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