News Author: Morgan Miller

ACLU to Congress: We Need a Comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Bill

December 15, 2014

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

Did you know that there are just 18 states that have explicit workplace non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, or that a mere 13 states have such protections in place for LGBT students?

On Tuesday, the director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office delivered that message to the Senate Judiciary Committee during her testimony on the state of civil and human rights in the United States. "Despite remarkable progress in recent years in expanding the number of states with the freedom to marry for same-sex couples," said Laura W. Murphy, "there is a startling dearth of explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans."

In July, the ACLU, along with other leading LGBT rights organizations, announced a withdrawal of support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) due to a provision – unprecedented in federal law – that would have given religious organizations carte blanche to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. At the time, we said that our recommendation was simple: to treat anti-LGBT discrimination the same as other prohibited forms of discrimination under our nation's civil rights laws.

In her testimony before the committee, Murphy continued:

From the ability to obtain a public education free from discrimination to being able to work and find housing without fear of being rejected because of who you are or who you love, the lack of explicit protections for LGBT Americans is unacceptable.

Murphy concluded her testimony by calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Amazingly, such a bill has never been introduced in Congress.

In 2015, it's time – beyond time – to change that.

Going forward, we must take a holistic approach to the many ways in which discriminatory treatment negatively impacts the lives of LGBT people. The time has come for a comprehensive bill that builds on a half century of civil rights protections and will further the long-sought goal of explicit, effective, and, above all, equal federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

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View this blog on the ACLU National website.

Advocacy Groups to Address Restraint and Seclusion at JPS Board Meeting

December 12, 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 – On Tuesday, December 16, advocacy groups will publicly comment on a new restraint and seclusion policy at the Jackson Public Schools (JPS) Board of Trustees meeting. The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Parent Training Institute, and Families as Allies will express concerns on a revised policy that the JPS Board is proposing to enact.

The policy outlines the use of restraint and seclusion techniques in school. The groups assert that the policy fails to focus on creating a safe environment for students and faculty, lacks clarity in the definitions of the techniques that open the door for harm, and does not promote positive behavioral interventions, among other concerns.

WHAT:
Advocacy organizations will present concerns regarding a restraint and seclusion policy to the Jackson Public School Board.

WHO:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Parent Training Institute, and Families as Allies commenting on a new policy proposed by the Jackson Public School Board of Trustees.

WHEN:
Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 5:30pm.

WHERE:
JPS Board Meeting Room
621 South State Street
Jackson, MS 39201 

An MRAP Is Not a Blanket

December 02, 2014

By Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel, ACLU Center for Justice

This August, Americans watched in horror as the police descended on peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, as though they were going into battle. In May, a toddler named Bou Bou Phonesavanh had his chest ripped open and his face torn off by a flashbang grenade that police officers in Georgia threw into his crib during a paramilitary raid. Though these incidents shocked many Americans, police militarization isn't new. The American siege on communities of color has been going on for a very long time.

In a report released earlier this year, the ACLU showed that the militarization of American policing has been fueled in part by federal programs that funnel military equipment and money to local police departments. One such program, known as the "1033 program," allows the Pentagon to send local police departments, free of charge, military weapons such as M-16s and armored personnel carriers like MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles). The Pentagon has sent over $5.1 billion dollars' worth of military equipment to American police departments since this program was created in the 1990s.

Finally, it looks like the federal government might do something about this problem. Yesterday, the Obama administration released a report summarizing its review of the federal programs that fuel police militarization. The report contains several recommendations that might limit the ability of local police to treat American communities like warzones, such as requiring local review of police requests for Pentagon equipment, ensuring better training, and mandating after-action reports for incidents involving local police use of military equipment.

The most important recommendation would limit the kinds of military-grade weaponry that the Pentagon can give away free to police departments nationwide. The report, however, doesn't specify what military equipment should be prohibited. MRAPs and flashbang grenades, at a minimum, would be a good start.

These would all be positive developments, but the administration must also make sure that it takes a deep and hard look at the dangers associated with militarized policing.

The report notes that 96 percent of the equipment the Pentagon gives away to local police is "non-controlled" (like commercial vehicles, office furniture, blankets, and forklifts), and only four percent of 1033 equipment is "controlled" (like assault rifles, armored personnel carriers, and aircraft). These statistics are misleading for two reasons. First, four percent of 1033 equipment turns out to be a pretty big number: There are 460,000 pieces of controlled military equipment currently in the possession of police departments across the country.

Second, to arrive at that calculation, the Obama administration counted each piece of equipment transferred under the program as a single item and gave each item equal weight, instead of taking into account how lethal (or costly) the different kinds of equipment are. For example, it gave one blanket the same weight it gave one MRAP. But these items are not equal—an MRAP is not a blanket.

We should also be realistic about the ability of training to solve the problem of militarized policing. The report correctly notes that many police departments that receive military equipment from the Pentagon are not properly trained to use it. This fact was made glaringly apparent in Ferguson, such as when police snipers trained their rifles on peaceful protesters, and it must be addressed.

But we have to ask ourselves whether training is really the root of the problem here. Police departments across the country continue to aggressively and dangerously police communities of color, sometimes without carrying military equipment. Proper training in the use of military gear won't help as long as the warrior mindset pervades policing and as long as black and brown bodies are seen as "threatening."

Finally, as the report emphasizes, oversight is important—but oversight of what?

Today, most federal oversight of these programs comes in the form of inventory monitoring. History shows that monitoring of 1033 equipment should be improved—a Pentagon spokesperson testified last month that 421 military weapons have gone missing from the program, including M16s and M14s, and that that he "wouldn't be surprised" if local police were selling military Humvees for their own profit. But we need oversight of the use of this equipment as well. If local police are going to receive military weapons at all, the federal government has an obligation to put some reasonable constraints on how they are able to use them.

President Obama has given his administration 120 days to develop an executive order containing concrete reforms. In the meantime, the administration should do what tens of thousands of Americans have already demanded, and place a moratorium on the 1033 program. We cannot risk any more incursions like Ferguson or the maiming of Bou Bou Phonesavanh.

Militarized policing is dangerous, and American communities deserve better.

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ACLU-MS Responds to Marriage Equality Ruling

November 25, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 769-447-6678; mmiller@aclu-ms.org 

JACKSON, Miss – Today, United States District Court Judge Carlton Reeves overturned Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage by granting a preliminary injunction pending a two week stay. The ruling comes after hearing oral arguments inCampaign for Southern Equality v. Phil Bryanton November 12. The following can be attributed to ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director, Jennifer Riley-Collins:

“We are thrilled that the freedom to marry has finally come to Mississippi! This is a beautiful day for all the loving and committed same-sex couples who have long waited to get married, or for their marriages to be recognized in Mississippi, and for their loved ones and supporters. We applaud Judge Reeves for concluding "that Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban deprives same-sex couples and their children of equal dignity under the law. Gay and lesbian citizens cannot be subjected to second class citizenship.” We have fought long and hard to ensure everyone receives equal treatment under the law and are proud to be a part of this movement.

The ACLU will remain committed to this fight until there is marriage in every state. The harm to same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry is real, and the freedom to marry should be available to everyone.

We also must make sure to protect this important victory by being vigilant in opposition to any discriminatory measures put forth to chip away at equal treatment for same-sex couples.”

Read the ruling.

ACLU of Mississippi Responds to "No True Bill"

November 25, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

JACKSON, Miss – The following is a statement from American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi Executive Director, Jennifer Riley-Collins, about the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“The decision is part of a national pattern of police using excessive, and sometimes fatal, force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Understandably, many people in our community are angry and frustrated about the grand jury’s failure to indict Officer Wilson. Some will take to the streets as part of peaceful protests to express their grievances. The right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy. As an organization dedicated to protecting people’s First Amendment rights, the ACLU of Mississippi is here to serve as a resource for protestors who need to know their rights.

People should continue to peacefully protest the frequency with which police officers, and the departments they work for, are not held accountable for their actions. While many law enforcement officers carry out their jobs admirably and with great respect for the communities they serve, we cannot ignore the systematic use of excessive force employed by some police officers.

There is an erosion of the protect and serve role expected from law enforcement allowed by the total lack of police transparency and accountability; militarization of departments so they appear and operate more like an occupying military force; and the failure of police departments to eliminate racial profiling.

The ACLU of Mississippi will not let up in its tireless pursuit of defending the rights of citizens to protest and preventing future tragedies like the one in Ferguson from happening again. Through our litigation and public policy advocacy, we will remain in the forefront of working for meaningful and long-lasting systemic reforms of police departments.” 

Learn about our work to ensure police accountability.

 

ACLU of Mississippi Receives $350,000 from W.K. Kellogg Foundation

November 24, 2014

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

JACKSON, Miss – The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi Foundation (ACLU-MS) received a two-year $350,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support a school safety project. The project seeks to improve outcomes for Mississippi’s students with disabilities and students of color by restricting the use of restraints and seclusion on children in schools. 

“This generous grant will allow us to empower families and communities thereby increasing opportunities for Mississippi’s vulnerable children to have a fair chance at success in school and life,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

The project will engage of civic, community, corporate, and congregational leaders, promote public awareness, monitor use of restraint and seclusion in school districts and advocate for the implementation of positive behavior interventions and supports that are safe, effective, and evidence-based.

Mississippi is one of five states that lack a statute, regulation, or even nonbinding guidelines. The lack of regulation has resulted in the use of seclusion and restraint on disabled children becoming common place among Mississippi schools despite the potential dangers and lack of evidence of their effectiveness. Data also has revealed the disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline with students with disabilities and students of color who also experience disabilities. “The lack of regulation has resulted in the use of seclusion and restraint on disabled children becoming common place among Mississippi schools despite the potential dangers and lack of evidence of their effectiveness,” stated Charles Irvin, Legal Director for the ACLU of Mississippi.

ACLU-MS has been a champion of children’s rights. ACLU-MS has produced a number of reports including Missing the Mark and Handcuffs on Success which have illuminated extreme and destructive approaches to school discipline which not only have directly harmed students and families, but also have caused teachers, law enforcement officials, and community members to have their lives and careers made more difficult by these ineffective and counter-productive school discipline policies and practices. As a result of these efforts, reforms have been implemented which have improved outcomes for children across the state.

###

About the ACLU of Mississippi

The ACLU of Mississippi is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization founded in 1969 that defends and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Mississippians guaranteed under the United States and Mississippi Constitutions, through its litigation, legislative and public education programs. It is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit www.wkkf.org.

Stand With Us Against Proposed Initiative 46

November 06, 2014

A group in Mississippi is proposing a ballot initiative that could discriminate against Mississippians with different religious beliefs as well as racial and ethnic minorities.

The proposed initiative calls for Christianity as the official religion of Mississippi, English as the official language, requires the Confederate Flag to fly over the State Capitol, and establishes a Confederate Heritage Month and Confederate Memorial Day.

In order for this initiative to make it on the ballot for the General Election in November 2016, the Magnolia Heritage State Heritage Campaign must collect over 100,000 signatures by October 2015 and we cannot let that happen.

We must draw a line in the sand and stand in defense of freedom for ALL Mississippians!

  • No one religion should be promoted by the government over another. The initiative’s promotion of Christianity undermines our rich traditions of peaceful pluralism and religious diversity.
  • Discrimination against language minorities and restrictions on communication in languages other than English implicate our most basic rights of equal protection, free speech, and due process. A declaration of English as the official language is inconsistent with the spirit of tolerance and diversity embodied in the federal Constitution, and in particular the Equal Protection Clause.
  • Ballot Initiative 46 wants to assert “heritage, culture and traditions” that are steeped in historical discrimination based on race. 

If we allow discrimination in one situation, it will be allowed in other situations where it may cause serious harm. We stand ready to defend freedom in Mississippi and will adamantly oppose Initiative 46!

We are ready to ensure that all individuals are protected from discrimination. Stand with us! 

Read more about Ballot Initiative 46 in the Clarion Ledger.

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ACLU of Mississippi Releases Tool to Hold Police Accountable

November 06, 2014

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

JACKSON, Miss – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi launched 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 Android 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.

“Knowledge, accountability and transparency are key to the strength of a system that ensures everyone is treated fairly. On a daily basis across Mississippi, citizens, especially young men of color, have close encounters with law enforcement officers in which their rights are trampled on. This app will equip and enable Mississippians with knowledge and the power to demand justice.” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

ACLU affiliates in Missouri, Oregon and Nebraska are joining the ACLU of Mississippi in releasing the Mobile Justice app today. 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. An iPhone version of Mobile Justice will be released at a later time.

“This app will empower young people to protect their own rights and advocate for others when they are stopped by police,” said Rebecca Curry, ACLU of Mississippi Director of Advocacy and Policy. 

Learn more about Mobile Justice Mississippi and download the app here. 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.

ACLU-MS Responds to Diamondhead Ruling

October 27, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

JACKSON, Miss – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi issued a statement in response to the ruling of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Mississippi in Fletcher v. Diamondhead Property Owners Association (POA) that the POA was not a state actor therefore not subject to the federal civil rights provisions under section 1983.

The statement from Charles Irvin, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi, is as follows: 

“Although we disagree with the Court’s decision, we were here to stand in defense of the ultimate right of citizens to voice free political speech in the form of yard signs or the ability of a property owners association to regulate free speech.

While we are disappointed in the ruling of the court today, we are pleased that the citizens of Diamondhead were able to demonstrate that free speech is paramount. The manner in which one citizen communicates to another is vital to the political process. Prior to this ruling a Temporary Restraining Order was in place which allowed the citizens to place yard signs. As a result, several of the original plaintiffs won positions on the POA board. The process worked.

We will always monitor for infringement upon individual constitutional rights; when we find those infringements we will act. The plaintiffs in Diamondhead stand for that principle of free speech.”

View the Fletcher v. Diamondhead POA ruling.

Learn more about Constitutional Rights.

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Questioning the "No-Refusal" Checkpoint

October 06, 2014

By Andres Wallace, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Mississippi

Imagine for one second—driving down the street, when suddenly (or not so suddenly) you happen upon a police roadblock. You know that you have not had any alcohol. You approach the roadblock—confident that the roadblock will be brief. However, this is no ordinary roadblock. This is a No Refusal roadblock—one wherein motorists who are suspected of driving impaired and subsequently refuses sobriety tests could, upon issuance of a warrant by a judge, be ordered to submit to a blood test

According to the Clarion-Ledger, on September 5 and 6, eight Mississippi counties participated in the “No Refusal” weekend campaign. The Clarion Ledger also reported that there were 152 DUI arrests and 31 blood samples taken.

Now, if you are anything like me, you are asking yourself—can they do that? Are we sure this happened in the United States? The answer to both of those questions is, unfortunately, yes.  Naturally, you hear that the “No Refusal” weekend campaign is legal and you then ask yourself—how can that be legal?

Recently, the United States Supreme Court has ruled on a case that essentially establishes the proper procedures that an officer must follow in order to be able to draw a driver’s blood.

Before, I discuss the legality of the “No Refusal” weekend campaign, I would like to say that I understand that driving under the influence is a problem in the state of Mississippi. I also realize that DUI related accidents have been rising in the state over the past few years. However, although drivers driving under the influence continue to be a problem—we as a society must be careful of the liberties that we sacrifice in order to solve a problem, such a DUI.   

In order to fully understand the “No Refusal” campaign, let’s discuss the legality of sobriety check points. The United States Supreme Court has established that a police checkpoint set for the purpose of identifying intoxicated driver was consistent with the Fourth-Amendment. In essence, the Supreme Court established that a checkpoint established for identifying drunk drivers is constitutional if properly conducted. 

So, now that we have established that a sobriety checkpoint is legal, one question comes to mind— what gives an officer the right to draw an individual’s blood? Well, in 2013 the United States Supreme Court, in Missouri v. McNeely, established that a warrantless blood draw is a violation of one’s Fourth Amendment rights; however, the Court also noted that “other factors present in an ordinary traffic stop, such as procedures in place for obtaining a warrant or the availability of a magistrate judge, may affect whether the police can obtain a warrant in an expeditious way.” At a No Refusal checkpoint, judges are available to sign warrant at the request of the officer.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure applies when an intrusion into the body—such as a blood test—is undertaken without a warrant, absent an emergency situation. In ruling on McNeely, the Court has indirectly given justification for the drawing of blood at a traffic stop—if a warrant is properly obtained. 

At the No Refusal checkpoints, the police are supposed to rely on their suspicion of drunkenness as the probable cause for a search warrant. If a citizen is stopped at a No Refusal Checkpoint but shows no sign of intoxication, there would be no probable cause for the issuance of a warrant. Without probable cause, no warrant should be issued. In essence, the Judge will then have the final say as to whether there is probable cause to conduct a blood draw. If however, a warrant is issued where no probable cause exists, there would be a clear Fourth Amendment violation.

As much as it pains me to say this, if conducted pursuant to a valid warrant, the drawing of an individual’s blood at a “No Refusal” checkpoint would be constitutional.

Although No Refusal campaigns are constitutional, I am still very concerned about an individual’s inability to refuse. If I refuse to take a breathalyzer test, my license should be suspended—that should be the price that I pay for refusing to take the test. Why am I being forced to submit to a bloodtest?  There seems to be other means of achieving the goal of deterring drivers from driving intoxicated. Drawing blood seems like an extraordinary measure—where other less intrusive methods are available.

Additionally, I am critical of the use of a refusal to submit to a breathalyzer as the basis for probable cause. I also wonder what the cost would be to the taxpayer for these tests, and how many of them would come back positive. I believe that these issues will become more contentious as more states adopt their own versions of the No-Refusal campaign.

If you come upon a checkpoint, exhibit no signs which would trigger the officer's assertion of probable cause and are still forced to submit to the invasion of a blood draw please contact us at office@aclu-ms.org or 601-354-3408.  

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