Archive for the 'Police Practices' Category

ACLU of Florida at the RNC: August 27 – Welcome to Tampa

Baylor Johnson
ACLU of Florida Online Advocacy Coordinator

Inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tropical Storm Isaac reduced the first day’s program for the Republican National Convention down to a 30-second introduction.

But there was still a full day of free-speech activity on the streets of Tampa. The storm may have diminished the size of the protests – busses dropping off out-of-town protesters from across the state and region wouldn’t drive into a tropical storm warning zone – there were nevertheless hundreds of protesters on the streets braving the wet to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Tampa Protesters: "Welcome to Tampa"After a quick morning conference call with our state headquarters in Miami, we headed out to our mobile resource center along the official parade route for the “March on the RNC,” a large rally and march scheduled for midday. Although their numbers were less than expected (event organizers had expected as many as 5,000, but they ended up with somewhere around 700-800), the crowd was nevertheless very vocal and welcoming of the ACLU of Florida and took hundreds of copies of our First Amendment Toolkit.

When the march arrived at the public viewing area, where police far outnumbered the protesters, a small group led an un-permitted march back up along the parade route. Police initially held them back, but ultimately relented and let them head back along the route which they came.

Following the March on the RNC, our staff headed up to “Romneyville,” delivering our toolkit to religious and medical policy groups we encountered on the way. Romneyville is the “Occupy”-style encampment on the north end of downtown. They were planning an unpermitted march through downtown, and we distributed materials to the attendees and answered questions about protesters’ rights before the march started.

Though our staff left before the march got underway, we heard from people who were present that the police in riot gear allowed them to march unpermitted for a few blocks and then ultimately stopped them. Protesters sat down locking arms, preparing for arrests, but a Tampa police official kneeled down and spoke with demonstrators at the front, explaining that the sidewalks were open. The crowd dispersed with no arrests.

Tampa Bicycle Police at the RNCMonday evening, I was given press credentials to go inside the convention center to talk to reporters about protesters’ rights and security. If the police presence around the protest areas was large, it was nothing like the security apparatus around the convention center and arena.

But in spite of the sheer numbers of police, the relationship of mutual respect that police and city officials worked to sustain with protest groups throughout the planning process and at our First Amendment forums seems to have held up during the first day of the convention. And as of Monday, there were only two arrests in Tampa related to the RNC.

But the ACLU has seen seemingly neutral security laws spiral out of control at these conventions in years past, which is why we started a national petition to the mayors of Tampa and Charlotte asking them to protect free speech. We’ll continue to make sure that people’s free speech rights are being respected and protected and celebrate free speech at the RNC.

(Note: Images or descriptions of protests during the Republican National Convention do not represent an ACLU of Florida endorsement of the individual, organization or message. The ACLU of Florida is in Tampa to promote the First Amendment rights of all groups.)

ACLU of Florida at the RNC – August 28: The Calm Before the Storm

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

Today was my first full day in Tampa for the Republican National Convention, but the time I spent with other ACLU staff distributing our First Amendment Toolkit to coalition groups and organizing volunteers was hardly the first day that I or the rest of the ACLU of Florida has been working on the RNC. In the past year, we’ve had forums with city and police officials and First Amendment experts (note: by watching video of the First Amendment Forum, Google and Youtube will put a permanent cookie on your computer), we’ve developed resources for protesters – we’ve worked hard to make sure that everyone’s rights are respected and protected during the convention. This weekend  marks the transition from that year-long preparation phase to the work of promoting and celebrating free speech on the streets of Tampa.

ACLU of Florida resource center vehicle at the RNCYesterday, just before the roads around the arena were closed for the week, our staff placed a rented vehicle full of ACLU materials and “Know Your Rights” resources at a spot along the official parade route to serve as our resource center inside the event zone.

Our spot, just four blocks from the arena, puts us right in the middle of where many protests will take place, so we can serve as a convenient resource for people seeking information about their rights as protesters, what some of the limitations are on protests during the RNC and what to do if stopped by police throughout the week.

For now though, we wait. Tropical storm Isaac has thrown a curveball at everyone whose work involves the RNC, from the convention planners, to city officials, to protest groups and organizations like the ACLU of Florida who work to protect their rights. The first day of the official convention schedule has been reduced to a quick pro forma meeting, and some of the other events planned for Monday around the convention have been cancelled or postponed.

So after spending our day with one eye on our preparations and one eye on the weather reports, we’ve made the decision to cancel volunteer activities tomorrow, August 28th, for safety and practicality reasons.

But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still busy. ACLU of Florida Field Coordinator Nikki Fisher and I are spending our evening contacting volunteers, while others are distributing our First Amendment Toolkit at events in Tampa and St. Pete, including at a big rally at Tropicana Field. And our board president, Mike Pheneger, worked with one group today to secure their permit to do a major art installation in downtown Tampa. And tomorrow we will all

Tomorrow, Isaac will have its impact on Tampa, and on Tuesday, the protests and the convention ramp back up to their previously-expected intensity. And so today, as we prepare for the intensity of the coming days, we’re both literally and figuratively in the calm before the storm.

(Note: Images or descriptions of protests during the Republican National Convention do not represent an ACLU of Florida endorsement of the individual, organization or message. The ACLU of Florida is in Tampa to promote the First Amendment rights of all groups.)

The RNC is coming. Is the Bill of Rights Ready?

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

First AmendmentAt the end of this month, thousands of protesters, journalists, and political activists will descend on the Tampa Bay area for the 2012 Republican National Convention. And with their arrival comes increased police presence, new local laws, and millions of dollars in surveillance and law enforcement equipment, all of which will change the way citizens in the area live their lives and understand their rights.

Join us on Tuesday, August 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. for 2012 RNC in Tampa: What You Need to Know, a free forum on what the RNC means for you and what you can do to protect your rights. We’ll discuss the rights of demonstrators and photographers, the permitting process and other rules and restrictions passed for the event, and take questions from the attendees on how you can stand up for your rights.

The event will feature leaders from the ACLU of Florida; First Amendment experts Dr. Bruce Friesen from the University of Tampa Human Rights Think Tank, and Prof. Louis Virelli of Stetson University College of Law; and civic leaders such as Public Defender Julianne Holt, Tampa City Attorney James Shimberg, and Tampa Police Department Assistant Chief John Bennett.

The event is co-sponsored by the University of Tampa and is free and open to the public. To RSVP or if you have any additional questions or comments, please contact our Mid-Florida Regional Director Joyce Hamilton Henry at jhamiltonhenry@aclufl.org.

Invite your friends, family, and anyone else who will be impacted by the RNC. We look forward to seeing you at the forum!

July 10 Webinar on the RNC in Tampa

First Amendment BullhornBaylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

In just over two months, our state will be at the center of global attention, as thousands of journalists, political activists, and protesters descend on Tampa for the 2012 Republican National Convention. How will policies and laws put into place for the Convention impact the rights of the reporters, demonstrators, and the citizens of Florida? And what can we do to ensure that our First Amendment rights and other freedoms are being upheld?

Join us online on Tuesday, July 10 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. for a free know-your-rights webinar, 2012 RNC in Tampa: What You Need to Know. We’ll discuss the rights of demonstrators and photographers, the permitting process and other rules and restrictions passed for the event, and take questions from the webinar attendees on how you can stand up for your rights.

The webinar will feature speakers from the ACLU of Florida, the Public Defender’s Office, as well as Tampa City Attorney James Shimberg, and Tampa Police Department Chief Jane Castor and Assistant Chief John Bennett.

Register for the webinar today to reserve your spot. You will receive an email with log-in information after you have registered. For additional questions or comments, contact our Mid-Florida Regional Director Joyce Hamilton Henry at jhamiltonhenry@aclufl.org.

UPDATE 7/10: Excitement for the webinar has exceeded our expectations! So many people have registered to learn to protect their rights that we may exceed the capacity for the webinar. If you have registered, try to log in early to ensure your spot in the webinar. If the webinar is full when you attempt to log in, keep trying, or follow us on Twitter as we livetweet the event at @ACLUFL, and download the PowerPoint (approx. 3MB) here.

Standing On Shaky Ground: Rick Scott’s Defense Of Selective Constitutional Rights

Guest Post
By Martha Jackovics
Beach Peanuts
beachpeanuts@gmail.com
@BeachPeanuts

On the very same day that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn sent a request to Gov. Rick Scott to restrict carrying firearms during the Republican Convention this summer, the governor responded:

No.

Not exactly a shocking response from the gun owner, NRA member, and the man who stacked the new Stand Your Ground Task Force with gun friendly lawmakers,some who actually wrote the law and have already defended it as it pertains to Trayvon Martin case in op-eds before they were appointed.

From The Tampa Tribune:

“The short answer to your request is found in the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in Article 1, Section 8 of the Florida Constitution,” Scott replied.

Both sections guarantee citizens’ rights to keep and bear guns, he noted.

In his letter, Buckhorn appealed to the governor to restrict carrying firearms during the RNC in downtown Tampa under the emergency powers granted to the governor during times of emergency. Given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the RNC, placing no limits on gun possession could increase the threat to public safety, Buckhorn’s letter argued.

Scott replied that he understood Buckhorn’s concern. The city already plans to ban sticks, poles, water guns and lots of other potential weapons from a downtown “event zone.”

(In his letter, Scott adds this: “Firearms are noticeably included, however, in the 2nd Amendment. The choice to allow the government to ban sticks and poles, but not firearms, is one that the People made in enacting their state and federal constitutions.)

“But it is unclear how disarming law-abiding citizens would better protect them from the dangers and threats posed by those who would flout the law,” Scott wrote. “It is at just such times that the constitutional right to self defense is most precious and must be protected from government overreach.”

Scott said he was confident law enforcement would be able to protect Tampa’s citizens and visitors without the extra step of banning guns.

Buckhorn said he wasn’t concerned with people licensed to carry concealed weapons, a list that used to include him. He said he was more worried about one of those licensed weapons getting loose and landing in the wrong hands.

“Some of the people that will be here in August are not exactly model citizens,” he said. “I think even the most ardent 2nd Amendment supporter would understand why I made that request.”

Yes, even the most ardent 2nd Amendment supporters would understand Buckhorn’s point, (not to mention law-enforcement officers) but this is Rick Scott we’re talking about, and we can add this to the very long list of things that he fails to understand about governing. 

Also not shocking is the hypocrisy employed in Scott’s decision. 

It seems Gov. Scott would prefer risking a “shootout at the O.K. Corral” situation rather than diss the NRA trample on one’s constitutional rights. After all, Scott is a well known defender of constitutional rights!

Except when he isn’t.

Also in his letter to Mayor Buckhorn, Scott wrote

“We have had political conventions in this country since the dawn of the Republic. They are an essential means of furthering our constitutional rights to free speech and to vote. “Our fundamental right to keep and bear arms has coexisted with those freedoms for just as long, and I see no reason to depart from that tradition this year.”

Surely you jest, Gov. Overreach? Our constitutional rights to free speech and to vote? In Rick Scott’s Florida, constitutional rights are selective.

For example, some would say that the concept of free speech ceased to exist once Scott bought his way into Tallahassee and declared Florida “Open For Business.Scott’s alliance with “big business” has been beneficial to both, and he seems to be a firm believer in the Mitt Romney school of thought:

“Corporations are people, my friends!”

That’s not the only similarity between the two. In fact, anyone thinking of voting for Romney might want to pay a visit to Florida or talk to a resident first. Florida under Scott’s slash and burn policies can provide an ugly preview of the potential disaster in the wake of a President Romney. The lower your income, if you have one, the less rights you have. Just ask a Florida welfare recipient.

Voting rights were one of the first things to come under assault in Florida after Scott arrived. Sure, we still have the “right” to vote, but thanks to Scott and the conservative majority in the legislature, it’s much harder to exercise that right. Where was Scott’s love of the Constitution when the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on civil rights and the Constitution was holding hearings on those voting restrictions? As you’ll recall, when asked what steps Scott’s administration planned to take to ensure Florida’s new laws didn’t disenfranchise Florida voters, he didn’t bother to respond. He never showed up for the hearings either.

In fact, Rick Scott spends a great deal of time AND money on issues dealing with the rights of Floridians. Unfortunately it’s taxpayer money, and it’s due to Scott restricting those rights rather than defending them, and we all pay dearly on both counts. Never mind that the courts have often ruled in our favor. Scott, or the “Supreme Executive”as he refers to himself, just declares those courts “wrong” and we’re forced to spend more on seemingly endless appeals. So many, in fact, when Scott “disagreed” with a judge recently who found an unconstitutional breach of contract where Scott cut state salaries to offset pensions, the governor’s press release began with: “As you would expect, I believe this decision is simply wrong.

“As you would expect” will no doubt become boilerplate for many a future press release from the governor’s office, as the potential for appeal list is long. From drug testing welfare recipients and state employees, to privatizing prisons and education from elementary schools to colleges and universities, and on and on.

With so many challenges at such high costs, Scott’s method of governing seems to fly in the face of his philosophy as a fiscally conservative, “small government candidate,” but no matter. While Rick Scott disagrees with so many in the judicial branch, he’s come up with a “simple” solution for that too. Simply convince the legislature to give you the power to hand pick the judges yourself, pretend that your constituents would like nothing more than allowing their governor unchecked power, then give this response publicly to the media: “When you’re elected governor, people expect you to not have a limit on who you can appoint.” 

In Florida right now, Constitutional rights are fragile things and they need to be protected. Do you trust this man with yours?

Cartoon: Attorney General Pam Bondi Asks Supreme Court to Approve Racial Profiling

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Howard Simon on the Shooting Death of Trayvon Martin

Howard Simon
Executive Director, ACLU of Florida

When news broke about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the decision of the Sanford, Florida Police Department not to press charges of any sort against the shooter, George Zimmerman, the ACLU added its voice to those who were calling for a more thorough outside investigation.

Our Mid-Florida Regional Director Joyce Hamilton Henry was one of five speakers at the first rally in Sanford, held at the Allen AME Chapel.

Our concerns about the inept work of local police and prosecutors has been heightened by reports that the detective investigating the shooting death of Trayvon had recommended the filing of charges, but was overruled by the States Attorney for Seminole County.

And now, with so much of the conversation (witness Change.org, that has collected approximately two million signatures on a petition calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, essentially defining Zimmerman’s arrest as justice for Trayvon),we have tried to change the focus of the discussion.

The op-ed below the break, which is reprinted from the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) focuses on:

  •  Not putting excessive faith in the criminal justice system;
  • It doesn’t always render justice or too frequently it renders inadequate justice
  •  We need to use this incident to address (a) problems of race, (b) problems with local law enforcement, and (c) America’s gun culture

Questions in teen’s shooting need to go deeper

Continue reading ‘Howard Simon on the Shooting Death of Trayvon Martin’

Investigation of Trayvon Martin’s Death and Police Response Must Be Fair, Thorough, Unbiased

Joyce Hamilton Henry
Mid-Florida Regional Director, ACLU of Florida

Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Joyce Hamilton Henry, and Sybrina Fulton

(Pictured above, from left to right: Rev. Al Sharpton, Joyce Hamilton Henry and Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, at the gathering.)

Tens of thousands of people were in Sanford, Florida, last night — coming together over the tragedy of the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. (Pictured above, from left to right: Rev. Al Sharpton, Joyce Hamilton Henry and Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, at the gathering.)

National political, social and media leaders joined the Martin family in seeking justice and speaking to and for a community in pain. As Mid-Florida Regional Director of the ACLU, I was there and I can tell you that the emotion and energy in the crowd was intense as they demanded justice for Trayvon.

In the hours before and since the rally last night, two events unfolded which will shape this ongoing situation: it was announced that a state attorney from outside the area will help lead the official inquiry, and Sanford’s Police Chief, Bill Lee, announced he would temporarily step aside.

Early on, we highlighted the need for an unbiased, professional, thorough outside investigation into the shooting and called on state and federal leaders to act. Thankfully, the FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the Department of Justice have announced that they will undertake an investigation. These agencies should investigate not only what happened to Trayvon, but the response of local law enforcement to his killing. With the addition of outside eyes on the Martin shooting, we don’t want to lose sight of the need to not only uncover what happened that tragic night but also review the initial local investigation itself. Unanswered and very troubling questions about the police response remain.

Bringing in a state attorney from outside Sanford is clearly a hopeful  development and their  expected professionalism will help the FBI and FDLE conduct the fair and objective investigation that is needed. The governor and law enforcement leaders deserve credit for making this happen.

Now that outside experts are looking over the evidence and hopefully reviewing the investigation itself, we must give them the room they need to do the job right.

Justice is best served in this tragedy by a thorough and unbiased investigation of both the shooting and the initial investigation by the Sanford Police Department.

TAKE ACTION: Please join us in calling on Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to ensure that this investigation is done right. We deserve fair, thorough and unbiased answers.

Learn more about policing: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

(Note: This piece also appears on the ACLU National Blog.)

Justice for Trayvon

Joyce Hamilton Henry
Mid-Florida Regional Director, ACLU of Florida

Tonight the author attended a gathering at the Allen Chapel AME Church in Sanford, Florida. The following is an excerpt of her remarks:

As we learn more about the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin, concerns are being raised about the manner, thoroughness and neutrality of the investigation by the police in Sanford, Florida.

The concern is justified.

To understand it, it helps to know how we got here. Not the events of Feb. 26, which ended in Trayvon’s death, but a sad history in Florida where justice for all has been illusive – and justice for some impossible. Too often, crimes with clear, undeniable racial motives were swept under the rug or overlooked while families and communities waited in vain for justice. So, when Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, the person in charge of the investigation, tells a reporter “the investigation is color blind,” there is reason to be concerned.

Justice is supposed to be blind. Investigators should not be.

Any real investigation worthy of a professional law enforcement agency must consider the facts. And if racial biases or stereotypes played a part in what happened on Feb. 26, that’s a fact.

Communities of color and disadvantage know too well that some people who say they are color blind really mean they only see in one direction – conveniently overlooking how race and attitudes about race affect so many things. There’s a big difference between not seeing race and seeing what you want to see. When Lee says he’s being color blind, it’s time to bring in outside eyes.

It’s welcome news that federal, state and local law enforcement and a grand jury are looking over the shoulder of the police. Their inquiries need to be as much about the killing of Trayvon as the official response, including any departures from standard procedure in a homicide, and the professionalism and possible biases of Sanford police.

Justice demands at least that much.

Just as troubling, by announcing there is no evidence to dispute shooter George Zimmerman’s account that he was acting in self-defense, it appears Lee may have already made up his mind. If Lee has indeed finished his assessment, he must tell us what led to his conclusion. Lee needs to explain how a man armed with a gun and weighing about 80 pounds more than an unarmed teenager came to fear for his life – so much so that it was necessary to shoot and kill Trayvon in order to protect himself.

And if authorities are still investigating Trayvon’s killing, Sandford Police Chief Lee should stop commenting on the case. Announcing conclusions before all the questions are answered, at a minimum, is premature and superficial. Telling part of the story – making conclusions in public – isn’t answering questions, it’s raising them.

All the questions raised by this tragic shooting must be answered: fairly, accurately, and with justice in mind.

Private Prison Disaster Averted (for now)

Julie Ebenstein
Policy and Advocacy Counsel, ACLU of Florida

Yesterday, the Florida Senate averted disaster by voting down (on a 19-21) a proposal to create the largest private prison system in America. The plan would have turned over nearly 30 Florida correctional facilities to private, for-profit companies, which have would run the prisons under contract with the state.

Florida operates the third-largest prison system in the United States, a $2.2 billion-a-year enterprise overseeing nearly 101,000 inmates and another 112,800 on community supervision. The prison population has nearly quadrupled since harsh sentencing laws were passed in the 1980s – Florida incarcerated just 26,471 people in 1980.

Florida’s prison system needs reform, but private prisons aren’t reform – they deform the process by linking corporate profit to incarceration.

Last week I joined a group of national criminal justice experts for a press conference in the Capitol to tell lawmakers that if they want to save money, they should reform mandatory minimum sentencing, invest in re-entry programs and re-visit parole policies that feed the addiction to incarceration. Maybe they heard us.

Privatization schemes, often coupled with inflated claims of cost savings, distract policymakers from an inescapable truth: The best way to reduce prison spending is to reduce the number of people we imprison.

For more on the problematic incentives injected into incarceration by the profit motive, see Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration, the ACLU’s recent, comprehensive report on the private prison industry.

Also check out this opinion piece in the Palm Beach Post by the ACLU National Prison Project’s David Shapiro. David was one of the experts who joined me at last week’s press conference and his article ran yesterday, the day of the successful Senate vote.



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