by Reggie Shuford
Here’s a hard but undeniable truth: America has a short memory and a long tradition of revising history.
As we celebrate the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in an annual reflection on his legacy that, at this point, feels as American as apple pie, it’s worth remembering that some members of Congress who opposed commemorating this day and honoring Dr. King are still in office and still making laws today.
Americans don’t just have a selective memory about the legacy of individuals, but also of institutions. How else to explain the deference and reverence so many Americans have for the police, an institution borne of slave patrols and Jim Crow laws? …
by Mary Catherine Roper and Andrew Christy
It’s no secret that, in far too many ways, the criminal justice system criminalizes being poor. From the widespread use of cash bail, to incarceration as a punishment for a failure to pay parking or traffic tickets or fees associated with probation or parole, the system is tilted against those who are living paycheck to paycheck or struggling to find work.
But even as we work to dismantle systemic injustices in the criminal justice system, some stakeholders are unwilling to go along.
That’s exactly what’s happening in Montgomery County.
In May of 2018, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter to the 38th Judicial District, which operates the Court of Common Pleas in Montgomery County, warning that the court’s habit of assigning people duplicative costs when they are charged with more than one crime was illegal, and asking it to end the practice. …
Note: videos contain scenes of violence and/or explicit language.
As protests for Black lives and against police violence began on May 30, 2020 in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Police Department used overwhelming, racially-targeted, and excessive force to discourage these protesters from exercising their constitutional and human rights. Philadelphia police used force indiscriminately against protesters, legal observers, journalists, medical personnel, bystanders, and even residents in their homes.
At the same time, police empowered white groups, who were often armed with bats, clubs, and even military-style automatic weapons, to take over streets and parks, make threats of violence, and even assault protesters for Black lives. …
by Vanessa Stine, Muneeba Talukder, and Erika Nyborg-Burch
Back in April, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of 22 people who were being detained by ICE in two county jails in Pennsylvania. The lawsuit urged the release of the plaintiffs, who all face serious health risks or worse if they contract COVID-19 because of their age, their underlying health conditions, or both.
We won that case. On April 10, 2020, our clients were released to their homes, their families, and their communities.
But in August, an appeals court vacated the decision, meaning that we must return to the district court. With COVID-19 raging across the state, we asked ICE to agree not to arrest and re-detain our clients before our scheduled court conference later this week. Yet ICE’s cruelty knows no bounds: they refused to agree to even this short respite for our medically-vulnerable clients. …
The following questions and answers are based on conversations from ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Speaking Freely podcast episodes with Donnell Drinks, election protection coordinator from the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Alexa Grant, program advocate at Common Cause; and former Pennsylvania deputy secretary of state and election security expert Marian Schneider.
You can listen to the full episode of Speaking Freely with Donnell Drinks and Alexa Grant here.
You can listen to the full episode of Speaking Freely with Marian Schneider here.
What voting rights does a person with a criminal record have? Essentially the same voting rights as a person without a criminal record. If you are in pretrial detention, on probation or parole, or are set to be released from incarceration by Election Day, you have the right to vote. The only exception to the right to vote for those with a criminal record is for people who are currently incarcerated due to a felony conviction — those individuals may not vote. …
By Donnell Drinks, Election Protection Coordinator, ACLU of Pennsylvania
Donald Trump is doing everything he can to stop Americans from deciding his fate as president on November 3, even as he tries to rally his base with brazen appeals to white supremacists in press briefings, campaign rallies, and his Twitter feed.
His campaign has successfully blocked almost a million Florida voters from exercising their franchise because they can’t pay court fines and fees. And Trump’s newly-appointed postmaster general is trying to dismantle the postal service, which would limit access to mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. …
By Vanessa Stine
With each passing day of Pennsylvania’s reopening during the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s easier to believe that the worst of this public health crisis is behind us. The bustle of restaurants, bars, and retail shops seems to grow each day. Fewer people seem to be wearing masks out in public or practicing social distancing.
But the hard truth is that the virus hasn’t gone anywhere and continues to surge in many parts of the country.
Over the past months, there has been wide reporting about the spread of the virus in places where social distancing is nearly impossible, like nursing homes and meatpacking plants. But in recent weeks, as some jails and prisons have started to ramp up testing for the virus, five detention centers have emerged as the biggest concentration of infections in the nation. …
By Muneeba Talukder, Immigrants’ Rights Legal Fellow
A few weeks ago, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, a 57-year-old man who had diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems tested positive for COVID-19 and died in immigration detention shortly after. Mr. Escobar Mejia had lived in the United States for four decades. He came to the U.S. as a teenager, fleeing from El Salvador with his mother and siblings after one of his brothers was killed in the civil war. He was in ICE custody since January and had been complaining about his symptoms for weeks before he was given medical attention.
In its short press release about the death, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chose to dehumanize him by listing out his decades-old criminal convictions. They made sure that anyone reading the release would know that Mr. Escobar Mejia was someone who needed to be kept in civil detention: a criminal alien. Labeling people “criminal aliens” is one way ICE perpetuates the monstrosity of the U.S. immigration detention system, which is the largest in the world. How did it get that way? …
By Reggie Shuford, Executive Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania
America is in a historic moment. The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis has blown the lid off of 400 years of white supremacy on American soil. The police are agents of a government that has historically kept Black folks down, hellbent on relegating us to second-class citizenship in any and all areas of life. They are the enforcers of a deeply ingrained culture that sees Black Americans as less than white people.
And we’ve had it.
We’ve been here before. Revolts against police brutality that targets African-Americans have come in waves over the last 60–70 years, most recently captured in the Black Lives Matter movement that started when Trayvon Martin was killed by a volunteer neighborhood watch in Florida in 2012 and that took off after police officers killed Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. …
by Muneeba Talukder
Since the day that President Barack Obama handed the keys of his administration’s deportation machine to Donald Trump, immigrants’ rights advocates and civil libertarians knew that an already desperate situation was about to get much worse for immigrants and refugees living in the United States.
Almost four years later, thousands of children have been separated from their parents and forced into cages, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) routinely targets people for detention or deportation at sensitive locations like schools, hospitals, and houses of worship, and the administration continues to undermine immigration policy and decimate so-called “legal” immigration.