May 27, 2015
By Satsuki Ina, Professor Emeritus, California State University, Sacramento
Last summer, the Obama administration announced its plans to open new immigrant family detention centers in response to the wave of women and children fleeing violence in Central and South America and seeking asylum in the United States. The ACLU and other advocacy groups quickly opposed the White House's policy because of the harm it would inflict on already traumatized women and children. This month, The New York Times editorial board described family detention simply as "immoral," and the U.N. Human Rights Council called upon the U.S. to "halt the detention of immigrant families and children." In the following piece, psychotherapist Satsuki Ina, who was born in a Japanese-American prison camp during World War II, recounts her visits to two so-called family detention facilities in Texas and the psychological toll detention takes on the women and children imprisoned there. — Matthew Harwood
I was born behind barbed wire 70 years ago in the Tule Lake Segregation Center, a maximum-security prison camp for Japanese-Americans in Northern California. My parents’ only crime was having the face of the enemy. They were never charged or convicted of a crime; yet they were forced to raise me in a prison camp when President Franklin Roosevelt signed a wartime executive order ultimately authorizing the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent. We were deemed a danger to the “national security” and incarcerated without due process of law.
When the war ended, my family was moved to a prison camp in Crystal City, Texas, and finally, after a total of 4 years of captivity, we were released. Decades later, our government acknowledged the injustice that had been committed. I never expected to return to Texas, and I certainly never expected to see other families incarcerated just as my own family had been 73 years ago. But this past year, the U.S. government created something that compelled me to go back.
...Read more from ACLU National
May 21, 2015
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.
May 19, 2015
According to Locke Bell, the district attorney of Gaston County, North Carolina, the ethnicity of a domestic-violence survivor can disqualify that person from equal protection under the law. The Charlotte Observer reports that Bell refused to certify a domestic violence survivor’s visa application because he thinks the relevant law protecting crime victims “was never intended to protect Latinos from Latinos.”
The controversy surrounds Evelin, a domestic violence survivor who courageously called police to press charges against her abusive boyfriend. She says he punched her, kicked her, and pulled her hair. Two weeks ago, he returned to her home after being deported, accused her of seeing another man, and repeatedly kicked her. Evelin reported the crime to the police and, as is her right, applied for a U visa.
U visas are for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. Congress created the nonimmigrant, temporary U visa in 2000 — as part of legislation that included the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act. The visa, contrary to what Bell believes, makes no distinctions based on ethnicity or immigration status.
After hearing that Bell disqualified her from protection based on her ethnicity, Evelin commented: “It’s unfair. It’s unjust. He needs to remember we are all humans.” Michael Moore, president of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), agreed, telling Latin Times: “I can’t even find the words to describe [what Bell reportedly did] . . . unprofessional is enough … despicable might be close.” Moore suggested that if Bell were an NDAA member he’d be subject to expulsion.
If you were expecting the federal government to denounce Bell’s policy, you’ll be disappointed....continue reading.
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."
"Think about a woman who has decided to have an abortion. How would you want that experience to be for her?"
"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."
May 04, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Morgan Miller, 601-354-3408, firstname.lastname@example.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. Record allows 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. Witness sends out an alert when someone is stopped by police so that community members can move toward the location and document the interaction. Report gives the app user the option to complete an incident report and send it directly to the ACLU of Mississippi for review. Know Your Rights provides 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.
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 Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Kentucky,Missouri, Arizona, 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.
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.
April 07, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; email@example.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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