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Beloit Racial Profiling Listening Session Canceled Due to Weather

8 Dec

Have you been racially profiled? Want to give feedback to the justice system about your experience? The public is invited to share their comments with the Traffic Stop Data Collection Advisory Committee on a rule being developed to assess the possibility of racial profiling in Wisconsin traffic stops.

*** Please note! The Beloit listening session has been canceled due to the bad winter weather. Stay tuned for the re-scheduled dates or follow us on Twitter at ACLUMadison and ACLUofWisconsin.

For more information on the Office of Justice Assistance listening sessions, visit their website.

The ACLU of Wisconsin has been involved in the listening sessions by sending staff, ACLU members and people who are concerned with racial profiling. Read more about the ACLU of Wisconsin’s reactions in the listening sessions at the ACLUofWisconsin Twitter page.

Listening sessions have been held in Racine/Kenosha; Keshena; Superior; Rice Lake; Crandon; Milwaukee; Green Bay and La Crosse

Background:
The public expects fair treatment and equal protection for all Wisconsin’s citizens under our justice system. The presence of disparities—actual or perceived—is a serious concern. The effectiveness of Wisconsin’s justice system depends on the public’s respect and confidence in the integrity of the judicial process.

In the past decade, two gubernatorial bodies have examined racial profiling and racial disparities in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system. Both groups recommended collection of racial data when a traffic stop is made as one means to determine the extent to which people of different races receive different treatment by law enforcement. Statewide traffic stop data will inform the community about the presence or absence of disproportionate contact with racial minorities during traffic stops, and help identify opportunities for potential changes in public policy and training.

Effective January 1, 2011, all Wisconsin police officers are required to collect data that will be used to determine whether vehicles operated or occupied by racial minorities are disproportionately stopped. The data collected, collection method, and analysis will be determined by a new administrative rule. The Office of Justice Assistance (OJA), a state agency, is preparing the rule with the assistance of the Advisory Committee.

Supporting materials:
Scope statement: http://oja.wi.gov/docview.asp?docid=18277

Statutory and non-statutory language on traffic stop data collection: http://oja.wi.gov/docview.asp?docid=18276

Comparison of recent traffic stop data collection in MI, IA, IL, and MI: http://oja.wi.gov/docview.asp?docid=18321

Traffic stop data collection advisory committee: http://oja.wi.gov/docview.asp?docid=18275

Written comments for listening sessions will be accepted by the Office of Justice Assistance until December 11, 2009. Comments can be sent to: Office of Justice Assistance, 1 South Pinckney St., Suite 615, Madison, WI 53703-3220

Feingold’s End Racial Profiling Act: Says Baltimore NAACP “Race Not a Proxy for Criminality.”

8 Dec

Check out this op-ed in the Baltimore Sun on the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) that will be reintroduced by Wisconsin’s Senator Russ Feingold and Michigan House member Rep. John Conyers. This op-ed breaks down why racial profiling impacts us all: “race should not be a proxy for criminality.”

News roundup: tickets for cursing, public financing for judges, AG says no on DP benefits case and more

21 Aug

A news roundup from the week – good civil liberties articles and issues you don’t want to miss!

Free Speech
The Kenosha News picked up the story about a proposal to allow police to ticket the use of curse words against them.

And there was more coverage of the case of the man in Crivitz who flew his flag upside down. The flag pole got knocked down by angry residents. But then supporters helped to fix it. There was more coverage on NBC 15 and on WBAY-TV.

Fair Elections
The Impartial Justice bill got approval from the state Senate this week, making it one more step closer to becoming law. While public financing of campaigns is often controversial, the big money that influences state Supreme Court elections has made the past few competitive judicial seat races a cause for concern. If judges are to remain impartial, so should their sponsorship. See more about the issue on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign website.

Lesbian and Gay Rights
Attorney General JB Van Hollen won’t represent the state in the Wisconsin Family Action challenge to the domestic partnership registry. This just means that the governor’s office will hire its own attorneys (special council). Probably will be pricey just to prove that a partnership registry with a handful of benefits isn’t anything even substantially similar to marriage.

Racial Disparity and Public Schools
Here’s a good article that explains “open enrollment” trends in Madison area schools. Open enrollment allows students to transfer to other schools if they are dissatisfied with their district. Civil rights advocates say that open enrollment leads to greater racial segregation and an erosion of Brown v. Board of Education. A quickly increasing number of students living in poverty is cited among violence and negative peer pressure as reasons to switch.

Event: Wisconsin Books to Prisoners Book Sale
Sat. Aug. 29th 12:00 Noon – 5:00 pm Orton Park Festival – near the corner of Rutledge and Few. Wisconsin Books To Prisoners Book Sale! Drop off your donated books and look over our fine collection of reading materials! All proceeds will go towards postage to send new books to those who are eager to read within the WI prison system. WI Books to Prisoners is a project of Rainbow Bookstore. For more details contact Rainbow Books (608) 257-6050.

News roundup: fair housing victory, NIMBY on detainees, blogging on profiling and more

7 Aug

Here’s a quick wrap-up of some civil liberties related news of the week…

Fair Housing
The ACLU of Wisconsin won a court case against the city of South Milwaukee to prevent the razing of an apartment building that housed a large portion of the city’s minority population. More details to come.

Close Guantanamo
Last month, some legislators introduced a bill to reject any Gitmo detainees from being housed in Wisconsin jails. It’s a move that legislators are attempting across the country to stir debate about terrorism, even though we already have many convicted terrorists behind bars on US soil (remember the perps from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing? Oklahoma City fed building bombing? Even Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is in Colorado). But this week, the Obama Administration was talking about the complexity of dealing with the often-uncharged detainees and that they might try to build a courthouse/supermax combo in Michigan or Kansas.

If you haven’t already, tell President Obama to reject indefinite detention and close Guantanamo asap.

Census and Redistricting
Census folks have been out in neighborhoods to confirm addresses since the spring, but the big count won’t happen until 2010. One of the big questions will be around how the count of prisoners will be used in future redistricting of politicans’ turf. A timely op-ed from the NY Times describes why counting prisoners where they are incarcerated makes redistricting complicated and unbalanced. Our own Wisconsin state legislators will be talking about Assembly Joint Resolution 63 which would exclude the census’ prisoner count from redistricting plans. The hearing will be on September 3.

Voting Rights
Senator Russ Feingold helped to introduce legislation at the federal level to end discrimination in voting rights against people with felony convictions. This interesting article gives the perspective from the southern states and describes why this voting rights issue echoes the long history of both Jim Crow and the prison industrial complex.

Response to the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration bill has been good. A large coalition of organizations is behind it and to date we have only found two blog posts against it (one from Sen. Mary Lazich and another from the same folks who brought complaints about gay and lesbian books in the West Bend community library.

Speaking of voting, did you get a letter from the Government Accountability Board about your voter registration status? They are cleaning up their databases. See your city clerk to get your info updated.

Racial Profiling
Opinions are mixed about the new seat belt/racial data collection item the budget the Governor signed last month. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation cited the new law that would give police the power to pull drivers over for not wearing a seat belt as a reason for record-low traffic fatalities in July. However, the Milwaukee County Sheriff is blogging about how the racial profiling data collection is a tool of exploitation by “race hustlers” and that ACLU has nothing better to do than to sue police.

Sheriff Clarke might have missed the report and recommendations issued last year by the Office of Justice Assistance and the Governor’s Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System. The commission included police, corrections and housing experts, judges, lawyers, academics, community and faith leaders. The report strongly recommended that “throughout the state, we must increase and improve the validity and reliability of data, e.g. collecting and making data available,” and that “appropriate state agencies should be directed to conduct a county-by-county baseline study of racial disparity using existing traffic citation and arrest data to determine (racial) disparity levels in the state.” The report is supposed to be a blueprint for effectively addressing our disproportionate minority incarceration rate in our state.

The reality is that racial profiling is one slice of the pie that makes Wisconsin one of the worst states for putting people of color behind bars. Anyone could suggest that a Governor’s commission and an OJA report is politically motivated. But disproportionate minority contact by law enforcement is a systemic problem. A systemic problem is bigger than a few racist cops. A systemic problem is bigger than one sheriff who feels politically targeted. And a systemic problem needs a systemic analysis. Buckle up drivers!

Gay and Lesbian Rights
The domestic partner registry began this week. In Dane County, 50 couples registered on the first day. County clerks had geared up for lines of couples waiting to register. While the Cap Times article says that applying for the registry has the same process as getting a marriage license, both the state Legislative Council and the ACLU of Wisconsin said that the registry does not equate marriage.

But organizations like the “Wisconsin Family Action” are still insisting that the domestic partnership provisions are “marriage-like” and have filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The ACLU of Wisconsin has committed to fighting a legal challenge to domestic partnerships in the state.

ACLU of WI Reaches Out to Muslims in Milwaukee, Youth Organizers in Stevens Point

18 Jun

ACLU of Wisconsin Youth and Program Director Emilio De Torre reports from some of our recent educational efforts across the state…

Saturday June 13: Milwaukee Islamic Da’wa Center
The Da’wa center hosted the ACLU of Wisconsin along with Assistant US Attorney Richard Frohling and FBI Agent Margaret Thill for an information session on racial profiling, religious liberty and stereotyping.

“The lively open discussion challenged both community and guests to address the many issues that affect the diversity of Muslims, immigrants and black people in our post-911 communities and airports,” said De Torre. “One of the many questions that came up regarded the consequences of government actions on American Muslims’ exercise of their beliefs.”

The ACLU has been working on educational efforts to raise the American public’s greater awareness of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim discrimination. Three days after De Torre spoke at the Islamic Da’wa in Milwaukee, the ACLU issued a report, “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” on the impact of restrictions of Muslims’ exercise of their right to practice their faith through charitable giving. The ACLU created this video on the subject:


“By the end of our discussion at the Da’wa, I think most of the participants realized that more education and outreach was needed to dispel lies and stereotypes about Muslims in particular,” said De Torre. “Hopefully, this will be the first of many open community events at the Da’wa Center to educate the public on their civil liberties.”

In 2006, the ACLU compiled a summary of all of the post-9/11 problems with discrimination, racial profiling and detention they were taking to the courts.

Tuesday, June 9th: Stevens Point 2009 Wisconsin State Prevention Conference
Sassy and sexy Stevens Point was the home for the 2009 Wisconsin State Prevention Conference, and ACLU of Wisconsin staff Emilio De Torre and Jason Hargis, along with interns Maggie Piery and Jeanette Martin facilitated an exciting three-hour workshop on Youth Organizing and Outreach.

“We were invited to present this workshop because of our many successes in messaging and using theatre, technology and social media to effectively organize young people around civil liberties and civil rights,” said De Torre.

“There were many people in attendance who shared their enthusiasm and desire to experiment with new methods of organizing in addition to continuing the tried and true ‘face to face’ relationship-building organizing philosophy,” he said.

Want us to facilitate a workshop at your conference? Give us a tweet. Or find our more about our youth programs on our website.

Local conference inspires student anti-oppression work

11 May

At the end of April, ACLU of Wisconsin staffers Emilio De Torre and Stacy Harbaugh were presenters at the United Council of UW Students’ Building Unity Conference. Emilio gave the opening address and Stacy facilitated workshops on how students can work with social networking and the media to get their message out.


ACLU of Wisconsin Youth and Program Director Emilio De Torre shares details about the ACLU’s mission and work – photo courtesy of United Council
Spring semester Intern Jessica Johnson attended the conference – here is a summary of her experience:

“When I first arrived at the Building Unity conference, I was excited and intimidated all at the same time. I was surrounded by passionate student leaders that came from all over the state of Wisconsin in hopes of learning more about student rights in higher education. Each individual and group was representing different student organizations and governments, all trying to achieve one thing: building unity among schools, associations, and the students we represented.

“It was a weekend of inspiration, hard work, and networking, all with the goals of providing the tools necessary for students to build student movements to include people from all walks of life; provide a safe space and open forum for people who are faced with discrimination in school and our communities; and to encourage discussion and action among these leaders to improve the experience of higher education for all people.

“The line up of speakers for the weekend couldn’t have been any better. We started out with a hard-hitting and what you could call brutally honest presentation by Emilio De Torre, Director of Youth & Programs at the ACLU of Wisconsin. He discussed the a range of issues the ACLU and the ACLU of Wisconsin work on, including addressing structural racism, protecting student free speech, LGBT rights, and contraceptive equity. The presentation enlightened student leaders to issues they may not have known before while also providing inspiration and encouragement to do something about them.


ACLU of Wisconsin Youth and Program Director Emilio De Torre calls on conference participants to share their answers to civil liberties Jeopardy – photo courtesy of United Council
“Throughout the weekend we were able to attend workshops which ranged from getting organizational tools, building membership, and issue awareness. Each workshop was taught by a student or community leader. They covered topics from media representation, lobbying basics, the D.R.E.A.M. act, and various other topics. In one weekend alone I learned how to diversify my student association, how to lobby my legislature, what a feminist looks like, and the pressure put on LGBT student athletes, just to name a few.


ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh shares tips on creative social networking use – photo by Jessica Johnson
“The next day after workshops, Tim Wise spoke strongly about white privilege and the role racism plays in our society today. With conviction and confidence, his words allowed us to look critically at how we individually and as a society address oppression and to understand in what ways we perpetuate it by ignoring the problem. You can read Tim’s compelling blog on his website.

“The last speaker, Chancellor Wilson, ended the conference with a moving autobiography. He connected the idea that we as individuals have the capability to achieve our goals and to fight the oppression that many face while still being able to embrace who we are. With his history of growing up black in the South and the obstacles he had to overcome ended the conference with one last bit of inspiration and hope. We as individuals and as student organizations can overcome obstacles if we face them head on and continue to unify in the fight against the oppression of countless numbers of people.

“At Building Unity, I discovered forms of oppression I once had been oblivious to. With this discovery, I was also given a set of tools to confront these issues both as an individual and as a student leader through the ACLU Student Alliance. I left with connections to other campus groups that were looking to achieve goals similar to mine, and was able to share ideas and discuss plans to really work towards action. The conference in my mind was a success. I left knowing more than when I came and felt more confident in what I would now be able to achieve as a progressive student leader.”

Find out more about internships, ACLU Student Alliances and civil liberties activism by emailing our youth program or visiting the ACLU of Wisconsin youth program’s website.

Racial profiling in WI: will seat belt enforcement help or hurt the problem?

13 Apr

Americans agree that sometimes police use racial, ethnic or religious stereotypes as a factor in selecting which motor vehicle drivers to stop and search. It’s called racial profiling and it is a practice that shouldn’t be a part of law enforcement. The trouble is it’s hard to get a hold of the scope of the problem if it isn’t well-defined and tracked.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin wants law enforcement agencies to determine the extent of unlawful racial profiling and to stop it. But the Governor’s proposed budget includes a double-edged sword: funds for primary seat belt enforcement along with a data tracking requirement. In response to these budget provisions, the ACLU of Wisconsin sent a letter with our concerns to Representative Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) and the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Finance.

We are urging legislators, “to strengthen the proposed budget’s racial profiling section, and to evaluate (and potentially sunset) its primary seat belt enforcement section.”

“These two budget provisions are related because one will track the problem of racial profiling while the other allows primary seat belt enforcement that could exacerbate the problem of racial profiling,” said ACLU of Wisconsin’s executive director, Chris Ahmuty.

“We are suggesting that Wisconsin go ahead with a trial of primary seat belt enforcement, but sunset it if analysis of the collected data determines that primary seat belt enforcement is a source of unlawful stops and searches based in part on racial profiling,” Ahmuty said. “Ever since the Governor Tommy Thompson created the Governor’s Task on Racial Profiling in 1999, we have been waiting for action. Ten years is long enough to wait.”

Race-based mascots = government-endorsed discrimination

17 Mar

The Assembly Education Committee hearing today was really amazing. It was great to see the room packed with dozens of students from across Wisconsin who were there to show their visible support for Assembly Bill 35 which would allow for a process for communities to challenge the remaining racially insensitive mascots for their public schools. Thanks to Rep. Jim Soletski (statement – PDF) and Sen. Spencer Coggs for introducing this bill.

The testimonies today were overwhelmingly in support of the bill and showed the need of indigenous people to not have their communities, religion and culture caricatured by public school mascots. A special shout-out to the students from Prescott High School who not only gave well-researched statements, but who stole all of the best talking points before the ACLU got a chance to speak. They are right: mascots are better when they are animals and we should not treat people like mascots.

Why Oppose Racist Mascots:
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.

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 AB 35 on race-based nicknames, mascots and logos and encourages the Assembly Education Committee to support this bill. Assembly Bill 35 won’t end discrimination in our public schools, but it is an important step forward.

CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVE

1. Find out who your Wisconsin State Assembly Representative is:
http://www.legis.wisconsin.gov/w3asp/waml/waml.aspx

2. Call or email about your support of AB 35.

3. If you live in a committee member’s district (see below), be sure to say you want them to support the bill in the hearing on March 17th.

4. Tell Stacy that you contacted your legislator: sharbaugh@aclu-wi.org.

Assembly Education Committee members:
Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts (chair), D-Verona, 79th
(608) 266-3520
(888) 534-0079
Rep.Pope-Roberts@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Kristen Dexter (vice-chair), D-Eau Claire, 68th
(608) 266-9172
Rep.Dexter@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Steve Hilgenberg, D-Dodgeville, 51st
(608) 266-7502
(888) 534-0051
Rep.Hilgenberg@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, 20th
(608) 266-8588
(888) 534-0020
Rep.Sinicki@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Kim Hixon, D-Whitewater, 43rd
(608) 266-9650
Rep.Hixson@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, 93rd
(608) 266-0660
Rep.Smith@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, 7th
(608) 266-1733
Rep.Krusick@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Mark Radcliffe, D-Black River Falls, 92nd
(608) 266-7461
(888) 534-0092
Rep.Radcliffe@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, 80th
(608) 266-1192
(888) 534-0080
Rep.Davis@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, 31st
(608) 266-5715
(888) 529-0031
Rep.Nass@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. John Townsend, R-Fond du Lac, 52nd
(608) 266-3156
(888) 529-0052
Rep.Townsend@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, 14th
(608) 266-9180
Rep.Vukmir@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, 89th
(608) 266-2343
Rep.Nygren@legis.wisconsin.gov

News update: prison rate quadrupled, ban racist mascots, Obama reviews BC denial regs, more

11 Mar

Prison population rate quadrupled
Wisconsin has been doing a great job warehousing people. Monday’s Pew Center on the States report on incarceration shows that our state quadrupled its prison population in the last 25 years. We’re in the top 10 of states with accelerated incarceration rates. Nationally, it’s more like one in 31 people is behind bars. It’s a complicated picture of why so many people are in jail, but the “truth in sentencing” trends in punishing crimes has led to the denial of parole for even non-violent crimes. You can see characters “getting out for good behavior” in old movies, but not in Wisconsin today. In his budget proposal, Governor Doyle suggests that we look at early release for some incarcerated people and put them on probation instead. Early release and probation is cheaper than the warehouse: $3.42 versus $78.95. Now if we can just let people with felony convictions vote when they are released, we might have a better budget for taxpayers and a truer democracy for citizens.

Ban racist mascots
There is some attention being paid to the proposed law to ban racist mascots, including this editorial from the Appleton Post Crescent. Having a law that recognizes why race-based mascots for public schools are inherently an act of government discrimination would be a step in the right direction. The proposed law is fair, gives the community a chance to raise their voice in opposition to the mascot, and gives the Department of Public Instruction the responsibility of having a hearing on it.

Obama reviewing Bush rule on birth control denial
On the reproductive rights front, <a href="
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022701104_pf.html”>President Obama is taking a look at what can be done about Bush’s end-of-term passage of the unbalanced Department of Health and Human Services regulations on religious-based refusals of reproductive health care, including birth control prescriptions. The ACLU took a stand against the HHS regs because they gave too much power to health care providers to refuse prescriptions and care, even at the expense of patient safety. In a time of recession, high unemployment rates and chronic numbers of uninsured women, access to birth control and other reproductive health care services should not be compromised. Now that the Obama administration is reviewing the regulations, the ACLU hopes that an effective solution can be found to restore the balance between health care workers’ right to religious liberty and patients’ rights to barrier-free reproductive health care.
Read more about how the ACLU was among the hundreds of thousands of comments about the HHS regs before their passage.

Local events:
Community potluck and film screening on the criminalization of free speech activity at the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities 2008
Saturday, March 28, 7:00 pm, Madison Infoshop, 1019 Williamson St. Get an update on activists jailed for the political organizing of protesters. Suggested donation $5-10. www.terrorizingdissent.org

Prison issues film series (2nd Thursday of every month
Thursday, March 12, 7:00 pm, Rainbow Bookstore, 426 W Gillman St.
Wisconsin Books to Prisoners sponsors the films which will be shown in Wisconsin prisons one week and to the public the following week in order to facilitate a discussion between those inside and outside the system.
This month – “Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House”
“After gaining unprecedented permission from the Justice Department to gain access to the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, two indie filmmakers spent 5 weeks inside ‘the walls’ and produced a hard-edged and shocking expose of incarceration in the U.S.”

More legal observer trainings scheduled, attitudes about race and the election and more

21 Jul

Here’s the news round up for today and an announcement about a great opportunity to volunteer for the ACLU and have a direct impact on civil liberties in Madison.

Protest Rights/Free Speech
Reminder: the next ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Legal Observer training is coming up on Thursday!

These free workshops are for anyone who wants to defend free speech and assembly by becoming a volunteer legal observer for the ACLU of Wisconsin. Volunteers only have to participate in one workshop to be trained. Bilingual volunteers are especially encouraged to get involved.

Thursday, July 24th – 6-8pm; Madison Public Library, Central (downtown) location, 2nd floor, room 202

Monday, August 18th – 6-8pm; Madison Public Library, Central (downtown) location, 2nd floor, room 204

RSVPs required: email sharbaugh@aclu-wi.org or call (608) 469-5540 if you plan on attending a workshop. Please forward this announcement to friends who are also interested in supporting everyone’s right (even if not always the content) of people’s right to freedom of speech, assembly and protest.

What Are Legal Observers?
Legal Observers are trained volunteers who are legal witnesses to political demonstrations and who document the events of public protests, including any incidents of police misconduct or violations of the rights of protesters. Legal Observers are committed to defending free speech in a way that is as objective as possible so that their documentation of public protests can be used as evidence if police misconduct or obstructions to Constitutionally-protected free speech are challenged in court. As a Legal Observer, volunteers can commit to being among others who are free speech defenders, but also aren’t expected to be at every rally – volunteers pick which protests to observe with neutrality and can choose not to volunteer at protests where they wish to be participants.

Speaking of protest…
Did anyone catch the Madtown Liberty Players at the Farmers Market this weekend? They did a skit on wiretapping which has been recently amended: the updated skit shows the now-legal wiretapping occurring with the aid of a democratic donkey.


In the skit, a puppet representing a spying Bush eavesdrops on Franklin and Jefferson’s communications about how people who give up some liberty for a little security deserve neither.


Sadly, the street theater skit is more relevant than ever.

Immigrant Rights
Here is an interesting LA Times feature about the anxiety undocumented students feel about getting their education, but remaining “illegal” after they graduate. Courts ruled that public schools can offer education to children of undocumented immigrants (and recent grants such as the ones to the Wisconsin Department of PUblic Instruction go to teaching English and culture to immigrant children), but higher education continues to be either a haven or out of reach.

Racial Justice
If anyone still doubts that race will play a factor in the 2008 elections, check out this story about the results of a UW-Madison PolySci/WisPolitics poll. Note that the respondents to the survey were mostly white making it more of an example about the motivations they feel on the issue, rather than the opinions of people of color in Wisconsin as they look to November.

Voting Rights
WI statewide voter database is still working out kinks. The expensive Accenture database is supposed to be a system to ensure that properly registered voters are identified at the polls, but flaws in the system still exist and the potential for non-matches can be connected to common errors. All the more reason to register early and get a confirmation before you get to the polls.

National news – Terrorist Watch List, FISA Fight Continues, and more

29 Feb

February 29, 2008

Congress Must Stand Up to Bush Fear-Mongering over FISA

Two weeks ago, leaders in the House finally stood up to President Bush’s fear-mongering and his dangerous demands, including presidential spying powers that defy the Constitution and retroactive immunity for telecom companies that turned over private information without a warrant.

There’s no predicting what happens next — and no guaranteeing that House leaders will continue to hold the line. That’s why the ACLU is pulling out all the stops — we ran an ad in USA Today on Tuesday to frame the debate, we’re gathering tens of thousands of signatures urging House leaders to stand their ground, and soon, we will be launching “Calling for Freedom,” an all-out calling campaign aimed at flooding Congress with our message.

Click here to see the ad.

>> Take action: Tell Congress: “Keep Standing Up to Bush Fear Mongering”.

>> Ask your friends to sign the petition.

Supreme Court Refuses to Review Warrantless Wiretapping Case

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the ACLU’s petition asking it to hear ACLU v. NSA, our case against the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The ACLU filed this case two years ago to put an end to government spying on innocent Americans through National Security Agency surveillance.

From the start, the government’s argument has been that the case should be dismissed under the state secrets privilege, but that did not convince the district court in Michigan, which ruled that the NSA’s program is unconstitutional and should be stopped. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, asserted that our plaintiffs could not prove their communications had been tapped and dismissed the case.

“Although we are deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s refusal to review this case, it is worth noting that today’s action says nothing about the case’s merits and does not suggest in any way an endorsement of the lower court’s decision,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU. “The court’s unwillingness to act makes it even more important that Congress insist on legislative safeguards that will protect civil liberties without jeopardizing national security.”

>> Read more about unchecked government surveillance.

Government Again Downplays Widespread Racism Before U.N. Committee

Click here to learn about racial discrimination in your state.

Representatives from over 125 U.S.-based social justice organizations last week observed a session at the United Nations where an international panel of experts closely scrutinized the U.S. human rights record regarding racial discrimination.

High-ranking U.S. government officials had to answer very tough questions about racial discrimination in the United States. Yet, they continued to downplay the effects of widespread discrimination in this country during questioning before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Throughout the hearings, the CERD committee questioned the government delegation on several issues raised by the ACLU in its 2007 report, Race & Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice. The ACLU’s report examines human rights violations, including events that took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, escalating police brutality and racial profiling, the dramatic increase in anti-immigrant acts and practices, the exploitation of migrant workers, and the “school to prison pipeline,” whereby the criminal justice system overzealously funnels students of color out of classrooms and on a path toward prison.

“It takes more than empty words and unenforced laws to claim high moral ground and leadership on human rights,” said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “To be true to its ideals and to fulfill its treaty obligations, the U.S. must take vigorous and proactive measures against racial and ethnic inequality.”

>> Read the ACLU’s report, Race & Ethnicity in America, and blog posts from ACLU staff who were in Geneva.

Terrorist Watch List Nears One Million

It wasn’t long after 9/11 that we began hearing from Americans who were having problems getting on airplanes because, they were told, their names were on terrorist watch lists. In typical Bush Administration style, these systems had been roughly thrown together with little thought for questions of guilt or innocence or fairness to those unfairly targeted.

In the years since, our nation’s out-of-control watch lists have received a lot of terrible publicity, such as when famous people like Sen. Ted Kennedy or Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) got trapped on them, or when 60 Minutes discovered that the list included the president of Bolivia, dead people, and dozens of common American names like Robert Johnson and John Williams. Despite all this publicity, and the problems faced by thousands or millions of frustrated innocent American citizens, the problem has not gotten better. In fact, it has gotten even worse.

Based on numbers contained in a report issued by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, the watch list is growing by 20,000 records a month — and now exceeds 917,000 people. And it’s growing by the minute — a growth that you can view in real time on our new page, which displays a rolling, real-time counter showing how many names are on the list, according to that DOJ report.

>> Learn more about the ACLU Watch List Counter.

Order To Shut Down Wikileaks.org Violates First Amendment

The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a motion this week to intervene in a lawsuit that led a federal district judge to order the domain name Wikileaks.org shut down. The motion is on behalf of organizations and individuals that have accessed and used documents on the Wikileaks.org website in their work and want to continue to be able to do so.

The website was established to allow participants to anonymously disclose documents of public interest, including materials discussing such issues of national importance as U.S. Army operations at Guantánamo Bay, human rights abuses in China, and political corruption in Kenya.

Earlier this month, Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California ordered domain registrar Dynadot, LLC to shut down the domain name Wikileaks.org based on allegations that a former employee of Swiss Bank Julius Baer posted documents on the website that highlighted the bank’s dealings in the Cayman Islands.

The permanent injunction has the effect of blocking access to all of the content contained on the website accessed through the domain name Wikileaks.org, even though the overwhelming majority of those documents and materials are unrelated to the Bank Julius Baer complaint and concern matters of significant public interest.

“The public has a right to receive information and ideas, especially ones concerning the public interest,” said Aden Fine, senior staff attorney with the ACLU. “This injunction ignores that vital First Amendment principle.”

The ACLU and EFF are seeking to intervene on behalf of themselves; the Project on Government Oversight, which works to investigate systemic waste, fraud, and abuse in all federal agencies; and Jordan McCorkle, a student at the University of Texas who uses the website on a regular basis.

>> Read the ACLU’s motion.

ACLU Sues to Protect Marriages Threatened by Recent Court Decision

The ACLU of Pennsylvania began a statewide challenge to a recent court decision that invalidates marriages presided over by a minister who doesn’t regularly serve in a physical church or house of worship.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of three couples married in Pennsylvania by clergy who do not regularly preach in a church or to an established congregation. The couples seek judicial declarations that their marriages are valid under Pennsylvania law. The ruling potentially affects thousands of marriages, such as ACLU plaintiffs Peter Goldberger and Anna Durbin who were married in 1976.

“What we want is to fix a problem that never should have existed in the first place,” said Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The state has no business invalidating marriages just because it doesn’t like the kind of minister who officiated them.”

The issue arose in September 2007 when York County Judge Maria Musti Cook ruled that the marriage of Dorie Heyer and Jacob Hollerbush was invalid because it had been performed by a minister of the Universal Life Church who obtained his ordination over the Internet. In Heyer v. Hollerbush, the court held that the marriage never existed because the minister who solemnized it did not serve a congregation or preach in a physical house of worship.

>> Read more about this case.