Archive | April, 2010

Racial Profiling and Hip-Hop the Subject of Madison ACLU Student Alliance Event

30 Apr

On Thursday, April 29th, 2010, the ACLU Student Alliance sponsored an event called “Stand Up for Hip-Hop” at the Red Gym on the UW-Madison campus.

As a part of Hip-Hop As a Movement Week, the event brought attention to racial profiling in the Madison community, individual rights with law enforcement, and featured live performances from student DJs, MCs and slam poets.

J Dante was the event’s host and introduced the ACLU of Wisconsin before describing for the crowd the meaning of hip-hop profiling.

“So what exactly does ‘hip-hop profiling’ mean you might be asking? Let me read for you a list of newspaper headlines in Madison since 2008,” said Dante. “‘King St. Club on Hot Seat,’ ‘Profiling Charged After Event Canceled,’ ‘MPD vs. Clubs, Hip-Hop,’ ‘Brink Lounge Bans Hip-Hop Shows,’ ‘Should Majestic Drop the DJ?’

“Local beat writer Katjusa Cisar described it as ‘tension that has been building up in Madison for years.’ Just type “hip-hop” and “venue” into’s search engine, set the time limit at the past ten years and hundreds of stories pop up. At the Madison Hip-Hop Forum in 2009 which looked to address many of these issues, a promoter complained about the police canceling her party at the last minute and without evidence. ‘It feels like we’re always being targeted,’ she said.

“Things need to change in Madison. And unfortunately not much has changed since that 2009 forum. Police still watch our every move and venue owners are still just as reluctant to embrace hip-hop music,” J Dante said. (Dane 101 readers might have caught The Pub’s sight against hip-hop in the last ALRC rundown)

The ACLU has been involved in issues around racial profiling for years all around the country. Back in 2003, the concept of “hip-hop profiling” came to a peak in Florida, where the ACLU called for an investigation of the surveillance of rap artists who were the subject of police scrutiny for alleged associations with gang members. Anti-racist activists demanded that police start with reasonable suspicion rather than employment as a rap artists before profiling individuals.

In Wisconsin, in addition to tension around the hip-hop scene in Madison, racial profiling is being debated once again in the news and around the state. When the legislature passed its biennial budget, a provision that allows police officers to do primary seat belt enforcement (pull people over for a seat belt check) along with requiring the collection of data such as the race of the person pulled over was signed into law. Since then, the ACLU of Wisconsin and our supporters have been at public hearings for the Office of Justice Assistance to give feedback on how the data collection would work and why it would be helpful in addressing racial profiling.

What is essential for everyone in the United States and for anyone who comes in contact with law enforcement is a basic understanding of individual rights. Criminal defense attorney and ACLU of Wisconsin board president Erik Guenther talked to the group about what to do if they encounter police and what to do if they feel they were the subject of profiling at hip-hop shows or on the street. Students got a chance to ask questions about police and the criminal justice system and to share their stories about what they felt was unfair treatment or discriminatory scrutiny by law enforcement.

After the Q&A, the performers got to take over. Music was provided by DJ Dyme.

Phonetic One got the group fired up, supported by J Dante.

Polygon n Flaka Flows shared some social rhymes.

And Stereotype ended the night with a bang along with J Dante.

For more information about racial profiling issues in the Madison area, contact the local ACLU office at 6084695540. For more information on how UW-Madison students can join the ACLU Student Alliance at UW, email the group or find them on Facebook.

Racial Profiling Hearings: Monday/Madison and Wednesday/Milwaukee, Share Your Story

26 Apr


MADISON: Mon. APRIL 26, 4-7 pm
Madison Area Technical College, 3550 Anderson Street
Room 142 C (Student Lounge)

MILWAUKEE: Wed. APRIL 28, 4-7 pm
University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, 2419 East Kenwood Boulevard
Room 250, Zelazo Center

Written Comments May be Submitted Until April 30 (details below)

Have you or someone you know ever been stopped, questioned, detained, or arrested for being the wrong race/color in the wrong place/neighborhood at the wrong time? Share your experiences and help create progressive rules for racial profiling data collection!

Effective January 1, 2011, all Wisconsin police officers must collect data to determine whether vehicles operated or occupied by racial minorities are stopped more often than those operated or occupied by non-minorities. A new administrative rule will determine what data is collected and how it is analyzed.

Some in our state think that racial profiling doesn’t exist. If you disagree, this is your opportunity to raise awareness and share your thoughts and experiences about this issue – and about what kinds of data and information law enforcement needs to collect.


Important points to remember about about racial profiling in Wisconsin:

Tell your story of experiencing racial profiling at the hearing and to members of your community.

• Ask legislators for data collection on whether stopped drivers don’t speak English, and if they are asked whether or not a driver lives in the community where they were stopped (known as a “race out of place” stop).

• Data and reports should be broken down to include subparts of all major cities – not just Milwaukee

All departments must be required to submit reports promptly – not wait years until they are on the “BadgerTracs” data system.

Raw data – from the Office of Justice Assistance, Department of Transportation and local departments – must be subject to open records laws.

• The system must be set up to allow an increasingly sophisticated analysis as technology improves.

Written comments will be accepted through the close of business April 30th. Send written comments via e-mail to or by post to: Office of Justice Assistance, Attn: Dennis Schuh, 1 S. Pinckney St, Suite 615, Madison, WI 53703

Schools Should Get Better Advice in Juneau County and Statewide, Says ACLU of WI

7 Apr

The district attorney in Juneau County, Wisconsin has made an ill-advised attack on Wisconsin’s newly passed comprehensive sexuality education law. The Healthy Youth Act raises the state standards for human growth and development curricula. But the letter from District Attorney Southworth erroneously compares teaching the facts about reproduction and contraception to the sexual assault of children. The letter says the new law exposes teachers to possible criminal liability, equates sex ed to endorsing controversial behavior (in other words, education that is non-discriminatory against LGBT students is the same as “instruction on homosexuality”), and may expose school districts to civil litigation.

ACLU of Wisconsin Responds
“District Attorney Southworth has taken it upon himself to threaten possible prosecution of public school teachers in the county if they implement the new standards that require medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Christopher Ahmuty.

“Southworth says that accurate information encourages teens to have sex, but the new law actually requires teachers to inform their students that sex with a minor is illegal,” Ahmuty said. “He apparently believes that good teaching will contribute to the delinquency of a minor. The Healthy Youth Act on the other hand recognizes that, despite the best advice of teachers and parents, some teenagers will still have sex and it is best that they have accurate information, rather than unreliable information from peers or the internet.”

The Juneau County district attorney was quoted in newspaper articles that the new law is a “sick and shameful piece of legislation.” He also stated that the letter is simply a legal opinion to school districts. But the statement on his office’s letterhead is just that: a politically biased opinion. School leaders who seek more neutral legal advice on how to implement the new standards will learn that schools across the state of Wisconsin that already teach comprehensive sexuality education are not being charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors. The Wisconsin State Department of Public Education has issued a toolkit to help schools implement the new standards.

“School districts in Juneau County will be wiser if they listen to the guidance coming from the Department of Public Instruction on the new law and to their own teachers, principals, advisory councils and school attorneys,” said Ahmuty. “Parents may continue under the new law to withdraw their children from sex education.” Also under the law, schools are required to send a notice to parents if they decide not to teach human growth and development.

Media Coverage
The story hit the Associated Press wires across the state and included quotations from Pro-Life Wisconsin and Planned Parenthood. Articles were also featured in Wisconsin State Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the CNN news blog, and Channel 3000 in Madison ran an interview with the DA this morning.

The blogosphere is likely to run with the story on both the pro and the con side: One Wisconsin Now featured a New Glarus blogger’s take: she writes, “According to a district attorney in northern Wisconsin, to teach a kid how to use a condom equates sexually assaulting said kid. I can’t even believe I typed that sentence, it’s so insane.” Another speechless blogger commented on the story on the’s Broadsheet feminist blog.

Funding Available
And finally, as schools decry the lack of funding for public education and as Wisconsin residents watched yesterday’s election results that included many failed referenda for increasing school spending beyond local revenue caps, it is worth pointing out that the language of the law begins with the encouragement for Wisconsin to “apply for federal funds allocated to evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs that have been proven through rigorous evaluation to delay sexual activity, increase contraceptive use, and reduce teen pregnancy.” The Obama administration’s Office of Adolescent Health just issued their call for proposals from schools to get federal funds for real sex ed.

If school leaders have questions on how to implement the new law, they should contact the Department of Public Instruction directly for answers to their questions, resources for parents, appropriate curricula suggestions and information on the studies that show how comprehensive sexuality education works to decrease teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates.

Victory! Federal Court Says Transgender People Allowed Medical Treatment in Prison

2 Apr

On Wednesday, March 31, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin struck down a law that barred transgender people from receiving medical care while they are incarcerated. The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal challenged the law in January 2006 on behalf of transgender prisoners, some of whom had been receiving hormones in Wisconsin prisons for years prior to the passage of the law.

“This decision recognizes that many transgender prisoners require individualized medical treatment. While the court’s ruling does not require any particular treatment, it does mean that doctors are the ones who make these medical decisions,” said John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project. “The court’s decision is just common sense.”

Overriding concerns raised by of the Department of Corrections medical personnel, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law, effective in January 2006, that prohibited prison doctors from deciding the best course of treatment for transgender people by barring them from prescribing any type of hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for transgender people in state custody.

“The court understood that medical treatment is critical for transgender people and that medical decisions should be made by doctors not legislators,” said Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights attorney. “The state cannot decide to withhold treatment from people because they disapprove of their gender identity or medical needs: it’s unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit charged that it is a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection as well as the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment to bar transgender inmates from access to individualized medical care. The legal groups based their challenge on federal case law that establishes that health care providers must determine proper treatment for all prison inmates.

The court ruled that the statute’s ban on medical care constitutes deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment inasmuch as enforcement of the statute results in the denial of hormone therapy without regard for the individual medical needs of inmates and the medical judgment of their health care providers.

According to the ACLU and Lambda Legal, Wisconsin is the only state in the country to have enacted a law denying transgender people access to medical care while in state custody. The legal team includes John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project; Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin; Cole Thaler and Levasseur, former and current Transgender Rights Project attorneys at Lambda Legal and cooperating attorney Erik Guenther of Hurley, Burish & Stanton, S.C.

Find out more about the Sundstrom v. Frank case on-line, on the Lambda Legal website or read the judge’s order.

The news did get some media attention in Wisconsin. There was an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article and on WISN-ABC 12. The news will likely fuel lots of transphobic sentiments like what you’d find in the Dakota Voice blog (noteworthy: bloggers are pointing out how judges are either elected or appointed by elected officials and that elections matter).

But despite such backlash, things are changing for the trans community. For example, this year, the Obama Administration has added transgender/gender identity to the list of classes of people against whom discrimination in federal employment is prohibited. Check out this page on the ACLU website that answers lots of questions about the rights of transgender people and the law. It covers discrimination law, family law, criminal hate crimes and more.