Friday, February 26, 2010

State Senate Needs to Pass Race-Based Mascot Bill

This week the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill that would provide an opportunity for local communities to challenge race-based mascots.

When the Assembly held a hearing on the bill back in March 2009, we blogged about why we testified in support of the bill. And when the Senate also heard an overwhelming number of supportive testimonies, we tweeted live from the hearing. The ACLU of Wisconsin supports this bill because fundamentally this issue is not about the constitutionally protected free speech of students: this bill is about ending the governmental endorsement of discrimination.

We pointed out that nearly 40 public school districts across Wisconsin continue to use nicknames, mascots and logos for their sports teams that are based on race or ethnicity. Nicknames, like Chiefs or Chieftains, Indians, Red Raiders, Redman, and Warhawks, and school-approved mascots and logos have been a common feature at sporting and pep events attended by generations of enthusiastic students.

But this legislation needs to be passed in 2010 because all public schools in Wisconsin are required to provide all students with an adequate, nondiscriminatory education. Race-based nicknames, logos and mascots are inherently discriminatory and shouldn’t be endorsed by a public school.

The legislation is also needed because there should be an opportunity for a fair and adequate process for the Department of Public Instruction to review complaints from community members about race-based mascots. The government is responsible for addressing discriminatory practices such as the use of race-based mascots and the Department of Public Instruction is the appropriate agency to mediate local conflict resolution.

Votes on this issue in the Assembly were unusually not split along party lines. Democrats Jorgensen, Krusick, Ziegelbauer and Zigmunt joined mostly Republicans in voting against the bill. Republicans Brooks, Montgomery, Mursau, Rhodes and Van Roy voted in favor of AB 35. We remember how Rep. Rhodes introduced a group of youth from her district who spoke passionately in favor of the bill and what it would do for student equality. It was a great moment for the positive power of student speech for justice.

Now the bill’s future lies in the Senate. The ACLU of Wisconsin urges the Senate and majority leader Decker to have a floor vote as soon as possible.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thumbs Up to Carthage College for Allowing Student Protest and Dialogue

This evening on the campus of Carthage College in Kenosha, a student-led rally is being held to protest Saturday’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s keynote speaker who is allegedly opposed to homosexuals and shares an anti-gay message.

Although Carthage College is a private religious institution, students encouraged the school to disinvite the speaker. The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin hopes the school will encourage future speakers with differing ideas to expand the dialogue at the school in the same way they are allowing the InterVarsity program to continue.

“Since the biology professor at Fresno City College incorporated anti-homosexual pseudoscience in his classes,” said UW-Parkside sophomore Maggie Piery, an ACLU Student Alliance member, “it seems like some new sick trend to have anti-gay speakers at centers of higher education. I’m glad I attend a public institution where there is a strong commitment to both diverse perspectives and also supporting a diverse student body including LGBT students.”

Earlier this afternoon the Vice President of Enrollment and Student Affairs along with other school officials arranged for space to be provided for a simultaneous speak-out for students with opposing viewpoints to discuss tomorrow’s controversy. The ACLU of Wisconsin applauds this effort by the school to accommodate and encourage more free speech, student debate and an open and fair exchange of ideas.

Fond du Lac School Rejects Book Challenge

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin applauds a book reconsideration committee of the Fond du Lac Theisen Middle School for voting unanimously in support of keeping a book from being banned from their school library this week.

“One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies” by Sonya Sones is recognized as being age-appropriate in youth literature peer reviews for 12-year-olds, an average age for sixth graders. According to a WISN-TV report, statements by the school librarian defending the book selection and a letter from the book’s author read by Superintendent Jim Sebert were among the majority of support given to keeping the book in the library collection. Sones is no stranger to controversy as some of her other publications have been on the banned books list in the past.

The ACLU of Wisconsin also recognizes the bravery and leadership of 13-year-old Shelby Berg for originally suggesting the book be added to her library and for defending the book in the recent challenge. The effort to protect peer-reviewed, age-appropriate youth literature in Fond du Lac is not over: six more titles will be individually considered by the committee for withdrawal from the library shelves.

This weekend the ACLU of Wisconsin will honor West Bend, WI activists who successfully fought back censorship in their public library. The William Gorham Rice Civil Libertarians of the Year recognition will be awarded at the ACLU of Wisconsin Bill of Rights Celebration to the West Bend Activists for Free Speech who stood up to book burners and censorship in their community.

The story got video coverage on FOX WLUK-TV in Green Bay and an article in the Oshkosh Northwestern details the software system that is now in place for parents to restrict what books their children can check out. Other coverage included a preview article and a hearing summary article in the Fond du Lac Reporter.

For more resources on the field of youth literature and how to effectively address book challenges, please contact the Children’s Cooperative Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. For updates on book challenges and censorship issues in Wisconsin, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin or join the Banned Books Reading Club on Facebook.

News roundup: Grothman not a fan of sex ed, medical marijuana in Berlin (WI), spying on abortion activists and more...

Here is some news you might have missed..

We got coverage on Milwaukee's TMJ4 on the ACLU's opposition to an effort by lawmakers to bar public disclosure of 911 calls. "The public deserves to get all the information with very limited exceptions," said Christopher Ahmuty of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. "Those exceptions should be done on the basis of a balancing test that's in the current law now."

Senator Glenn Grothman was a bit hit in the blogosphere when he said in a Cap Times interview that he didn't approve of the comprehensive sex ed bill that's headed to the Governor's desk on Wednesday. It might have been his comments about how teasing feminine boys was normal at his high school that even got the attention of Perez Hilton. Note to all Wisconsin state legislators: bullying or discriminating against gay youth is NOT okay. (But it is okay to give the ACLU a shout out in Glee!)

Did you see the coverage of the medical marijuana advocacy event in Berlin, WI? Central Wisconsin folks asked if their medicine was legal yet. Another lobby day is scheduled at the Capitol on Wednesday. Contact IMMLY for details.

Madison city council alders are considering a parental responsibility law. The proposal is being pushed by the same folks who tried to keep kids inside earlier at last year's curfew ordinance that the ACLU of Wisconsin helped to defeat. If you are a single mom who works three jobs to scrape by and your youngster gets a ticket for disorderly conduct at the bus transfer point, will you have time to go to court to deal with the fine in your name?

Speaking of Madisonians with limited income, we've been observing the housing issue around Shorewood Hills and the proposal to replace the nearly vacant Pyare Square building. Some residents of the affluent neighborhood complained about a large apartment complex that housed limited-income families, but developers tried to quell their fears by making the complex for seniors. Finally the whole project was scrapped due to the height of the building design. Whenever there are concerns about building affordable housing, our ears prick up mostly because of fights like what happened in South Milwaukee with the Lake Point Apartments.

Remember the dust up over anti-Hmong comments by a UW law professor? The dust hasn't completely settled. Madison Hmong community leader is still asking questions about the Hmong studies program that was promised to be added to the university offerings.

The news broke that Homeland Security was working with Middleton police last year to spy on anti-abortion activists who were planning a big rally that would no doubt overwhelm the police resources. The news said that DHS investigated both prochoice and anti-abortion activists, but we haven't heard from prochoicers about alleged probes. We're a prochoice organization, but DHS can't spy on activists. Period. Only when there is probable cause (i.e. evidence that's more than a hunch that a crime will be committed) can an investigation legally be started. The feds admitted wrongly investigating the activists, but Middleton police aren't turning over records and feds say they deleted copies of the assessment. Sorry Michele Malkin, we do care when government spies on First Amendment protected activity.

The ACLU's Bill of Rights Celebration is tomorrow! Twitter fan? @ACLUofWisconsin and @ACLUMadison will be live tweeting at the #BORC event! Follow us to hear more from blogger journalist @anamariecox!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

GPS Tracking: Turning Science Fiction Into Reality

As a fan of the The Wire, I can find lots of plot twists and exciting scenes that illustrate the basic constitutional balance between the rights of individuals and the power of law enforcement. The Wire portrays police who follow the rules and those who don't as they wiretap, search, photograph and otherwise conduct their investigations into complex criminal cases.

In one episode, Detective Leander Snydor has followed a drug dealer to a house which might link him to other criminal relationships. Snydor skillfully walks past the dealer's car, fixes a GPS tracking system to the underside of the vehicle, and walks away with a whistle.

That might seem like smart cop work when aimed at an enormous, fictional drug ring in the mean streets of Baltimore. But GPS is no longer HBO fiction. In Madison, Wisconsin, where law enforcement agents used GPS to track someone suspected of violating a restraining order without first getting a warrant, it's very, very real. Unfortunately, according to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, we should let go of the expectation that police need permission to track our movements.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals held in State of Wisconsin v. Sveum that the use of a GPS device was not a "search or seizure" and didn't fall under the Fourth Amendment. The consequence of this reasoning is that the police are free to track individuals' vehicular movements wherever they go and without any approval by a court. This is true even though tracking someone's movements can give a detailed picture of someone's personal associations—they can be tracked to churches, bars, protests or their doctor's office.

While a GPS tracking device isn't as invasive as a strip search, we expect the Fourth Amendment to protect us from police spying by making it a requirement that law enforcement agents demonstrate to a court that they have a strong reason to believe that such tracking will turn up evidence of a crime.

On Friday, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) with the Wisconsin Supreme Court to urge justices to reverse the lower court's decision. While we can all agree that the police should help enforce a restraining order, allowing them the power to obtain information on the location of anyone's car and movements, for any reason or for no reason at all, without a valid warrant, is unconstitutional.

GPS tracking shouldn't be used by police or other government agencies without a judge's agreement that the tracking is based on a good reason to believe it will turn up evidence of a crime. Without court oversight or just cause for the use of this technology, our private lives as revealed by our movements can surely turn our country into a Big Brother reality.

In the brief (PDF), the ACLU and EFF argue that, whether or not the U.S. Constitution applies, the Wisconsin Supreme Court should conclude that Article I, Section 11 of the Wisconsin Constitution protects this state's citizens from such intrusive police surveillance.

This blog is cross-posted with the national ACLU's Blog of Rights.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Big Brother Honadel’s Call to Fingerprint Poor Children Gives Businessmen a Bad Name

Today State Representative Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) sent out a media release announcing his plan to introduce legislation to require fingerprinting of poor children in the Wisconsin Shares day care program every day at check-in and check-out. The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin opposes treating our children – including poor children -- like parts at an auto supply store or boxes of cereal at a grocery store. ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director, Chris Ahmuty said today that, “the children in the Wisconsin Shares program, many infants under age one, are not inventory.”

Ahmuty went on to ask what Rep. Honadel would have poor parents say to their youngsters when they discover that more well-to-do children are not fingerprinted.

Rep. Honadel has criticized the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families for not adopting an automated attendance system at day care centers more quickly. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “As a businessman I could make this happen in a couple of months.”

“Technology can be an important tool for government, just like it can for businessmen such as Rep. Honadel,” Ahmuty said, “But just because a technology exists does not mean that we should ignore our values. Unlike businessmen, like Rep. Honadel, government must operate within the limits proscribed by our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which protect Wisconsin residents from government abuse and safeguard their privacy. Fortunately, the Department of Children and Families, thus far, is being more deliberative and compassionate than Rep. Honadel.”

This issue got some news coverage on Green Bay radio station WTAQ’s website, as well as Milwaukee radio station WTMJ’s website.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will continue to monitor changes to the Wisconsin Shares program to ensure that state actions protect the rights of poor children and families. Read more about the work the ACLU is doing nationally on technology and liberty.

Saturday: ACLU Bill of Rights Celebration in Milwaukee, Ana Marie Cox, Civil LIberties Awards and More

On Saturday, February 20, 2010 the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin members and supporters will exercise their own freedom of assembly at the annual Bill of Rights Celebration.

This year’s event will feature pioneering political journalist and founder of the Wonkette Blog Ana Marie Cox. The “Wonkette Emeritus” continues to shape the future of journalism across media, at her personal blog and on Twitter where she has more than 1.5 million followers. Cox is a frequent guest on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show and broke new ground with live blogs of the State of the Union for GQ Magazine and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hearings for The Awl.

This ACLU of Wisconsin event will honor the work of several outstanding organizations and compatriots in the fight to protect our freedoms.

The Eunice Z. Edgar Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to The Progressive Magazine in recognition of more than a century of incisive journalism. The Progressive was founded in 1909 by beloved Wisconsin Senator and civil libertarian Robert La Follette and is a voice for freedom. Projects like “McCarthyism Watch” exemplify the role of the press as a check on the actions of government and a defender of civil liberties and civil rights.

The William Gorham Rice Civil Libertarians of the Year Award will honor the West Bend Activists for Free Speech who stood up to book burners and censorship in their community.

Jack and Lucy Rosenberg Youth Civil Libertarian of the Year Award acknowledges the work and legacy of Camp Everytown for producing a generation of young Wisconsin leaders. Each summer high-school age participants receive intensive leadership training to help them become outspoken advocates against discrimination of every kind.

Tickets are still available. Go to our website for more information on the event and to order tickets online or contact Marion by email or phone 414-272-4032 extension 18.

You might also want to check out the latest issue of the Milwaukee Gazette (PDF), a sponsor of the Bill of Rights Celebration. You can see the fancy ad, and also read the article the magazine did on the important subject of homeless LGBT youth and the Cream City Foundation study which found that 23% of homeless young people in Milwaukee are sexual minority youth.

Monday, February 8, 2010

There's No Such Thing as a "Criminal Alien" - Local Forum Brings Up Questions About Immigrants' Rights

On Saturday, I gave a Know Your Rights workshop for the thirty-two people who came to the Union Trabajadores Immigrantes immigrant rights forum. I was invited because everyone, Spanish-speaking Latinos being no exception, should understand their basic 4th, 5th and 6th Amendment rights when interacting with police.

With the help of a translator, I talked about the basics: don’t talk to police, don’t consent to searches, how to tell the difference between detention and arrest and so forth. The questions that people had started off about basic traffic stops. But the questions got harder.

Can you get arrested for having a broken tail light? No, that’s just a citation. Can police ask you about your immigration status if you get pulled over? No, they shouldn’t. Can police ask about the rest of the people in the car? No, they shouldn’t do that either.

What if they say they are going to check your ID on a national immigration database and ask you a bunch of questions? No, local police shouldn’t be doing that and you shouldn't talk to police. If they pull you over you either need a ticket or a good reason to be arrested.

What do you do when you try to assert your right to remain silent by saying “no se,” and the police get angry that you don’t speak English and it makes it worse? What happens if you get arrested for the third time for driving without a license, sent to county jail and they find that your work visa expired a few years ago? What does a mom do about her kids who were born here and are citizens if she is facing deportation?...

I read about the problems in our broken immigration system every day in the newspaper. I see politicians debating about it and I see tea baggers protesting about it. But then I talk to the people whose lives and families are directly impacted by the debates, the expense, the need for legal counsel, the wait, the bureaucracy, I wonder why we don’t have a year of general amnesty? Why can’t we license drivers separate from state identification or citizenship verification? Why are states doing more and more to criminalize those who were brought here by their parents or who overstayed their visas?

The national ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project just put out a new Issue Brief on this debate. Below is the basic info you should know and some links to more information.

When someone is present in the United States in violation of immigration laws, it is not a crime by itself. Entering without documentation is an offense, but most immigrants in the country did enter legally but have overstayed work or school visas. Many others who are undocumented enter the country for work with the promise of secure jobs and legal documentation, but don’t get what they are promised. Also when someone is removed from the country and then comes back without permission it becomes a crime.

It is not a federal crime to simply be undocumented. A very controversial proposal (H.R. 4437, also called the “Sensenbrenner bill” for one of our state Congressmen) did pass the House but was rejected by the Senate after massive street protests. At this time, the lack of legal presence is a civil rather than a criminal law and no immigration laws refer to anyone in violation of that law as a “criminal alien.”

The government is also routing valuable resources away from prosecuting violent crime as it pursues non-violent immigrations violations. As our federal resources are spent pursuing immigrants who are statistically less likely to commit crime, money for gun trafficking, white-color crime and organized crime has decreased.

Criminalizing Immigrants Unlawful and Harmful blog post

Immigrants' Rights Issue Brief

- Stacy Harbaugh, Community Advocate, ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Racine! Come Out to the Advancing Voting Rights Event on Saturday

Racine - here's an opportunity to hear from Renee Shavers Crawford of the ACLU of Wisconsin and Craig Oliver from the Racine NAACP talk about how to advance voting rights in our state.

Hosted by Community for Change
Saturday, Feb 6, 2010 (9:30 AM) at Hopes Center
506 Sixth Street, Racine, WI Google Yahoo Mapquest