March 05, 2014
We spoke out earlier in the legislative session about some bad and some good bills. Now those bills have moved forward and are up for a vote in either the House or the Senate. Here’s an update on some of those bills and an opportunity to take action.
- Remember HB 49, the bill that would require drug testing for TANF recipients? That bill is still alive and likely to be voted on in the Senate.
Contact members of the Senate and tell them to oppose HB 49 and not to take away important resources for Mississippi’s neediest families!
- The Mississippi Student Safety Act is a bill that we want to move forward! SB 2594, is a bill designed to keep students safe by limiting the use of seclusion and restraint on students.
This act will ensure the safety of students in school and promote a positive culture and climate which has been shown to lead to greater academic achievement. A high percentage of students who have been restrained are not exhibiting behavior that would warrant those interventions and the students that are often affected by restraint and seclusion were young students with disabilities, often with no verbal means of communication.
Contact members of the House and tell them to protect our students and pass this bill!
- HB 765 and SB 2325, are disingenuous bills that would not accomplish what the title says they would do. They are both called the “Equal Opportunity for All Students with Special Needs Act,” but do not create equal opportunity for students with special needs. The act restricts the academic programs offered to children with special needs. They violate a child's right to equal protection and discriminate against children with special needs attempting to exclude them from the civil right to education in public schools.
Contact your representative in both the House and the Senate and tell them that this act does not create equal opportunity for students with special needs and does the opposite.
- SB 2430, is a bill to require DNA collection from individuals arrested for a certain crime.
This bill violates equal protection, takes away right to privacy and could exacerbate racial disparities in our criminal justice system. We are innocent until proven guilty and innocent people don’t belong in a criminal database.
DNA collection, analysis and retention is expensive. Given the current economic conditions, storing genetic samples of individuals who have not and may not ever be convicted of a crime may not be a good use of resources.
Contact members of the House and tell them to oppose SB 2430 and protect the right to privacy given in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution!
For a full list of the 20 bills we are monitoring, please visit the legislative section in each of our Centers of Focus.
March 05, 2014
Sadly, throughout our history, religion has been used to discriminate against African-Americans and other racial minorities. Mississippians still face such shameful discrimination. Bills like SB 2681 says to those who seek to discriminate based on race that they can use their religion as justification. This is not just theory.
Religion used to oppose interracial relationships
During the Civil Rights era in Virginia, when a black woman and a white man wanted to get married – in defiance of the state law criminalizing such relationships – a Virginia judge convicting the couple justified his actions using the Bible: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents . . . The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
In the 1980s, Bob Jones University, a religiously affiliated school in South Carolina, wanted an exemption from a rule denying tax-exempt status to schools that practice racial discrimination. The “sponsors of the University genuinely believe[d] that the Bible forbids interracial dating and marriage,” and it was school policy that students engaged in interracial relationships, or advocacy thereof, would be expelled.
Religion used to oppose serving African-Americans in restaurants
Also in the 1960s, religion was also used to justify turning away Black people from public businesses, like restaurants. In 1966, three African-American customers brought a lawsuit against Piggie Park restaurants, and their owner, Maurice Bessinger, for refusal to serve them. Bessinger argued that enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits such discrimination, violated his religious freedom “since his religious beliefs compel[ed] him to oppose any integration of the races whatever.”
Mississippi’s prominent segregationists who used religion to support their beliefs
Former Governor and U.S. Senator Theodore Bilbo justified his hateful racism by relying on the Bible: In a book entitled Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, Bilbo wrote that “[p]urity of race is a gift of God . . . . And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.” Allowing “the blood of the races [to] mix,” according to Bilbo, was a direct attack on the “Divine plan of God.” There “is every reason to believe that miscengenation and amalgamation are sins of man in direct defiance to the will of God.”
Mississippi’s recent examples of using religion to discriminate based on race
As recently as 2012, a predominantly white church in Crystal Springs turned away a black couple from marrying in their church.
SB 2681 would allow religious believers to argue that their beliefs allow them to discriminate based on race. Based on American and Mississippi history, this possibility is not remote. We cannot allow this law to pass.
By adding the word substantial in the newest amendment, this bill is “better,” BUT better is not enough when constitutional rights are on the line. The amendment STILL does not fully protect critical civil liberties and is still bad.
The bill will come up on the House floor at some point in the next few days. Keep the pressure on your legislators! The fight isn’t over! We can still defeat this bad bill.
February 28, 2014
The ACLU has opposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation in these 12 states.
It has been reported that the Civil Sub-committee voted yesterday to mold the RFRA after the federal government’s 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It has been suggested that the amendment “addressed actions by government — not individuals or businesses”. This does NOT go far enough to protect individuals or businesses.
Religious freedom is a fundamental right.
This law would allow religion to be used to discriminate by failing to protect critical civil rights laws in Mississippi.
This law would not protect against government funding of discrimination.
This law will result in increased litigation and costs to both government and private businesses throughout our state.
SB 2681 in any form is bad for business, bad for tourism, bad for the people and doesn’t move our state forward.
The fight is still not over.
Contact the members of the House by calling, emailing, stopping by their local offices and telling them to KILL THE BILL before Tuesday, March 12th!
February 26, 2014
We are a city, a state and a nation in mourning right now. We grieve for the all-too-soon passing of our visionary leader in Jackson, MS, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba.
Mayor Lumumba was painted with all kinds of “intended” expletives: a radical, too controversial, too divisive and more. We, at the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, ask: is it divisive to stand up for the rights of people? To be willing to die for what you believe in? To believe that systems that never served most people were going to change without the people changing the systems?
The only thing controversial in this arrangement is that we still live in a society where it can be considered controversial to fight for rights, to fight for human dignity, to stand up for our children and our communities, and to demand a better society for all of us as brothers and sisters. In essence, this is what Mayor Lumumba believed, but it is also what he did.
Mayor Lumumba had the capacity to not just be a visionary who speaks of great things, but a visionary who makes great things happen by re-enforcing the greatness that is in all of us. Mayor Lumumba treated everyone with the dignity that they deserved and our community, in Jackson, and in Mississippi, with the dignity it deserves. His clarion call "free the land", came out of an experience he had in his early days as a warrior for right when land was blocked off from the people with whom he was marching. Today, we must make a decision that we will answer his call and encourage each other and ourselves to continue the fight to free the land from those who would deny what is a "right", fair and just.
Jed Oppenheim, Advocacy Coordinator at the ACLU of MS commented this morning that he had a number of conversations with Mayor Lumumba, mostly on education. “I always got the sense that the most important person in the world was whomever was in front of him. For a leader to be humbled as such and yet be willing to go out and put himself on the line with tough decisions and big ideas says a lot about Mayor Lumumba.”
It is now up to all of us to continue fulfilling the mission of Mayor Lumumba’s life: a sustainably fair, just and equitable society that thrives on the power of the people.
February 19, 2014
By Hugh Handeyside, Staff Attorney, ACLU, National Security Project at 2:45pm
The documentary film "Spies of Mississippi," which aired on PBS on Monday, is a grim reminder of the depths that Mississippi authorities plumbed in their efforts to subvert the civil rights movement. The film chronicles the role of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, a secret, state-funded agency established by the Mississippi legislature in 1956. Using a range of spy tactics, the Commission sought to maintain racial segregation, preserve Jim Crow laws, and prevent "federal encroachment" in Mississippi.
The film draws on a trove of Commission records, which are available and searchable online thanks to a 1994 court order in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Mississippi. It turns out that the Commission was nothing if not meticulous, documenting the full range of its exploits in service of white supremacy. It initially focused on tracking the activities of civil rights organizations in Mississippi, but within a few years it had mushroomed into a full-scale spy agency, employing a network of investigators and agents who surveilled civil rights activists, tapped their phones, monitored their meetings, stole sensitive documents, and undermined voter rights efforts.
The Commission was ruthless, waging an all-out war against change. Perhaps most painfully, it assembled a cadre of African American informants, some of them respected figures from within the civil rights community, who reported to the Commission on the strategy and plans of the burgeoning rights movement — and sowed fear and mistrust among civil rights leaders. It destroyed the lives of people like Clyde Kennard, a Black Korean War veteran who attempted to enroll at what was then Mississippi Southern College. The Commission orchestrated the planting of evidence used to convict Mr. Kennard of stealing chicken feed. He served seven years in prison. Commission agents also funneled information to local law enforcement (which was rife with KKK members) about student activists who were descending on Mississippi for the "Freedom Summer" of 1964, including James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were then murdered by Klansmen.
It may be tempting to isolate these events in the past and decry what happened "back then" in the deep South. That would be a mistake. For African Americans, the legacy of segregation and Jim Crow remains a live issue. And while race-based discrimination is no longer the law of the land—and nothing like the Commission could function today--federal and state law enforcement agencies are still engaged in racial profiling. That's in large part because the Justice Department's "prohibition" on racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies doesn't extend to national security and border integrity investigations — two huge exceptions that essentially swallow the rule. Likewise, the Attorney General's guidelines for domestic FBI operations allow agents to investigate anyone, without any factual basis for suspicion, as long as the agents claim they are seeking to prevent crime, protect national security, or collect foreign intelligence. Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have taken full advantage of the license they've been given:
The FBI is "mapping" racial and ethnic communities in the United States based on crude and false stereotypes about particular communities' propensity to commit certain crimes. In Georgia, the FBI documented African-American population increases and focused on activists' protests against police killings to find "Black separatists." It also mapped Latino communities throughout the United States for street gang threats, Middle-Eastern communities in Detroit for potential terrorism, and Chinese and Russian communities in San Francisco for potential organized crime.
The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and local law enforcement have infiltrated Muslim communities and targeted American Muslims for suspicionless investigation based on nothing more than the exercise of their right to religious liberty.
The NYPD has sent informants to spy on mosques and Muslim community organizations, student groups, and businesses, eroding trust and goodwill among innocent New Yorkers.
Under the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, federal, state, and local law enforcement, and even private parties, report on "suspicious activities" — many of which involve First Amendment-protected conduct or everyday events that are anything but suspicious.
The NSA undermines individuals who the agency believes are "radicalizing others through incendiary speeches" but who have not engaged in actual criminal conduct. It does so by looking for "personal vulnerabilities" in the data associated with such individuals, including in their online sexual activity.
Ultimately, films such as "Spies of Mississippi" serve two vital purposes: remembrance and reminder. They advance the long project of accounting for America's history of racial subjugation, in brutal detail. They also remind us, in the words of Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson, of the "need to keep us safe from terrorists, but also from ourselves."
January 27, 2014
By ACLU of Mississippi Board Member, Laura Martin
Mississippi lawmakers are considering several bills that propose drug testing for some of the poorest Mississippians. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, is a program that provides income support to very low-income families with children, and requires that caregivers meet certain work requirements. The TANF application process is quite rigorous, and the modest payments help families to provide for their children.
Drug testing poses unnecessary costs and an administrative burden on the state. Adding drug testing to the TANF program will trigger new costs, both to pay for the tests and to manage the program. Given these administrative considerations, this policy is unlikely to pay for itself through any cost savings.
Similar laws in other states have suggested that rates of drug abuse are lower among TANF recipients than in the general population. In Florida, approximately 2.5% of TANF applicants tested positive for drug use, compared with an estimated rate of drug use of 6 percent across the nation. There is no reason to believe that outcomes in Mississippi would be any different. In fact, House Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Sam Mims indicated that he did not have any evidence that TANF recipients abuse illegal drugs at a higher rate than the general population.
Investing in drug courts is a more effective approach to address drug abuse. Recent budget cuts reduced funding for Mississippi’s drug courts by over $3 million. Drug courts are successful in saving money and reducing recidivism because they combine intense supervision and treatment services with reduced sentences. This proven model would do more to impact drug abuse in Mississippi than targeting TANF recipients for drug testing.
These proposals are likely to result in costly litigation. The Florida law that required mandatory drug testing for TANF recipients was found to infringe on basic privacy rights. The court ruling in Lebron v. Secretary, Florida Department of Children and Family Services stated that “the simple fact of seeking public assistance does not deprive a TANF applicant of the same constitutional protection from unreasonable searches that all other citizens enjoy.”
Mississippi should learn from these failed policy proposals and redirect its efforts to other proven, cost-effective programs that benefit low-income children and address substance abuse.
If you'd like to stand with the ACLU of Mississippi against these bills, you can take action here.
January 22, 2014
The Mississippi Legislature started its 129th Session on January 7th, 2014. The legislative session has garnered attention as Mississippi legislators launched an agenda geared towards “Public Safety.” This year, the Democratic Legislative Caucus’ agenda discusses healthcare, education, state employee benefits, as well as roads and bridges. Republican legislators have promoted an agenda that attacks a range of issues from reproductive freedom to public benefit opportunities.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi (ACLU- MS) is monitoring legislation that falls within our four centers of focus: criminal justice reform, youth justice reform, equality for all Mississippians, and freedom of speech and expression. We will take an active stance against any legislation that infringes on reproductive freedom, freedom of speech, and access to equal opportunity. The ACLU-MS will actively support Medicaid expansion, immigration reform, and legislation aimed at reducing the number of our children who find themselves in the School-to-Prison pipeline.
In the House, Rep. Mims introduced H.B. 49 which would require the drug testing of persons who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This bill was referred to the Public Health Committee and passed to the House floor on a vote, along party lines, of 74-46. This legislation unfairly targets Mississippi's poorest and neediest citizens. It is inefficient as it will only affect a small group of people and will cost the state a large amount of money. The ACLU-MS is working to actively defeat this bill as it heads to the Senate’s Public Health and Welfare Committee chaired by Senator Kirby.
Also in the House, Mims introduced H.B. 29 which requires a prescription to dispense emergency contraceptive to persons under 18 years old. We are actively opposing this unnecessary legislation. H.B 29 was referred to the Public Health Committee. This bill infringes on reproductive freedom. Young people in Mississippi deserve the same reproductive health care as all others living in the United States. The ACLU-MS Mississippi will take a stand to defeat these arbitrary barriers on safe and effective birth control.
In the Senate, the ACLU- MS is monitoring a wide range of legislation. We will actively oppose S.B. 2304 introduced by Sen. Tollison which will require the designation of certain disabilities on drivers licenses and identification cards under certain circumstances. This bill also requires training for law enforcement officers to recognize certain medical conditions.
As always, the ACLU-MS will continue to keep you informed of our efforts, as things unfold over the weeks to come of the 2014 Legislative Session as we work to protect civil liberties for all Mississippians.
Please take action and stand with the ACLU of Mississippi.
Joi L. Owens
ACLU of Mississippi
January 08, 2014
January 8, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON – The Department of Education and Department of Justice today released federal guidance to assist schools in administering discipline in a nondiscriminatory way and to provide alternatives to overly punitive school discipline practices.
In the guidance, the agencies have stated what we have known to be true for a long time: race discrimination in school discipline is a real problem. Students of color are punished more frequently and more harshly for the same infractions. Data from the 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection provide a national snapshot of the reach of punitive school discipline policies. For example, Black students make up 44 percent of students suspended more than once and 36 percent of students expelled, though they represent only 15 percent of students.
"With the rise of law enforcement in our schools, the proliferation of zero-tolerance policies, and misuse of suspensions and expulsions, our nation’s school discipline policies are pushing children, most of whom are students of color and students with disabilities, out of school," said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU senior legislative counsel. "Today, the federal government has issued groundbreaking guidance that will help all school districts end misguided, discriminatory school discipline policies. This guidance makes it crystal clear for schools what their obligations are under our civil rights laws and provides examples of best practices so that they can easily implement positive alternative practices. This is a victory for all who care about creating environments where students can thrive."
Though the guidance does not call for the elimination of law enforcement or school resource officers (SROs) in schools, it does provide important guiding principles for their proper role with respect to discipline. This includes improved training and a clear delineation of roles so that officers are not responsible for handling minor discipline.
The ACLU continues to advocate for additional measures to reduce over-reliance on punitive school discipline practices and to protect the civil rights of young people. This includes congressional passage of federal bills promoting positive behavior supports and ending corporal punishment, among others, and the administration collecting data on new categories of punitive school discipline that provide a more complete view of punishments administered to students, such as the total incidents of corporal punishment and reasons for referrals to law enforcement.
The development and release of the federal guidance is the result a collaborative project—the Supportive School Discipline Initiative—between the Department of Education and Department of Justice. It is also a result, in part, of the longstanding advocacy of the ACLU and other organizations committed to ending the school-to-prison pipeline.
You can access this release online from the National ACLU here.
The full guidance is available here:
December 13, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 13, 2013
CONTACT:Bear Atwood, Legal Director, ACLU-MS, 601-354-3408, ext. 112 cell: 769-447-6675 or email@example.com
JACKSON, MISS. – On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi filed suit against the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and three state troopers alleging that the troopers engaged in racial profiling and that they violated the Plaintiffs’ First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
On August 8, 2012, Raymond Montgomery and Cathryn Stout were traveling southbound on Interstate 55, just north of Jackson. Stout, a doctoral student at Saint Louis University in Missouri, was traveling to Jackson to conduct interviews for a paper onMississippians’ efforts to combat negative stereotypes of their state.
Little did she know that the troopers would re-enforce such stereotypes. As they drove south on Interstate 55, a trooper pulled up beside their car, looked at them, and then pulled them over for a perfectly legal Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. license plate holder. When they exercised their constitutional right to refuse to consent to a search, the trooper called his supervisor, Staff Sergeant Brad Vincent. The plaintiffs watched helplessly as troopers riffled through their suitcase and invaded their privacy. The troopers even dismantled the panels of their interior doors and looked under the hood of their car. In an effort to document the troopers’ actions, Stout tried to record the events on her phone camera. She was told to stop, and fearing arrest, she did. Their hour-long humiliation finally ended when the troopers could not find any contraband. They were sent on their way without any ticket, or an apology.
“Ironically, the entire purpose of my visit to Mississippi was to document the positive strides the state has taken to combat negative stereotypes,” Stout said. “Unfortunately, my experience with the Highway Patrol revealed a much different picture,” she added.
Montgomery agreed. “I was stunned and humiliated by the treatment that we received by the Mississippi Highway Patrol. We hope that our speaking up can help make sure this does not happen to anyone else.”
“This is one of many complaints that our office has received regarding the Mississippi Highway Patrol,” reported Bear Atwood, Legal Director for the ACLU of Mississippi. “We hope that this suit will cause the Department of Public Safety to take a serious look at its policies and practices, which result in frequent violations of motorists’ civil rights and civil liberties.”
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Jackson on behalf of Stout and Montgomery. The suit alleges that the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Mississippi Highway Patrol, and the three troopers involved in the incident violated Ms. Stout’s and Mr. Montgomery’s Fourth Amendment rights by engaging in an unconstitutional stop and search, their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by racially profiling them, and Ms. Stout’s First Amendment rights by prohibiting her from peacefully filming the search, from a distance, with her phone camera. The suit also alleges that Mississippi Department of Public Safety violated Title VI Civil Rights Act of 1964 by permitting its troopers to engage in racial profiling.
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!