Archive for the 'Police Practices' Category



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.

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(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.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Gregory Brothers, ACLU of FL Team Up on Photographers’ Rights

Derek Newton
Communications Director, ACLU of Florida

 A couple of weeks ago at the Sundance Film Festival, the open-collaborative production company hitRECord released a short animated music video on photographers’ First Amendment rights, in collaboration with the ACLU of Florida.

Ironically, while sharing digital information is fast, easy and quickly becoming universal, getting the word out about the right to record and share information is still a challenge. Even though the ACLU has drafted and released written material on the rights of photographers, a written pamphlet about the right to capture and share digital images just wouldn’t do. So we reached out to the directors and artists at htRECord to help spread the word about the right to take pictures in public.

Enlisting the help of The Gregory Brothers (best known for Auto-Tune the News), HitRecord reprised their song “You Can’t Turn the Lights Off Now,” from an earlier animated video about Prop 8 to fit the new message. Then, just six days before Sundance, HitRecord director Joseph Gordon-Levitt, asked artists around the world to help put images to the music for the big show.

In less than a week, more than 163 artists had contributed to the final video. Gordon-Levitt (aka RegularJOE) directed the final production and introduced it Sundance.

(Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube’s privacy statement on their website and Google’s privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU’s privacy statement, click here.)

While the video is fun, the message is serious. Taking photos in public of public actions — especially police — is a protected right.

But that has not stopped police from seizing cameras, destroying pictures or making arrests. We’ve seen it happen in mass protests such as the “Occupy” movements and in a high profile police involved shooting here in Miami Beach last year.

People have a right to monitor their government and share what they learn. That’s why the ACLU will keep fighting for the right to keep government — including the police — open and honest by defending the rights of photographers. Like the song says, “Corruption thrives on secrecy. Transparency is good for you and me.”

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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!