September 01, 2011
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi will hold a program in observance of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The program will pay respect to the lives lost that day in 2001, but also examine the impact post 9-11 that government policies have had on the country's civil liberties.
The program will feature a screening of the POV film, "Better This World," and a panel discussion featuring:
When: Sunday, Sept. 11 at 4 p.m.
Location: Room 150, Mississippi College School of Law, 151E. Griffith St., Jackson.
The event is free and open to the public.
September 14, 2010
JACKSON, MS - The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi announced today the filing of a civil lawsuit on behalf of a Jackson man who was unconstitutionally arrested and imprisoned after exercising his first amendment right to observe a police interaction in a public parking lot and then asking for the officers' names and badge numbers.
"We do not have secret police in the United States," said Nsombi Lambright, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. "Observing police in public are fundamental rights, protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Individuals must know that they can exercise this right without fear of arrest."
The plaintiff, Brent Cox, is also an ACLU of Mississippi employee, although police apparently did not know this at the time of his arrest. He serves as the organization's Public Education Coordinator, a position that includes teaching people across Mississippi about their right to participate in government and hold government accountable to the people. This includes the right to observe and document police activity.
"People have a fundamental right to observe police in public, said Cox. "Police are more likely follow the law and to act according to training and policy if they know people care enough to watch them in public. People have greater trust of police officers if they know they won't be harassed or arrested for watching them."
"Police must respect the right to observe police in public, including the right to take notes, video or just watch," said Bear Atwood, ACLU of Mississippi's Acting Legal Director. "If police arrest people for constitutionally protected behavior, of course the ACLU is going to intervene. Our mission is to defend the Constitutional rights of everyone. We will not stand by and let fundamental First Amendment rights be trampled."
Today's lawsuit seeks to recover damages specifically for the First Amendment right to observe under the First Amendment, for unreasonable detention and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, violation of due process of law and for arbitrary governmental action under the Fourteenth Amendment, and for violation of the public policy of the State of Mississippi.
"Educating the public about their rights as they interact with law enforcement is a key strategy for the ACLU-MS's Criminal Justice Reform Campaign. It is our hope that this lawsuit makes citizens and law enforcement aware that police are not above the law," added Lambright.
*A copy of the lawsuit can be found online at http://www.aclu-ms.org/downloads/coxvjackson.pdf
April 29, 2009
JACKSON - On Thursday, April 23, a Jackson Municipal Court Judge found ACLU Public Education Coordinator Brent Cox not guilty on charges of interfering with police officer duties and disorderly conduct. The case was tried by ACLU Staff Attorney, Kristy Bennett, on Monday, April 16th, 2009, in Jackson Municipal Court. Cox was arrested on September 14, 2007 after watching a Precinct Four officer question an individual in front of Rainbow Whole Foods in Jackson, Mississippi.
While observing, Cox was told to move further away from the interaction and obeyed that command while continuing to observe. After the questioning of the individual ended, Cox asked for the name and badge number of the officer and was arrested.
The ACLU supports the right of citizens to monitor police activity within a reasonable distance of the encounter. By passively observing police and documenting police misconduct, citizens help ensure that the rights of persons being detained are not violated during the encounter. Observing police also promotes government transparency and leads to improved police policies and practices. The right to observe police is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Arresting citizens for observing police activities is not only unconstitutional; it has a serious chilling effect on the ability of citizens to hold law enforcement accountable. By simply witnessing and documenting possible incidents of police misconduct, citizens can serve as a deterrent to police misconduct. Unfortunately, Cox's arrest is not an isolated incident. Law enforcement officers far too often arrest individuals who are monitoring police activity or who ask for officers' names and badge numbers.
The ACLU holds trainings to teach citizens how to lawfully monitor police activity. These trainings are part of a larger campaign to stop the abuse of power by officers by ensuring that law enforcement officers respect the Constitutional rights of citizens. Not only can police monitoring sent a message to law enforcement that the citizens they serve are paying attention, but it also helps to hold police departments accountable when they violate citizens rights as well as support against any unfounded abuse allegations when officers are abiding by the law.
The ACLU of Mississippi is also fighting against other unlawful police practices, such as racial profiling, and is working to establish civilian review boards within local communities. We are working towards the passage of legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to have policies prohibiting racial profiling and requiring agencies to collect data on the race and gender of individuals who are pulled over during traffic stops.
Cox was represented on this matter by ACLU Staff Attorney Kristy Bennett and ACLU Cooperating Attorney Chris Graves.