November 18, 2011
GULFPORT -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi filed suit Friday on behalf of a Gulf Coast woman, challenging her 2010 arrest for her peaceful protest of the BP oil spill.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Gulfport on behalf of Sandra Howard of Long Beach. The suit alleges Howard's constitutional rights were violated when she was prevented from engaging in a protest in a traditional public forum. It also alleges she was subjected to unlawful detention and seizure, and that her right to due process was violated.
The suit names the city of Long Beach, the Long Beach Police Department and Officers Shawn Johnson and Melissa Peterson.
The incident occurred June 12, 2010, after Howard walked onto a sidewalk in front of the Kangaroo Express gas station in Long Beach holding a sign in protest of BP. Shortly after Howard began her protest, Johnson and Peterson arrived, apparently in response to a complaint from the gas station manager. Although Howard had a permit to protest, the officers asked her to end her demonstration. When she refused, Howard was handcuffed and arrested as her husband and young son watched.
Howard was charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey the order of an officer. She was transported to the Harrison County Detention Center. Her bond was set at $665 but her family couldn't afford to pay it so she spent the night in jail. She had no previous arrests.
Howard said she had a right to protest BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster, which led to the largest off shore oil spill in U.S. history.
“As the oil gushed out of the broken well into the beautiful Gulf waters, all I could think about was the devastation it was causing to my home and my community,” said Howard. “ I wanted to be sure that BP was held accountable for the damage. I wanted to show my son that we could make a difference. Instead he learned that it was not safe to exercise our most basic First Amendment rights. I am filing this lawsuit to make sure that no one else gets arrested for speaking out against injustice.”
ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Nsombi Lambright said Howard's arrest shows the need for law officers to be trained on what constitutes disorderly conduct and on the elements of constitutionally-protected demonstrations.
"Our First Amendment rights are fundamental to our democracy," said Lambright. "It is our hope that this lawsuit will push Mississippi municipalities to engage in a serious review of their policies and practices as they relate to a citizen's right to engage in peaceful protest."
Howard's case was remanded to the file on appeal due to lack of evidence.
Bear Atwood, ACLU of Mississippi legal director, said the officers had no cause to arrest Howard.
"She didn't violate any city ordinances. She didn't trespass on BP property. She didn't obstruct traffic on the public sidewalk," Atwood said. "She was improperly detained by the officers and arrested without probable cause."
The suit seeks an injunction restraining officers from interfering with a citizen's right to peacefully protest in exercise of First Amendment rights. The suit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages and expungement of Howard's records.
November 11, 2011
By Nsombi Lambright, ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director
Tuesday was a very emotional day for me. I began my work that day by voting. I always measure voter turnout (and potential problems) by what's happening at my own polling place. That went smoothly. I then went to campaign headquarters to find out what neighborhoods needed canvassing in order to make sure that people were "getting out to vote." Rabbi Debra Kassoff and I spent most of the day canvassing the communities surrounding Brinkley Middle School and Johnson Elementary School in northwest Jackson. These neighborhoods are joined by Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. While canvassing these neighborhoods, we saw many things. We witnessed poverty and government neglect, but we also witnessed family and community connectivity. We saw generations of families living under one roof. Grandma, daughter and granddaughter were all going to vote at the first home that we visited. Unfortunately, granddaughter never received her voter registration card although she'd registered multiple times at the WIC office. We talked to many grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, mothers and fathers who assured us that the family had voted against Initiatives 26 and 27 that day. We also had the opportunity to speak to young brothers who didn't understand what the initiatives were about. Working directly in communities still brings me as much joy today as it did almost 20 years ago when I started organizing. It centers me and reminds me what this work is all about. The folks that I work with always remind me of my family and they remind me that even though I have a job that pays me to do this work, I am not disconnected from the communities that we serve. These are my people, whether I run into them at a meeting, a family reunion, church or the grocery store. I am privileged to do this work and will keep fighting!! Little Sister, I'll be back to make sure that you get your registration card this time!
November 11, 2011
The time that you have been waiting for is here! The first MS Youth Hip Hop Summit Quarterly Youth Leadership Meeting is set for Saturday, Nov. 12, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the STEPS Coalition Building – DeMiller Hall (formerly the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer), 610 Water St. - Biloxi, MS. Join the broad-based coalition of social justice organizations as Mississippi's youth continue to learn how to work for change. We will continue what we started in Jackson this summer as we build skills to be effective youth justice activists. The time is now to make your voices heard and push for real changes in your communities! The ACLU of MS, NAACP MS State Conference, Children's Defense Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Coalition for Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse are continuing their collaboration to move this project forward.
The Quarterly Youth Leadership Meetings will continue the MS Youth Justice Movement we started in Jackson this July and push it forward to even greater heights! The state is divided into five regions, with the coastal area and surrounding towns/cities (Hattiesburg/Forrest County south) being the Southern Region. The day's activities will consist of excellent, rewarding, and fun workshops and activities designed to make you an effective activist.
The interactive workshops include:
- Effective communications, outreach, and student assembly.
- Know your rights: How to handle harassment from those in authority: police, teachers, administrators, etc.
- Creating the first edition of the MS Youth Hip Hop Zone.
- Art (music, visual, dance )
- MS Student Bill of Rights drafting (see attached draft from the summit)
- Action: Taking it to the streets!
*AND MUCH MORE!
Lunch and refreshments will be provided free of charge.
Even if you didn't attend the 2011 MS Youth Hip Hop Summit in Jackson, you can still be part of the Quarterly Leadership Meeting.
We want you to join in the fight of making your schools, homes,and communities better places! YOUR voice is critical in making the rightchange MS needs; we CANNOT do it without YOU!
We look forward to seeing YOU again or for the first time on Sat., Nov. 12 in Biloxi! Please contact us with any questions and/or concerns. We can’twait to see YOU in Biloxi!
PLEASE - RSVP to the MS Hip Hop Summit Facebook events page: \\Quarterly Youth Leadership Meeting (facebook.com/MS.hiphopsummit)
September 20, 2011
The ACLU of Mississippi and the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance sponsored a Know Your Rights training in DeSoto County on Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. at M.R. Dye Public Library, 2885 Goodman Road. Dozens of students and parents were shown how to be their own advocate in school and communities. All students -- regardless of race, nationality, immigration status, sexual orientation or religious beliefs -- are entitled to all rights under the U.S. Constitution.
March 28, 2011
JACKSON, MS – Overly harsh and punitive sentences for low-level, non-violent drug crimes feed a racially discriminatory criminal justice system in Mississippi that fails to protect the public’s safety, according to a new report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi.
According to the report, “Numbers Game: The Vicious Cycle of Incarceration in Mississippi’s Criminal Justice System,” black Mississippians are three times more likely than whites to go to prison on drug charges, even though drug use rates across the state are virtually identical for blacks and whites. And because the state’s drug task force funding is contingent upon securing convictions, low-level drug offenders ensnared in the system feel compelled to become confidential informants who are used indiscriminately to ramp up the quantity of drug arrests with little regard to the quality of the cases they help to build.
“There is an urgent need to reform the policies that govern the drug enforcement system as a whole in Mississippi,” said Nsombi Lambright, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “Arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement tactics need to be replaced by policies that actually enhance our public safety, protect civil rights and ensure the state’s fiscal solvency.”
The report reveals that while the use of confidential informants is a cornerstone of the state’s regional drug task force operations, the practice is shrouded in secrecy. As part of the investigation that led to the creation of the report, the ACLU of Mississippi spent nearly two years seeking basic information about the nature and extent of the practice by requesting access to documents that state officials acknowledged should be publicly available under the Mississippi Public Records Act. Yet no access was ever given.
Law enforcement justifies the practice of using confidential informants – especially in drug cases – as an essential means for identifying those who commit crimes and for securing their convictions. But the many perverse incentives embedded in the practice invite abuse and disparity, undermining the fundamental legitimacy of the criminal justice system.
The report offers a number of solutions for improving the effectiveness and fairness of the state’s criminal justice system, including replacing mandatory minimum sentences with a flexible set of sentencing standards and guidelines, requiring corroboration of testimony by all informants and making information regarding the reporting requirements and evaluations of drug task forces publicly available.
A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/numbers-game-vicious-cycle-incarceration-mississippis-criminal-justice-system
December 29, 2010
Contact: Nsombi Lambright, firstname.lastname@example.org, 601-573-3978
JACKSON - Today the ACLU of MS joined a coalition of organizations including the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the NAACP and the Worker's Center for Human Rights to celebrating the suspension of the Scott Sisters double life sentences. Gladys and Jamie Scott were convicted of armed robbery in Scott County MS during an incident where less than $11 was allegedly stolen in 1993. The sisters have maintained their innocence and other witnesses have admitted committing perjury during the trial, yet the sisters were allowed to languish in prison for the past 16 years.
Governor Haley Barbour announced his decision to suspend their sentences after receiving a report from the state parole board on yesterday. Local Jackson attorney Chokwe Lumumba has led a team of lawyers to file appeals for their release over the last few years. The Scott Sisters will be released from custody within the next few days. This victory comes after the tireless work of many attorneys, legislators, activists and media outlets who have been filing legal actions, petitions, hosting marches and rallies all calling for Glady's and Jamie's release.
The ACLU is delighted that the Governor took this step toward justice and we're overjoyed that these sisters will be reunited with their families. We also help that Jamie Scott can now receive the adequate medical care that she has so desperately needed since her kidneys began to fail years ago while incarcerated.
The ACLU has been committed to the release of the Scott Sisters and overall sentencing reform in the state of Mississippi. There are many other cases that deserve reconsideration and we hope that this is a first step in sentencing reform in Mississippi. The Scott Sister's 16 year incarceration represents another blotch in the state's history of racial injustices within the criminal justice system.
The judge who sentenced the Scott Sisters, Marcus Gordon, is the same judge who sentenced Edgar Ray Killen to 20 years for the murders of the three civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mikey Swerner in Neshoba County in the late 1960's.
For more information on the Scott Sister's story and for updates about their release, please visit our website, www.aclu-ms.org.
November 11, 2010
Bear Atwood, ACLU of Mississippi Interim Legal Director, (601) 862-8658, email@example.com
Nsombi Lambright, ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director, (601) 573-3978, firstname.lastname@example.org
JACKSON, MS. - The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi today announced a settlement in a lawsuit brought on behalf of Otis Ashford and his sister, Dell Jones, who were brutally assaulted by Moss Point Police Department officers in 2008. The settlement includes an agreement by the Moss Point Police Department to implement reforms including updating officer training to include conflict resolution, the appropriate use of tasers, and the right of individuals to observe police officers while the officers are performing their duties.
The assault occurred when Moss Point police officers entered Jones' home without a warrant. Ashford was beaten with a police radio, sprayed with pepper spray and tasered by police. Jones was sprayed with pepper spray as she called 911. Ashford was hospitalized for 24 hours and incurred thousands of dollars of medical expenses related to the assault.
"I never want another sister to have to watch the police beating up her brother," said Jones. "What happened to my brother and me was horrifying. I'm pleased the Moss Point Police Department has agreed to improve training for its officers. This must never happen again to anyone in Moss Point."
The ACLU of Mississippi learned of the assault while conducting a town hall forum in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region. After speaking with Jones and Ashford and reviewing photos of the assault that Jones took with her cell phone, the ACLU chose to represent Ashford and Jones for violation of their constitutional rights. The Moss Point Police Department has also agreed to evaluate, and revise as necessary, internal department investigation procedures to ensure that each citizen complaint is thoroughly investigated and appropriate sanctions are in place for violations.
"Police exist to protect, not violate, our rights," said Bear Atwood, ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director. "Jones and Ashford were in a private home, engaged in no criminal activity, yet Moss Point police officers stormed into the home without a warrant where they proceeded to savagely beat Ashford while pepper spraying his sister. No monetary settlement can ever compensate Ashford and Jones for that night. The ACLU applauds, however, the Moss Point Police Department for agreeing to reform its training and internal investigation policies.
"Dell Jones and Otis Ashford are to be commended," said Nsombi Lambright, ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director. "By coming forward, they exposed incidents of violence against citizens by law enforcement that happen every day in this country. This settlement should send a clear message to every law enforcement agency in Mississippi that citizens will no longer be silent about racial profiling and police brutality."
A PDF copy of the original complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi can be downloaded here: http://www.aclu-ms.org/downloads/ashfordvmosspoint.pdf.
About the ACLU of Mississippi:
The ACLU of Mississippi is a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to defend the freedoms guaranteed to all by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU-MS' work includes community forums where individuals learn about their constitutional rights when encountering law enforcement, and how to protect those rights from violation.
September 20, 2010
So, my friends and I went to the Scotts Sisters Rally and March this Wednesday. There were a lot of things going on, a sea of people, posters, and banners. I went to represent my school, Tougaloo College, ACLU student chapter. For most of the people in TC-ACLU, it was their first time being at a march. Emotions were high with enthusiasm, and a little apprehensive. We all car pooled to the March’s starting point, Fairish Street Park. On the way we were sign and laughing and saying chants we heard, wondering what was in store for us.
Upon arriving we joined in with the other members from the State ACLU. They were super crunk too, so our enthusiasm just increased the more. It started with some motivational speakers telling why we were gathered and urging everyone to understand the severity of the matter at hand. Chokwe Lumumba, the Scott Sister lawyer warned us that people might have oppositions to us march, but assured that if we stood together our united message for justice would be carried over. The crowd around us was pumped. I recognized other students from Tougaloo College and Jackson State hold signs and banners. Everyone seemed excited. Right before we left the starting point and embarked on our journey, the last speaker gave us the rally’s theme slogan: We are here without fear, and we want our sisters free… The crowd readily caught on and started marching.
First we marched to Governor’s mansion. Along the way cameras were snapping and new chants developed. There was one particular sista who keep everything lively and upbeat. She was like, aint’ no party like the party of the people, cause the party of the people won't stop… The tune was super catchy. She was live all day. The energy form the crowd was awesomely contagious. I looked around at my friends and was shocked at what I saw. I mean, I was skeptical at how some of them would respond, because by nature they’re laid back, and soft spoken. However, everyone was feeling the mood, chanting, singing, marching, all in the name of freedom and justice. Like really, they were surprising me, it was super awesome.
So after leaving the Governor’s mansion we went to the state capitol. News vans were parked along the streets. We marched all the way up the steps. Representatives from different organizations went to speak on stage. The crowd and speakers feed off each other and the enthusiasm kept on rolling. A collection was taken up, and a letter from the sisters was read. They expressed their gratitude and sincere thanks for the support. They also expressed weariness and a deep longing to be free. The letter really touched me because it came at the end. By that time people were beginning to become tired and it was extremely hot. I myself was feeling the heaviness creep over. However, the letter refreshed me, for I thought if the Scott sisters could endure 15 years in prison, certainly I could manage a few hours of heat. I felt motivated to do more, upon leaving. The rally and march rejuvenated my thirst for activism and there is no limitation to what happens next….to be continued.
Faith Jackson is a student at Tougaloo College and active member of the Tougaloo College ACLU chapter.
September 17, 2010
A life sentence for allegedly stealing $11.00. That's the sentence that two sisters, Jamie and Gladys Scott, received in 1993. Their case illustrates how dangerous Mississippi's criminal justice system is, especially for people of color and low-income in our state. Mississippi's culture of conviction swallows people whole, handing out excessive sentences for minor crimes. And regardless of how minor one thinks stealing $11.00 is, certainly life in prison is a punishment that doesn't fit the crime.
The excessiveness in the Scott sisters case has been gathering attention over the past few years. On Wednesday, hundreds of the Scott sisters' supporters took to the streets of Jackson, calling on governor Barbour to pardon the sisters.
The march wound from Farish Street to the the governor's mansion, and finally to the state capitol building. Marchers carried signs and chanted, "Free the Scott Sisters!" Bear Atwood, ACLU of Mississippi Acting Legal Director, spoke before the crowd. A letter was read from Senator John Horhn calling on the governor to release the sisters. City Councilman Chokwe Lumumba was present and also called for the sisters to be released.
There was certainly no lack of support for the Scott sisters Wednesday. The question is whether governor Barbour was listening. And if he was, will he be the one to correct what to the rest of the nation is obviously a gross injustice.
September 15, 2010
JACKSON - ACLU members joined hundred of marchers from across the state today, calling on Governor Barbour to release Jamie and Gladys Scott from prison. The Scott sisters were sentenced to double life sentences in 1993 for allegedly stealing $11. The case illustrates the problems in Mississippi's broken criminal justice system, including excessive sentences given most often to people of color.
Jamie and Gladys Scott have already served 15 years of their double life sentences. Eyewitness statements that led to their convictions have since been recanted. Today's marchers petitioned Governor Barbour for an Executive Pardon or a Commutation of the Scott sister's sentences.
"We are not asking for a special favor for the Scott sisters," said Nsombi Lambright, Executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi. "We are demanding fairness and an end to this travesty of justice. The ACLU works to protect the civil liberties of all Mississippians, including equal and fair access to our justice system. Jamie and Gladys did not get fair access to the justice system; they got a sentence that did not fit the crime."
Today's march began on historic Farish Street with hundreds chanting "Free the Scott Sisters!," a phrase that has become a rallying cry for the Scott sisters' pardon, as well as a cry for general criminal justice reform in Mississippi. The march wound through downtown Jackson, stopping outside the governor's mansion where the crowd demanded the governor release the Scott sisters immediately. Marchers then continued to the Mississippi Capitol Building where the crowd grew even larger.
From a lectern on the capitol steps, speakers decried the treatment of the Scott Sisters and praised the resilience of the sisters and their supporters. Among the speakers were representatives from the ACLU, the NAAPC, Mississippi Worker's Center for Human Rights, MIRA and others. Jackson City Councilman Chokwe Lumamba spoke, and a letter was read from Senator Horhn and Representative Jim Evans asking the governor to free the Scott sisters.
"Today we demand justice for Jamie and Gladys Scott," said Bear Atwood, Acting Legal director for the ACLU of Mississippi. "This travesty must end. Our system of justice demands fairness, sentences must be tailored to punish the crime committed. In this case, a robbery where there was not any injury and the amount of money stolen was just over $10.00 should not have resulted in consecutive life sentences."
Today's march was just one small part of the ACLU of Mississippi's Criminal Justice Campaign to reform Mississippi's criminal justice system.