robust definitions, more specificity to the training component and inclusion of proper reporting guidelines.

We applaud their efforts in taking a generic policy and bringing added clarity for the benefit of students, parents and administrators.”

View the revised policy.

Bills Dead Or Alive - March 3rd Deadline

March 04, 2015

Tuesday, March 3rd was the deadline for bills to pass out of committee from the opposite chamber. Senate bills had to pass out of House committees and House bills had to pass out of Senate committees. 

Any bill that did not make it out of committee on either side died. Bills that passed now move on to the floor of the opposite chamber. Below are the bills that could affect civil liberties in Mississippi and their current statuses. 

The next deadline for the bills to pass on the floor of the opposite chamber is March 11th.

Alive

Bad Bills

HB177 - Prohibits the application of foreign law.

We oppose HB177. It is unnecessary for the Mississippi Legislature to define foreign law. 

HB257 - To provide for DNA collection (for HIV AIDS testing) from persons arrested for violent crimes.

We oppose HB257 because collecting and storing DNA from arrestees turns a fundamental tenet of our justice system—innocent until proven guilty—on its head. This is a due process issue, as the taking and use of DNA by law enforcement constitutes a “search” and therefore requires a court order or warrant that is supported by probable cause. Automatic testing of arrestees provides law enforcement a way to circumvent this essential safeguard.

Good Bills

HB602 - Authorizes the creation of the Re-Entry Council, purpose of which is to help inmates successfully reintegrate into society.

We support HB602 because the bill promotes principles of restorative justice and rehabiliation. Mississippi must continue to evaluate it's prison system to ensure that former offenders have a fair chance at living a crime free life beyond bars. This will in turn reduce recidivism rates and decrease our prison population.

HB836 - Requires state agencies to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

We support this bill because there are too few opportunities for people with disabilities to be able to get real employment that pays real wages. Therefore, requiring that the state agencies responsible for administering services to people with disabilities also prioritize finding opportunities for their employment is both advantageous and for the good of all Mississippians.

HB404 - Authorizes the MS Dept. of Youth Services branch of the Dept. of Human Services to operate "Adolescent Opportunity Program" instead of Adolescent Offender Program. Program would include academic, tutoring, literacy, mentoring, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, family counseling and anger management. Programs may include, but shall not be limited to, after school and weekend programs, job readiness programs, home detention programs, community service conflict resolution programs, restitution and community service.

The state of Mississippi must find practical alternatives to sending children into the industrial prison complex. We support HB404 because the bill seeks to address the needs of troubled youth by getting to the root of the problem. By providing academic tutoring, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, family counseling and anger management instead of sending youth to juvenile offender programs, we give kids an opportunity at a life outside of the confines of jail and makes an investment in the future of the State of Mississippi.

SB2545 - To Create The Mississippi Public Defender Oversight And Accountability Commission, creates statewide standards

We support SB2545 because it promotes community policing, transparency, and accountability.

SB2332 - Training for school resource officers

We support SB2332. School Resource Officers must be provided with the tools necessary to ensure safety, while respecting the rights of students and the overall school climate. By requiring that SROs be trained about their roles prior to entering the schoolhouse, and equipping them with knowledge regarding adolescent development, this bill creates a safe school environment for all and reduces reliance on the criminal justice system.

SB2107 - Person First in Government Language

We support this bill because currently Mississippi's laws use outdated and offensive terminology in reference to people with disabilities. Everyone deserves respect. The language that we use on a daily basis demonstrates the respect, or lack thereof, that we have for one another. Therefore, we must change our language to reflect that people with disabilities are valued citizens in the state of Mississippi.

HB2780 - The Mississippi Medical Emergency Good Samaritan Act, is a bill to provide immunity from arrest or prosecution for certain drug violations by a person seeking treatment for a drug overdose.

We support this bill because it has the potential to save lives. It is a step back from the enforcement mentality toward drug use. Mississippi cannot incarcerate its way out of the drug abuse problem. It is past time to address substance abuse as a public health matter, not a law enforcement matter. This bill is a small step in that direction.

HB578 - Provides in state tuition for nonresident students entitled to federal Veterans’ Educational Assistance

HB2127 - To clarify the provisions of law that authorize in-state tuition for nonresident students who are United States Veterans; to authorize in state tuition for persons who are eligible for Veterans’ Educational Assistance under Title 38 of the United States Code.

HB957 - To create the Commission on the Future of Medicaid and Health Care in Mississippi.

We support HB957 as amended by the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. The intention of this legislation is supportive of needed systemic reforms but the composition as written does not include people affected by any proposed reforms. 

Dead

Bad Bills

HB490 - Prohibits State of MS and political subdivisions from adopting "Agenda 21" or any other international law that contravenes the Constitution of MS or the US.

HB1338 - To Clarify That A Cause Of Action For Wrongful Death Includes An Unborn Child

HB1305 -To Protect The Identities Of All Individuals And Entities Who Comprise The Execution Including, But Not Limited To, Any Supplier Of Lethal Injection Drugs

HB1069 -Prohibits A Person From Participating In A Primary Unless He Intends To Support The Nominations Made

HB932 -To Require Registrars To Mail A Voter Registration Card To The Mailing Address Provided On An Applicant's Voter Registration Form

Good Bills

HB1051 -To Revise The Definition Of "technical Violation" For Probationary Purposes; To Provide That A Technical Violation Shall Not Include The Commission Of A New Crime Or The Absconding From Supervision By A Probationer

SB2295 - Requires the State Superintendent of Education to report on the number of students arrested as a result of any unlawful activity which occurred on educational property or during a school-related activity.