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A is for ACLU and Avenue Q

2 Aug

Tickets on sale now…

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, in partnership with Skylight Music Theatre, presents a special preview of the Milwaukee premiere of Avenue Q!

Join us on Thursday, September 20 for an evening of irreverent fun and free expression. Thursday night is the final, full-dress rehearsal for Avenue Q and a limited number of seats will be sold to benefit the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation.

When – September 20, 2012:

6:00 p.m. – Reception – cocktails and ample hors d’oeuvres

7:30 p.m. – Avenue Q in the Cabot Theater

Where – Skylight Music Theatre:

Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee WI 53202

Tickets for the September 20 event are on sale now! Buy tickets online or if you cannot make the event, consider making a donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation.

Find more about the Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Avenue Q on their website.

Winner of three Tony Awards including Best Musical and written by the composer of The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q is a hilarious adult-themed spoof of Sesame Street. Part flesh (human), part felt (puppets) and packed with heart, Avenue Q tells the story of Princeton, a recent college grad who moves into a shabby NYC apartment in the only neighborhood he can afford, all the way out on Avenue Q. He soon discovers that the residents of his building are not your ordinary neighbors. Together, Princeton and his new friends struggle to find decent jobs, stable relationships and a purpose in life, but ultimately realize the real world isn’t so bad after all.

This event is made possible by:

Birch Lodge Fund of

the Cream City Foundation

Pam Kriger

 Johnson & Pabst

LGBT Humanity Fund

of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation

Host Committee:

Ross Draegert & Robert Starshak

Paul Fairchild

Pam Kriger

Jennifer Morales

Joseph Pabst

Louis Weisberg

Paul Williams

ACLU of Wisconsin goes to residents for information concerning Milwaukee police strip searches

2 Apr

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has been trying to investigate the policies and practices of the Milwaukee Police Department regarding strip searches.  The ACLU’s investigation began after the MPD in March acknowledged that Milwaukee police officers may have been conducting unauthorized strip searches and illegal body cavity searches on the public streets.

On March 28, 2012 ACLU made a public records request to the MPD for copies of documents such as orders, memos and report that may help us to assess whether the department is following its own strip search and body cavity search procedures.  The department has not yet produced the documents requested or denied our request.

Because of the delay on the part of MPD and the public interest in this matter, the ACLU of Wisconsin has begun seeking alternative sources of information.

The ACLU is asking citizens for copies of any strip search authorization reports that MPD may have issued to them.  MPD procedures require MPD give the subject of a strip search a copy of a Strip Search Authorization Report.  The police ask the subject of the search to sign and affix a fingerprint to the report.

The ACLU is publicizing their request by means of social media and flyers distributed on the street, in public places, and through community organizations. While it is impossible to know how many Strip Search Authorization Reports the MPD issued by asking citizens, it should be possible to learn relevant information about MPD search practices.  The ACLU has promised to respect the privacy of those who submit copies of forms. The ACLU hopes that more information from the MPD will be forthcoming.  The ACLU will share the facts regarding any possible pattern or practice of improper strip searches with appropriate authorities and the public.

Milwaukee residents living in every neighborhood deserve high quality professional police service

2 Apr

Milwaukee residents living in every neighborhood deserve high quality professional police service. No one, regardless of where they live, should have to put up with police misconduct. Recent allegations  that several officers in District Five carried out unauthorized strip searches and illegal body cavity searches need to be investigated carefully, fairly, and comprehensively. While it is important to determine whether or not individual officers violated department policies or state law or civil rights laws, it is equally important that the department evaluate its own policies, practices, and strategies to see if they may have undermined police service and civil liberties.

It is in the interest of residents and the department that the department responds to the alleged incidents of police misconduct with candor, transparency, and self-evaluation. Without violating the due process rights of the officers involved and regardless of the outcome of investigations into their conduct, the department can learn from this controversy and provide better service in the future.

The department must consider what impact its own policies, practices, and strategies may have on the delivery of police services.

For instance, incredible as it sounds, if the officers were truly ignorant of the policies or the differences between a pat down or frisk, a strip search, or a body cavity search, then the department has to explain how its training and supervision failed. Is their training forgotten or ignored when officers detain residents on our public streets?

The department must also evaluate its proactive policing strategy to see if it makes incidents of police misconduct more likely to occur. Under this strategy the Milwaukee Police Department made 240,000 traffic and subject stops in 2010. Traffic stop figures through October 2011 show the department will have made a similar number of stops in 2011, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

This extraordinary number of stops obviously increases the opportunity for interactions between officers and residents to go awry. What’s more as Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn told the newspaper, “Yes, of course we are going to stop lots of innocent people.”  The department should evaluate what message it is sending to officers when its proactive policing strategy disregards a person’s innocence. The message at best says civil liberties are expendable.

We pointed out in an op ed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that the department should also revisit its decision to create the Gang/Drug Unit when the Metropolitan Investigations Division, formed in August, 2010. It appears that the implicated officers including a sergeant belonged to District Five’s anti-gang unit. Many police managers across the country have moved away from special gang and drug units, especially after revelations of widespread abuse by such units of the Los Angeles Police Department. Perhaps, there is a legitimate use for such units, but it appears the type and level of supervision given to Milwaukee’s anti-gang unit was deficient.

Finally, because metropolitan Milwaukee is a hyper-segregated area along racial and income lines, one cannot address policing without addressing civil rights. In the light of the department’s inability to use traffic stop data to identify possible racially biased policing, it is imperative that the department clarify how it is identifying biased officers. We don’t know if these District Five officers are biased, but bias could be a contributing factor. The department needs to be more aggressive in identifying and remedying individual or systemic bias.

The Milwaukee Police Department has an opportunity to evaluate its policies, practices and strategies following the allegations regarding misconduct by officers from District Five. If it simply investigates the officers, it will be setting Milwaukee up for more frustration. Chief Flynn has the capacity to exercise leadership. He can demonstrate that the department will address possible systemic problems. If so, this controversy may be an opportunity to further improve police community relations.

If you have been the target of racial profiling in Milwaukee or in Wisconsin, tell the ACLU of Wisconsin your story.

ACLU of WI: Racial profiling creates second-class citizens

7 Dec

Milwaukee police last year made nearly 200,000 traffic stops. Police Chief of Edward Flynn acknowledges that his officers are “going to stop lots of innocent people.” What’s more a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Watchdog Report found a racial gap in the 46,000 traffic stops Milwaukee police made in the first four months of 2011. The Chief explains the racial gap by pointing to his targeted policing strategy which uses traffic stops to disrupt criminal activity.

The Chief’s explanation falls short. Attributing racial disparities to a conscious departmental policy not only downplays the existence of biased policing, but by encouraging officers to make so many traffic stops, the policy masks illegal racial profiling.

The Journal Sentinel report found that the greatest racial disparity in traffic stops occurs in Police District 1, which includes downtown and parts of the east side, which have mostly white residents. A more probable explanation in this district than the effects of targeted policing is the phenomena known as “race out of place” stops. In other districts, the notion that police are responding to suspect descriptions isn’t credible when the description du jour appears to be “young black male”.

The Journal Sentinel report also found that black drivers were much more likely to have their vehicles searched than white drivers. Unfortunately, the report doesn’t state how often police used the commonly abused practice of consent searches. It did find that the hit rates for contraband were approximately 22% for both black and white drivers.

Community leaders must demand to know what the Chief is doing to eliminate bias, in addition to exhorting his officers to be fair and treat all motorists with respect. If the Chief’s policing strategy has rendered traffic stop data collection and analysis less useful as a management tool, how is the department determining the extent to which bias may be occurring? How is it remedied?

It has been suggested that the number of complaints filed by citizens about police actions is a measure of how officers treat motorists. Citizen complaints do not give us the same quantitative information as traffic stop data. Individual motorists may complain about rude treatment, but they can’t know how many black or Hispanic drivers are stopped and searched compared to white drivers. There is also reluctance on the part of offended drivers to file complaints when the complaint process is daunting to most ordinary citizens. The ACLU of Wisconsin is collecting stories about biased policing online at www.aclu-wi.org/story.

In serious discussions about using traffic stop data to address biased policing, no one I know claims that the data alone will prove that a particular officer or shift or agency is biased. Officers who do not act contrary to rules prohibiting racial profiling should have nothing to fear. Black and Hispanic drivers on the other hand do have something to fear from racial profiling – second class police service and citizenship.

This “Another View” op-ed originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on December 7, 2011. Read the MJS editorial in support of Chief Flynn’s policies on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion page.

Voter ID Law Would Disenfranchise Citizens, Not Fix Illegal Votes

25 Jan

The new session of the Wisconsin Legislature has barely begun and legislators are pushing a bill that will require all voters to present a government-issued photo ID every time they go to the polls. The bill (Senate Bill 6PDF) will have a public hearing this Wednesday, January 26.

Vote Fraud is a Myth
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin will be there to speak out against an attempt to treat all voters as potential crooks rather than as citizens in a democracy with free and fair access to cast their ballot.

Proponents of this measure exaggerate the instances of illegal votes cast in Wisconsin. Despite considerable resources spent to prosecute vote fraud in recent years, only 18 cases of substantiated illegal voting led to convictions. None of the cases would be avoided by requiring a photo ID to vote at the polls on Election Day. To the extent that a small number of felons on probation or parole who are ineligible to vote may cast ballots, this measure will not stop them from voting because they have or may get photo IDs.

For more information on the debunked allegations of voter fraud in Wisconsin, see the Brennan Center for Justice report, “The Truth About Voter Fraud.”

SB 6 Will Disenfranchise Minority Voters
The ACLU of Wisconsin opposes the proposal because it would place a significant barrier to voting rights would have a discriminatory effect on minority voters. Citizens who tend not to have current or state-issued photo identification include people of color as well as the elderly, people with disabilities, those who rely on public transportation, and mobile populations such as college students. This is an unconstitutional burden on the fundamental right and freedom to vote.

Even if the bill allows for individuals to obtain government-issued photo identification free of charge, the documents required for qualification for an ID often cost money and take time to obtain (see the state DMV’s website on the documents generally needed to acquire an ID card and specifically those required for proof of identity). Additional barriers can be experienced by citizens who face the circular challenge of obtaining documents for their photo ID when a photo ID is required to obtain documents. When individuals, especially low-income workers and those who rely on public transportation face the costs of taking time off of work, traveling to motor vehicle departments with limited locations and hours and paying fees for certified documents to obtain a photo ID simply for the freedom to vote, the ACLU of Wisconsin pledges to act on behalf of those disenfranchised by the proposed law.

The ACLU has opposed these deeply flawed laws in other states. But the law as proposed in Wisconsin is the worst and most restrictive we’ve ever seen. To deny potentially thousands of voters the right to freely cast a ballot to fix a non-existent problem is unconscionable in a free society.

Other Opinions About the Proposed Law
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel issued an editorial against voter ID along with many suggestions of how the law would have to be fixed in order to avoid significant disenfranchisement. The Capitol Times took a stand against fast-tracking the bill and Dave Zwiefel said the law was a solution in search of a problem. There was also a cautious editorial from the Oshkhosh Northwestern. The League of Women Voters has issued a statement against the law. On student rights and voter ID, the Huffington Post featured this opinion from a Rock the Vote field director. And the Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert discusses the photo ID issue along with problems with the proposal to eliminate another Wisconsin voting rights institution, Election-Day registration.

Top Ten Reasons To Oppose an Arizona-Style Immigration Law in Wisconsin

16 Nov

We’ve been saying that “what happens in Arizona, stops in Arizona.” That state’s show-us-your-papers racial profiling law inspired boycotts by travelers and athletes and has come at a huge cost to taxpayers in court.

But in Wisconsin, Representative Don Pridemore has drafted a version of Arizona’s law for our state. The ACLU of Wisconsin is concerned that an Arizona-style state immigration enforcement bill will lead to racial profiling, illegal or mistaken detentions, and waste taxpayers’ money – especially if an unconstitutional law sails unchecked through the state legislature.

Here are the top ten reasons why the ACLU of Wisconsin says an Arizona-style immigration law would be bad for Wisconsin. The bill will:

1). …lead to racial profiling – This bill will force police to detain individuals when the officer believes there is reasonable suspicion that an individual is here illegally. But what constitutes reasonable suspicion? Their ethnicity, accent, economic status?

2). …cause illegal or mistaken detention – How will this bill protect non-criminals who won’t be carrying around or have timely access to documents proving their legal presence? When a police officer stops someone with “reasonable suspicion,” what separates a citizen who is a University student who doesn’t have his wallet and proof of citizenship from an exchange student who doesn’t have his wallet? Again, racial profiling will be likely?

3). …be a wasteful expense to taxpayers – Detention costs will rarely be recovered and will never be recovered from individuals found innocent. There will also be those who are detained, but would have been released earlier otherwise. Defending lawsuits from individuals who have been illegally detained will also cost counties and the state.

4). …distract professional law enforcement from actual crime – Our police officers already have enough to do without taking off time from fighting crime to learn how to identify those without proper documents and enforce federal immigration law. Also arrests and booking are long enough processes without going through additional steps to document reasonable suspicion to the satisfaction of supervisors and courts.

5). …strain relations with federal authorities – Is there any reason to believe that ICE would take custody of or at least take notice of these suspects, including those who are legally present but just can’t prove it within two days? Will this impact the head count in local jails? And why should federal authorities allow Wisconsin to interfere with federal enforcement responsibilities, especially when the federal Department of Justice has sued Arizona for doing so?

6). …pre-empt local control in Madison – It is inconsistent to say that the state of Wisconsin can enforce its own immigration laws while at the same time denying the City of Madison its own stance on immigration. We need meaningful, federal immigration reform now.

7). …harm Wisconsin businesses, including agribusiness – While Rep.
Pridemore’s proposal doesn’t currently include Arizona-type penalties on business, it will hurt businesses nevertheless when legal residents and citizens get sick of racial profiling and employment discrimination.

8). …be an affront to Wisconsin citizens – It goes without saying that this proposal is offensive to honest, taxpaying people, particularly the Latino citizens of Wisconsin. Racial profiling is a big enough problem for people of color in Wisconsin.

9). …create a climate of intolerance in our state – At a time when we are trying to improve our state’s economy, Wisconsin needs to lay out the welcome mat for businesses, workers and students.

10). …open the possibility of a costly lawsuit – The racially motivated Arizona bill will likely cost the taxpayers around a million dollars in court costs. Can Wisconsin afford to pass an unconstitutional bill?

Sidenote: Change.org also has a top-ten list on why this would be a bad law. The proposal also had media coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, UW Daily Cardinal and Badger Herald, and the ACLU of WI was quoted on the issue in the Capitol Times. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also published a strong criticism of the proposal.

ACLU of WI Files Complaint Over Shorewood Hills Planning and Housing Decisions

12 Aug

Whenever there are concerns about building affordable housing, our ears prick up mostly because of fights like what happened in South Milwaukee with the Lake Point Apartments.

We’ve been observing the housing issue around Shorewood Hills and the proposal to replace the nearly vacant Pyare Square building. Some residents of the affluent village near Lake Mendota and the University of Wisconsin Madison campus complained about a proposed apartment complex that would house limited-income families. Finally the whole project was scrapped ostensibly due to the height of the building design. However a new apartment complex proposal has recently been suggested by the Stone House Development company under the same affordable housing financing program with fewer neighborhood objections. But questions remain about the fairness of the planning process in the village.

Today, on behalf of a Shorewood Hills resident named Bill Thomas, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation requested a federal investigation of the Village’s rejection of accepting affordable family housing developments. In the complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Mr. Thomas objects to the discriminatory effect of the Village’s February 2010 rejection of affordable housing.

Mr. Thomas is a longtime resident of Shorewood Hills, a former member of its Plan Commission, and an outspoken advocate for housing diversity in the Village. He as long objected to Shorewood Hills’ de facto policy of excluding affordable housing – and the people who qualify for it, who are disproportionately persons of color – from the community.

“A developer wanted to build affordable housing in a perfect spot in Shorewood Hills,” noted Mr. Thomas. “He wanted to tear down Pyare Square – an obsolete, almost vacant office building, for which no one could think of a viable non-residential use, and replace it with affordable apartments and some green space. That proposal gave our Village a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break with the deplorable exclusionary policies of its past, and to comply with Wisconsin’s Smart Growth mandates to ‘meet the housing needs of persons of all income levels,’ and ‘promote the availability of land for the development and redevelopment low-income and moderate income housing’ without any serious strain or pain. Although the Plan Commission had recommended the needed rezoning, the Board of Trustees denied it.”

Mr. Thomas’ attorney, the ACLU’s Karyn Rotker, noted that the Fair Housing Act prohibits actions that have a discriminatory effect, as well as intentionally discriminatory behavior.

“Refusing to allow a developer to build housing that persons of color are proportionally more likely to need and use, especially in a less-diverse community like Shorewood Hills, can be unlawful,” said Rotker. “That’s especially true when the rejection of such housing is accompanied by the kinds of sudden changes in rules and priorities, and the negative statements about people who live in affordable housing, that occurred here.”

“I fear that the Board of Trustees of Shorewood Hills, as a body, does not feel morally or legally obligated to even allow, much less encourage, affordable housing in the Village,” said Thomas. “Unless it is persuaded otherwise, it will exercise the discretion it has reserved for itself to keep affordable housing out of Shorewood Hills indefinitely. I am hopeful that the Department of Housing and Urban Development will succeed in persuading it otherwise,” Mr. Thomas added.

The complaint got some media attention in the Wisconsin State Journal.

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 Madison.com’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

RACIAL PROFILING PUBLIC HEARINGS

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.

COME TO A HEARING AND MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!

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 OJATSDC@wi.gov or by post to: Office of Justice Assistance, Attn: Dennis Schuh, 1 S. Pinckney St, Suite 615, Madison, WI 53703

State Senate Needs to Pass Race-Based Mascot Bill

26 Feb

This week the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill that would provide an opportunity for local communities to challenge race-based mascots.

When the Assembly held a hearing on the bill back in March 2009, we blogged about why we testified in support of the bill. And when the Senate also heard an overwhelming number of supportive testimonies, we tweeted live from the hearing. The ACLU of Wisconsin supports this bill because fundamentally this issue is not about the constitutionally protected free speech of students: this bill is about ending the governmental endorsement of discrimination.

We pointed out that nearly 40 public school districts across Wisconsin continue to use nicknames, mascots and logos for their sports teams that are based on race or ethnicity. Nicknames, like Chiefs or Chieftains, Indians, Red Raiders, Redman, and Warhawks, and school-approved mascots and logos have been a common feature at sporting and pep events attended by generations of enthusiastic students.

But this legislation needs to be passed in 2010 because all public schools in Wisconsin are required to provide all students with an adequate, nondiscriminatory education. Race-based nicknames, logos and mascots are inherently discriminatory and shouldn’t be endorsed by a public school.

The legislation is also needed because there should be an opportunity for a fair and adequate process for the Department of Public Instruction to review complaints from community members about race-based mascots. The government is responsible for addressing discriminatory practices such as the use of race-based mascots and the Department of Public Instruction is the appropriate agency to mediate local conflict resolution.

Votes on this issue in the Assembly were unusually not split along party lines. Democrats Jorgensen, Krusick, Ziegelbauer and Zigmunt joined mostly Republicans in voting against the bill. Republicans Brooks, Montgomery, Mursau, Rhodes and Van Roy voted in favor of AB 35. We remember how Rep. Rhodes introduced a group of youth from her district who spoke passionately in favor of the bill and what it would do for student equality. It was a great moment for the positive power of student speech for justice.

Now the bill’s future lies in the Senate. The ACLU of Wisconsin urges the Senate and majority leader Decker to have a floor vote as soon as possible.

Race-Based Mascots Ban Gets State Senate Hearing

13 Jan

The Wisconsin Senate Education Committee is about to start their hearing today on a bill that would improve the discrimination complaint process communities can have to challenge the use of race-based mascots. The ACLU of Wisconsin will be there to submit testimony on why we oppose the use of race-based logos, mascots and nicknames in public schools. We will also be tweeting live from the hearing: follow the updates at ACLUMadison on Twitter.com.

We’ve blogged before about the race-based mascot bill when it got a hearing in the state Assembly committee last year. Nearly 40 public school districts across Wisconsin continue to use logos for their sports teams that are based on race or ethnicity. Nicknames, like Chiefs or Chieftains, Indians, Red Raiders, Redman, and Warhawks, and school-approved mascots and logos have been a common feature at sporting and pep events attended by generations of enthusiastic students. However, the use of discriminatory mascots should be challenged.
The ACLU of Wisconsin points out that:

1. All public schools in Wisconsin are required to provide all students with an adequate, nondiscriminatory education. Race-based nicknames, logos and mascots are inherently discriminatory and shouldn’t be endorsed by a public school.

2. There should be a fair and adequate process for the Department of Public Instruction to review complaints from community members about race-based mascots. As the use of race-based mascots is government speech (not individual speech), the First Amendment does not apply. The government is responsible for addressing discriminatory practices such as the use of race-based mascots and the Department of Public Instruction is the appropriate agency to mediate local conflict resolution.

3. Having schools with mascots that are not based in racial or ethnic stereotypes will not only end this particular discriminatory practice, but will be a positive step toward equality and an embrace of good sportsmanship, respect for others and fair play.

For these reasons the ACLU of Wisconsin supports SB 25 on race-based nicknames, mascots and logos and encourages the Senate Education Committee to support this bill. Ending the use of race-based mascots won’t end all discrimination in our public schools, but it is an important step forward.

You can read the bill online (SB 25).

Public School Legislative Action Needed Now!

6 Jan

On January 6, 2010 the ACLU of Wisconsin’s executive director Christopher Ahmuty sent the following statement to members of the Wisconsin Legislature and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. He urged them to move beyond a perceived impasse on legislation to aid the Milwaukee Public Schools. Ahmuty’s statement:

“Some media, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wispolitics.com, report that after a January 5th marathon hearing on Milwaukee Public Schools, the Wisconsin Legislature is unlikely to come up with a fix for the district’s woes any time soon. As someone who attended the hearing for eight hours, I believe the media reports misrepresent the current situation.

“While the prospect of a mayoral takeover of MPS should be dead, that doesn’t mean that the Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and legislative leaders can’t or won’t display the kind of leadership on education that both opponents and proponents of mayoral control would welcome. Mayor Barrett, in particular, can still deliver for MPS and parents and students across Wisconsin by agreeing to legislation that would address the core issues we all face.

“The school funding formula adopted by the Legislature in 1992 is a shambles and needs to be replaced. Public schools need the resources to provide an adequate education to their students. Different districts have different needs. Poor rural and urban districts (including Beloit and Racine as well as Milwaukee) have challenges that wealthier districts do not face. A new formula can help districts with concentrations of poor students, English language learners, and special needs without harming districts with more advantaged students. A good way to enhance Governor Doyle legacy on educational issues might be to revisit the 2004 recommendations of Doyle’s Task Force on Educational Excellence for additional measures that would help districts across the state.

“A proposal by State Senator Spencer Coggs and State Representative Tamara Grigsby could be modified to include provisions on funding that will help districts statewide, not just Milwaukee. Barrett and legislative leaders could be statesmen, if Barrett recognizes the needs of districts statewide, just as legislators must now recognize the urgent needs of MPS, not for control, but for support from all segments of the public and all parts of Wisconsin.”

You can read the ACLU’s testimony from the hearing (PDF) or read our press release (PDF) on-line.

We’ve blogged before about the reasons why the Mayor shouldn’t take over the Milwaukee Public Schools. We also tweeted live from yesterday’s hearing.

The ACLU of Wisconsin was quoted on the subject in OnMilwaukee. Coverage of the hearing and the mayoral takeover issue also included Milwaukee Public Radio, TMJ4, WisPolitics, the Milwaukee Business Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, WISN, the La Crosse Tribune, and got a mention on Madison’s Channel 3000.