Archive for the 'Racial Justice' Category

ACLU to Florida: Your voter purge “is in violation” of the law

News: ACLU to Florida: Your voter purge “is in violation” of the law
Communications Department

The ACLU and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law wrote to the Florida Secretary of State today to inform the state that the ongoing effort to remove legal, registered voters from the voting rolls is “in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993…”

The letter is here. http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/2012-06-FloridaNVRANoticeLetter.pdf

Florida’s effort to kick people off its voter registration rolls has ensared hundreds of citizens who are legally eligible to vote.

Yesterday, the United States Departement of Justice wrote to Florida similarly expressing concerns about the voter purge. The DOJ letter is here. http://www.postonpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/0531-DOJPURGELETTER.pdf

Vengo de un país de gente hermosa que es asesinada cada treinta minutos

When People Ask Me
by Carolina Gonzalez
Public Information Officer

ImageWhen people ask where I come from, I always say “I come from a country of beautiful people who are murdered every 30 minutes” (According to El Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia). That country is Venezuela. As many people in my country, I had been witness (an even victim) of violence due to common delinquency, and with the hope that things can change I started orienting my professional career towards social justice and humanitarian work.

 One of the biggest social artistic projects that I developed in Venezuela with a team of colleagues was “Esperanza” (Hope), which featured 52 mothers who had lost one or several children due to violence, and who wish to send out a message of peace. Our presentation included large installations of images of these mother’s faces blanketing Caracas as an outcry for peace. Our intention: to give a face to the hope for the end of violence.

I arrived in the United States three years ago as an International Student, following the dream of receiving artistic education that will allow me to continue using art to improve people’s lives. When I first came to this country I spoke very little English and it was very challenging for me to understand the classes. At the beginning I had to do the assignments at least four days in advance and then take money from my pocket (with a student budget) to take it to an editor that would correct it and make sure that what I had written was understandable. Studying took me twice as long as the average person because of the language barrier. Nevertheless and despite all the obstacles I got my degree Summa Cum Laude.

After having sat in a classroom being just a listener, I have now become part of the ACLU team as Public Information Officer. I think my testimony is an example of the strength and perseverance that immigrants have when they come to the United States, who not only overcome the cultural barriers and achieve their personal goals, but also contribute to American society. Therefore, to me it’s a real honor to have the privilege of being part of the ACLU and fight for the rights of these people. I consider that this organization has made an indelible line of social justice in the history of United States and even it has been an inspiration for other organizations around the world. 

I will always be grateful to ACLU for allowing me to be part of its fight.

Cuando las personas me preguntan de dónde vengo, siempre respondo “Vengo de un país de gente hermosa que es asesinada cada treinta minutos” (Según cifras del Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia). Ese país es Venezuela. Al igual que muchas personas en mi país, yo he sido testigo (e incluso víctima) de la violencia debido a la delincuencia común, y con la esperanza de que las cosas pueden cambiar, comencé a orientar mi carrera profesional hacia la justicia social y la labor humanitaria.

Uno de los proyectos artístico sociales más grandes que desarrollé en Venezuela con un grupo de colegas fue “Esperanza”, el cual retrató a 52 madres que han perdido a uno o varios hijos a causa de la violencia, para hacer un clamor de paz. Nuestra carta de presentación fueron las gigantografías de sus rostros que tapizaron la ciudad de Caracas. Nuestra intención: ponerle cara a la esperanza por el fin de la violencia. 

Yo llegué a los Estados Unidos hace tres años como Estudiante Internacional, siguiendo el sueño de recibir más formación artística que me permitiera continuar utilizando el arte para mejorar la vida de las personas. Al principio hablaba muy poco inglés y para mí era muy retador entender las clases. De hecho, al principio tenía que hacer los trabajos y tareas con al menos cuatro días de anticipación para poder enviarlas a un corrector de texto que se asegurara de que lo que yo había escrito se entendiera (incluso tomaba dinero de mi estrecho presupuesto de estudiante para poder pagar estas correcciones). Adicionalmente, estudiar me tomaba el doble de tiempo que a un estudiante promedio debido también a la barrera del idioma. Sin embargo, a pesar de todos estos obstáculos obtuve mi título Summa Cum Laude.

 Luego de haber estado sentada en el salón de clases, siendo solo una oyente, ahora he pasado a formar parte del equipo de La Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles de la Florida (ACLU). Creo firmemente que mi testimonio es un ejemplo de la fuerza y perseverancia que tienen las personas inmigrantes cuando vienen a Los Estados Unidos, quienes no sólo superan las barreras culturas y alcanzan sus metas personales, sino que también contribuyen con la sociedad americana. Por ello, para mí es un verdadero honor el tener el privilegio de formar parte del ACLU y luchar por los derechos de estas personas. Considero que esta organización ha marcado una línea imborrable de justicia social en la historia de los Estados Unidos, e incluso ha servido de inspiración a otras organizaciones alrededor del mundo. Siempre le estaré agradecida al ACLU por permitirme formar parte de su lucha.

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

Image

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.

Debating Rights Restoration: Myths vs. Civics

Guest Contributor: Desmond Meade
President, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition

On Thursday, March 8th, Florida International University College of Law’s chapters of the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society held a debate concerning Felon Disfranchisement. Marc Mauer, president of The Sentencing Project and Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity offered their views on whether ex-felons should have the right to vote. A spirited debate which got testy at times, gave the audience an excellent view of the polarized viewpoints on an issue in the spotlight in Florida because of the upcoming Presidential election, the role that Florida will play in that election, and the current clemency policies of Governor Scott and his Cabinet.

Thursday’s event promoted a moral and legal discussion not just on felon voting rights, but on how disenfranchisement policies are tied to broader questions about the role of democracy in shaping political and social equality. Students pointed out the effects of systemic racism and the war on drugs to criticize Florida’s disenfranchisement policies, and expressed concern over the unprecedented expansion of the US prison system.

It instantly became apparent that in order to justify felon disfranchisement, a negative image of impacted individuals had to be developed. From the viewpoint of Mr. Clegg, it would seem that all felons were terrorist assassins who burned, and pillaged our cities. This fictional felon created by Mr. Clegg became the basis of his position that the fundamental right to vote should be denied to all felons, even after they have repaid their debt to society.

Mr. Clegg eventually had to admit that the fictional character he created was a grossly inaccurate depiction of the typical individual impacted by these policies. Mr. Clegg, however, chose to ignore the detrimental impact felon disfranchisement have on the families of formerly incarcerated individuals, and the communities in which they live. Mr. Clegg was unable to reason away the reality that every time a person is disenfranchised, their community loses a voice, and for every voice that a community loses, the more insignificant that community becomes in the eyes of elected officials who are driven by votes.

Florida currently has over 1 million disenfranchised residents, and that number will continue to grow due to clemency policies that make civil rights restoration virtually impossible. That’s over 1 million individuals who, while paying taxes, are prevented from voting, and are severely restricted from obtaining safe and affordable housing.

In the debate, Mr. Mauer correctly surmised that the basic principles of civility and citizenship dictate that all individuals are entitled to have the right to vote; the right to have their voices heard, and participate in the decisions that govern the society in which they live. Mr. Mauer also exposed the absurdity of the unfounded notion that civil rights restoration is a threat to the voting process. The fact is that the real threats to voting are preventing or restricting eligible voters from casting their vote freely, and adopting policies that disenfranchise citizens, in many cases for life.

In a recent CNN online poll, only 20% of responders believed that an ex-felon should not regain their rights to vote.

Obviously the majority of Americans do not believe in Mr. Clegg’s “boogie man” convict.

(Bobby Joe Bracy contributed material for this post).

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.

Welcome to the ACLU of Florida Blog of Rights!

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida.

Hello and welcome to the ACLU of Florida Blog of Rights! This blog is a resource for friends of liberty to learn about civil liberties news in Florida and the work that the ACLU is doing to defend the constitutional rights of Floridians.

In case you’re not familiar with the ACLU of Florida, we are freedom’s watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Florida Constitution, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

On this blog, we will share news on civil liberties stories going on in Florida, projects that the ACLU of Florida is working on, and opportunities for you to get involved and help us protect civil liberties in our state!

If you have a story that you would like to have featured on the blog, feel free to send a message to bjohnson@aclufl.org with “Blog of Rights” in the subject line.

Thank you and once again, welcome to the ACLU of Florida Blog of Rights!



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