american civil liberties union

The courts have been crystal clear on this matter. You have a right, under the First Amendment of the Constitution, to take photographs or video of anything in public. … the police certainly don’t have the right to look at your camera or seize your phone without a warrant.
—  Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. Watch his interview on Democracy Now! today.
Massachusetts SWAT teams claim they’re private corporations, immune from open records laws

As part of the American Civil Liberties Union’s recent report on police militarization, the Massachusetts chapter of the organization sent open records requests to SWAT teams across that state. It received an interesting response.

As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments. In 2012, for example, the Tewksbury Police Department paid about $4,600 in annual membership dues to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. (See page 36 of linked PDF.) That LEC has about 50 member agencies. In addition to operating a regional SWAT team, the LECs also facilitate technology and information sharing and oversee other specialized units, such as crime scene investigators and computer crime specialists.

Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501©(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501©(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests. Let’s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.

that’s it people. lone star security is alive and operating under the name NEMLEC. cyberpunk is officially here.

See the video here 

ACLU Releases App to Record Police Encounters 

“The ACLU has launched a mobile app designed to help people record police incidents and prevent the video from being deleted or destroyed.

The app release comes as protesters flood Baltimore in a stand against the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. He suffered a fatal spine injury while in police custody.

Footage taken on the Mobile Justice app goes directly to ACLU lawyers for review, who keep it in case law enforcement wants to seize the original copy.

“Mobile Justice is more than recording on your cellphone,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli with the ACLU San Diego. “It’s like carrying an ACLU attorney in your pocket.“

Users can also write and send reports about a police encounter, as well as receive alerts when another user is recording an incident nearby.

Bystanders’ cellphone videos have helped launch the deaths of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray into the national spotlight, prompting concerns over excessive use of force.

San Diego Police Department Lt. Scott Wahl released the following statement about the app’s release:

“The concept is great. The filming of police officers out in public is not against the law. We only ask the public to not interfere or obstruct the police in doing their job.” 

The ACLU recommends that users announce they are pulling out their phones to record something safely. A section of the app titled “Know your rights” explains more about where and when to record.”

Read the full piece here

Federal Agents Confiscate Cell Phone Surveillance Records From Florida Police To Prevent ACLU Review

The US Marshals Services has intervened in a dispute between a Florida police department and the ACLU, with the Marshals sweeping in at the last minute to seize controversial cell phone records before the ACLU was able to review them.

Earlier this year the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Sarasota Police Department in an attempt to compel them to turn over records on the police’s use of its “Stingray” devices.

The powerful Stingray equipment has drawn the ire of civil liberties advocates nervous about its ability to essentially act as a fake cell tower and collects information from each of phone that connects to it.

The ACLU, which asserts that the Stingray enables the “electronic equivalent of dragnet ‘general searches’ prohibited by the Fourth Amendment,” convinced the court to force the Sarasota police to make the documents available for review.

ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed told Wired that the US Marshals sent an agent from the Tampa area to Sarasota to pick up the documents so the police would be unable to disclose them.

Wessler described the incident as “truly extraordinary and beyond the worst transparency violations” the ACLU has seen regarding use of the Stingray.

This is consistent with what we’ve seen around the country with federal agencies trying to meddle with public requests for Stingray information,” he said, adding that officials have used the Homeland Security Act in the past to keep the documents under lock and key. “The feds are working very hard to block any release of this information to the public.

How Nonviolent People Are Sentenced to Die in Prison Because of the War on Drugs

In the United States, one can be sentenced to life in prison for the following crimes:

  • Possessing a crack pipe
  • Possessing a bottle cap containing a trace amount of heroin (too minute to be weighed)
  • Having traces of cocaine in clothes pockets that were invisible to the naked eye but detected in lab tests
  • Having a single crack rock at home
  • Possessing 32 grams of marijuana (worth about $380 in California) with intent to distribute
  • Passing out several grams of LSD at a Grateful Dead show
  • Acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 worth of marijuana to an undercover cop
  • Selling a single crack rock
  • Having a stash of over-the-counter decongestant pills

These are not hypothetical. Every single one of these petty, nonviolent drug crimes have landed Americans in prison for life without parole.

Life in prison without a chance of parole is, short of execution, the harshest imaginable punishment. Life without parole (LWOP) is permanent removal from society with no chance of reentry, no hope of freedom. One would expect the American criminal justice system to condemn someone to die in prison only for the most serious offenses.

Yet across the country, thousands of people are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes such as those listed above. 

As of last year, 3,278 people were serving life in prison without parole for nonviolent crimes, according to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week.

And to no one’s surprise, about 79 percent of the 3,278 prisoners serving LWOP were sentenced to die in prison for nonviolent drug crimes in the federal system.

How is this possible?

Mandatory sentencing laws that stem from America’s fervent, decades-long crusade against drugs.

The vast majority (83 percent) of life sentences examined by the ACLU were mandatory, meaning that the presiding judge had no choice but to sentence the defendant to a life behind bars. Mandatory sentences often result from repeat offender laws and draconian sentencing rules. Such federal standards for drug convictions are what land nonviolent criminals in prison for LWOP.

The prevalence of LWOP sentences for nonviolent offenses is a symptom of the relentless onslaught of more than four decades of the War on Drugs and “tough-on crime” policies, which drove the passage of unnecessarily harsh sentencing laws, including three-strikes provisions (which mandate certain sentences for a third felony conviction) and mandatory minimum sentences (which require judges to punish people convicted of certain crimes by at least a mandatory minimum number of years in prison). 

These inflexible, often extremely lengthy, “one-size-fits-all” sentencing laws prevent judges from tailoring punishment to the individual and the seriousness of the offense, barring them from considering factors such as the individual’s role in the offense or the likelihood that he or she will commit a subsequent crime.

Federal judges have long been outspoken in their opposition to mandatory sentencing laws. Judge Andre M. Davis of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote: “I say with certainty that mandatory minimums are unfair and unjust. These laws, created by an overzealous Congress decades ago … hinder judges from handing out fair and individualized sentences, while prosecutors are given unwarranted power to dictate sentences through charging decisions.”

How do petty drug crimes add up to life without parole?

Three federal drug offenses can result in LWOP, even if the offenses are relatively minor. For example, a federal conviction for possessing 50 grams of methamphetamine carries a mandatory life-without-parole sentence if the defendant has previously been convicted of two other felony drug offenses, which can be as minor as selling personal amounts of marijuana.

A handful of states have instituted mandatory LWOP sentences for certain drug offenses. In Alabama, a conviction for selling more than 56 grams of heroin results in a mandatory LWOP sentence. Similarly, a person convicted of selling two ounces of cocaine in Mississippi must receive LWOP. To put these sentences in perspective, the average time served for murder in the U.S. is 14 years.

While laws such as these were enacted in part out of concern about drug abuse and drug-related crime, the penalties they prescribe have not succeeded in curbing drug use or addiction rates, which have essentially remained flat for 40 years. Instead, the laws have contributed to mass incarceration in the U.S. 

The ACLU report contains the in-depth stories of 110 individual prisoners waiting to die behind bars for nonviolent offenses, along with more detailed information about mandatory sentencing.

Thanks to Mother Jones and the ACLU

Police encounters kill hundreds of disabled Americans every year, ACLU argues

The American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief arguing that hundreds of disabled Americans are killed in police encounters every year. It was filed in support of a mentally ill woman suing police for shooting her five times.

 In the case of San Francisco v. Sheehan, Teresa Sheehan argued  that police shot her five times even though she was experiencing  a “psychiatric emergency.” The US Supreme Court will  hear oral arguments in the case on Monday

ACLU: We’re only interested in protecting some civil rights

Enter the American Civil Liberties Union. There was a time when the ACLU was an organization that took on government overreach in an attempt to protect the civil liberties of ordinary Americans in spite of how unpopular it was to do so. Those days seem to be behind us.

From HotAir:

The organization that once went to court to ensure that the American Nazi Party could parade through Skokie, Illinois in an exercise of free speech no longer wants to support the exercise of religion guaranteed in the same First Amendment. The ACLU’s deputy legal director published the organization’s backpedaling from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act the day before the Obergefell decision that will make it even more critical. If it’s not being used to help Muslims in prison and Native Americans in unemployment insurance, writes Louise Melling, just skip it:

The ACLU supported the RFRA’s passage at the time because it didn’t believe the Constitution, as newly interpreted by the Supreme Court, would protect people such as Iknoor Singh, whose religious expression does not harm anyone else. But we can no longer support the law in its current form. For more than 15 years, we have been concerned about how the RFRA could be used to discriminate against others. As the events of the past couple of years amply illustrate, our fears were well-founded. While the RFRA may serve as a shield to protect Singh, it is now often used as a sword to discriminate against women, gay and transgender people and others. Efforts of this nature will likely only increase should the Supreme Court rule — as is expected — that same-sex couples have the freedom to marry.

…Yes, religious freedom needs protection. But religious liberty doesn’t mean the right to discriminate or to impose one’s views on others.

Read the Rest

Anyone with half a brain and an ounce of objectivity could see this sort of thing coming a mile away. The current climate seems to be less about equality and more about pushing an ideology. After all, true equality would be the state treating everyone equally by getting out of the marriage business altogether while also protecting the rights of everyone – including those who choose not to condone certain marriages or participate in certain weddings. But we’re not doing either of those things. In fact, we’re doing the opposite. We’re increasing government’s hand in marriage while also coercing conscientious objectors to do something that violates their beliefs.

At the end of the excerpted piece, the ACLU says that “religious liberty doesn’t mean the right to discriminate or to impose one’s views on others.”

This statement could not be more contradictory.

First of all, liberty (religious or otherwise) does most certainly include the right of an individual to choose with whom they would like to engage in various activities. The ACLU may not like it, but it’s the truth. Coercing someone to enter into a contract or work against their will is quite the opposite of liberty, by definition.

But they follow this up with the statement that people shouldn’t be able to impose their views on others. This is interesting seeing as how this is exactly what they’re defending by telling Christian bakers that they must bake a cake. And therein lies the contradiction. They are defending gay people who impose their views on bakers (or photographers, etc). The ACLU isn’t standing up for rights or liberty here. They have simply chosen an ideology and are sticking with it.
In case you wondering, the ACLU doesn't think potential employers should have the right to access your Facebook password, either. Here's what ACLU attorney Catherine Crump had to say:

It’s an invasion of privacy for private employers to insist on looking at people’s private Facebook pages as a condition of employment or consideration in an application process.  People are entitled to their private lives. You’d be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It’s equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person’s private social media account.

In case you missed it, we wrote a nice long rant about this a couple of days ago. Suffice it to say, we were not bullish on the idea that employers could access your Facebook account so you could get a job.

Illinois Passes New Bill Criminalizing The Recording Of Police And Other Gov't Officials

Illinois Passes New Bill Criminalizing The Recording Of Police And Other Gov’t Officials

In an age with almost universal access to smart phones and other digital devices, the Illinois legislature has sent outgoing Governor Pat Quinn a bill that may criminalize the recording of confrontations with police and other government officials.

At the same time, the proposed law would give law enforcement officers license to record whatever conversations they want, without any prior judicial…

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ACLU eases off BART lawsuit

The American Civil Liberties Union is easing off threats of a lawsuit against the Bay Area Rapid Transit after a meeting was held between associates of the group and BART’s Chief of Police on Monday.

The meeting came as dozens of demonstrators, organized by the online group Anonymous, shut down four BART platforms in San Francisco in response to the transit agency’s decision to bring down cell phone networks to prevent a smaller protest last week.

Demonstrators claim their constitutional right to free speech was violated, while BART claims their platforms are not a free speech zone.

The FCC says it is looking into BART’s phone jamming, but has not yet launched a formal investigation.

So far, the documents released by the government raise more questions than they answer, but they do confirm one troubling fact: that no senior officials have been held to account for the widespread abuse of detainees. Without real accountability for these abuses, we risk inviting more abuse in the future.
—  A statement from the ACLU • Regarding a series of documents they released detailing the deaths of 190 US detainees, some of which have been reported by the media, but others are new. A handful – around 25 to 30 – are what the ACLU describes as “unjustified homicide.” One disturbing finding – over 25 percent of the deaths listed were due to cardiac problems, which leads to questions over how detainees are being confined. For its part, the Department of Defense, uh, defends itself. "Although there have been cases of individuals involved in misconduct,“ said Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher,  "there is no evidence of systematic abuse by the United States military.” Food for thought? source (viafollow)

“This confirms everything that we know about private prisons,” says [one of the co-authors of] the ACLU report. “They just come with a lot of these problems. Because of the profit motive, they tend to skip on medical care, training and all sorts of things, and that leads to the types of problems that we’ve seen at the Lake Erie facility…Where I was surprised is, I really thought that CCA was so fixated on making sure that this would work that they wouldn’t allow the facility to go as downhill as it has so quickly.”

more on the privately owned Lake Erie Correctional Institution, here.

Happy birthday, Anthony Romero!

Anthony D. Romero is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Romero was born in New York City on July 9, 1965, to Puerto Rican parents Demetrio and Coralie Romero. He was raised in the Bronx.

Romero was the first member of his family to graduate high school. He graduated from Princeton University‘s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1987 and from Stanford University Law School, and is a member of the New York Bar. He was a Dinkelspiel Scholar at Stanford University, a Cane Scholar at Princeton, and a National Hispanic Scholar at both institutions.

Anthony Romero became executive director in September 2001, a week before the September 11, 2001 attacks. He is the first openly gay man and the first Hispanic director of the civil liberties institution. In his time as the executive director he has nearly doubled the organization’s budget and increased its staff by a similar amount.

In his capacity as ACLU head, he has been involved in opposition to several policies taken under Bush administration’s ’War on Terror’. Referring to the August 17, 2006, federal court declaration that the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” was unconstitutional, Romero called the court’s opinion “another nail in the coffin in the Bush administration’s legal strategy in the War on Terror”.

In 2005, he was named one of Time Magazines 25 Most Influential Hispanics.
A.C.L.U., Citing Bias Against Women, Wants Inquiry Into Hollywood’s Hiring Practices
The organization will ask state and federal agencies to look into what it calls rampant and intentional gender discrimination in recruiting and hiring of female directors.
By Cara Buckley

How interesting… Grab the popcorn gang. This could get messy.

8-Months Pregnant Charlena Michelle Cooks Slammed to Ground by Cops

8-Months Pregnant Charlena Michelle Cooks Slammed to Ground by Cops

8-Months Pregnant Charlena Michelle Cooks Slammed to Ground by Cops SHOCK:  Eight months pregnant Charlena Michelle Cooks was slammed to the ground by Barstow, Calif., cops after a parking dispute erupted as she dropped her child off at school. The city of Barstow defended the officers’ actions saying Cooks was actively resisting arrest during the January incident. Cooks was thrown to the ground…

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