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Southeastern Wisconsin Demands Equity in Transit – Civil Rights and Environmental Justice Implications of SEWRPC

18 Jul

This week, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation took another step in speaking up for people who use public transit. In southeastern Wisconsin, plans for spending your tax dollars are being made in a way that are discriminatory and contribute harm to our environment. Here’s how our comments to a regional planning organization impact the civil rights of people who live in Milwaukee.

Here is the update from ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s Karyn Rotker. Ms. Rotker is the foundation’s Race, Poverty and Civil Liberties Attorney: 

Background on transportation decision-makers in government:

Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are agencies created by government to address regional planning. And the big reason they’re important – especially in a segregated region like southeastern Wisconsin – is that they have a lot of say over what happens with federal transportation dollars. The MPO for the seven counties in and around Milwaukee is the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC).

Because we know that persons of color and persons with disabilities in southeastern Wisconsin are much more likely to depend on public transit – for work, school, medical care, and more – and because Wisconsin is spending billions of dollars to beef up highways while public transit is in crisis, we’re telling the federal government that it needs to make our planners put more focus on transit and less on adding highway capacity – which just leads to more segregated sprawl.  These maps, prepared by SEWRPC itself, show just how isolated persons of color and persons with disabilities are.

The role of the federal government:

Every four years, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) have to certify that MPOs are following federal laws, including civil rights and environmental justice standards. Because we don’t think these concerns have been taken seriously in the past, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and our civil rights and environmental justice allies put together some comments that go into the background of segregation in this region along with a lot of suggestions on what needs to improve. To download our most recent comments, click on the document link at the bottom of the page.

What SEWRPC needs to change to ensure nondiscriminatory transit options:

The comments are available on the web, but some of our main points are that our regional planners need to make sure that:

• They use more federal “highway” funds to expand transit: federal rules on spending allow for the option to use funds for highway OR transit projects. SEWRPC should use flex funds to expand transit options to meet environmental justice needs in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Priorities should emphasize civil rights and environmental justice: a transportation improvement plan should look at how decisions impact minority neighborhoods and urban workers’ ability to access their jobs from affordable housing. SEWRPC doesn’t.

• Urban residents needs fair representation on the commission: The way SEWRPC is structured now, Ozaukee County – which has less than 10% of the number of residents as Milwaukee County – gets the same number of votes as Milwaukee. The city of Milwaukee, where the majority of the whole region’s population of color and a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities live, gets no vote at all. For SEWRPC to fairly represent the region, the makeup of the commission should reflect populations proportionately. 

We hope that this time the federal government takes those concerns seriously. If you want to join us in speaking up for fair transit, contact me at the ACLU of Wisconsin, krotker@aclu-wi.org.

Recertification Review Comments July 16, 2012-2

Recognizing Youth Leadership in Civil Liberties and Human Rights: Rufus King Graduate Receives Award

27 Jun

Congrats to recent Rufus King High School graduate Zach Komes. During his high school career, Zach was a leader at his school and in the Milwaukee community in civil rights and human rights education and activism. To recognize his work, he received this year’s Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award.

Zach Komes receives the Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award

“Participating in the Amnesty International Chapter and the ACLU Student Alliance at Rufus King High School as Student Coordinator for two years has been one of the best times of my life,” said Komes. “From promoting important issues through workshops and movie screenings to direct action campaigns like letter writing, vigils, and marches, our ACLU student alliance has done great work.

“It was a great honor to receive the Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award at our chapter’s annual banquet.  Jackie Yang, who founded our chapter in 2009 and who also worked in the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Madison Area Office last semester, is an example of true leadership and dedication to civil liberties. Receiving this award in her name is very humbling. I am very excited to what our chapter does in the future under the leadership of new co-coordinators James Elias and Mary Poppings! The Amnesty International/ACLU Chapter at Rufus King will continue to work for justice and progress in our community, nation, and world!”

The Amnesty International Chapter at Rufus King High School is committed to engaging students in international human rights issues. Human rights standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guide students’ research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination. The group partners with the ACLU Student Alliance to work on domestic civil rights and constitutional protection issues.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is looking forward to seeing Zach continue to be a leader in the work to defend individual rights. Want to find out if there is an ACLU Student Alliance at your school? Want to start one? Contact us at youth@aclu-wi.org to find out more.

Voting With a Criminal Conviction in Wisconsin: “Off Paper” = Ex-Felons May Vote

1 Jun

Every election cycle we hear misinformation about who is allowed to vote. Some people think any criminal conviction, even misdemeanors, make people lose their voting rights. But under Wisconsin law, only those who have been convicted of felonies who are still in prison or who haven’t completed their entire sentence cannot vote. Once felons are “off paper” (or has completed all probation, parole and extended supervision), they can register and vote again.

The ACLU of Wisconsin worked to change the state law under the Doyle administration. Back around 2009, a statewide effort brought together faith groups, prisoner reentry organizations, racial justice groups and voters who were passionate about democracy and human rights to work to change the law and allow those with felony convictions to get their voting rights back upon release from prison. Some supporters said the change would decrease costs and confusion associated with the restriction. Others said participation in democracy, particularly for those who are living and working in our communities, is an important aspect of having former prisoners reintegrate into society. And with Wisconsin’s disproportionate minority incarceration rate, disfranchising felons perpetuates Jim Crow style suppression of minority communities. The law should still be changed, but for now voters need to know that felons have to wait until they are off paper to vote.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is distributing non-partisan “Know Your Voting Rights: Wisconsin” guides to clarify some of Wisconsin’s new voting rules. These one-page fact sheets are available in Spanish and English on the aclu-wi.org website (factsheets are also available for student voters and voters with criminal convictions). As part of the national ACLU’s “Let Me Vote” campaign, the ACLU is working in Wisconsin and across the country to educate citizens about their voting rights and help them overcome the unfair barriers recently passed in many states to suppress the right to vote.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law: What’s at Stake When the Supreme Court Hears SB 1070

26 Apr

This week the infamous Arizona law that legalized racial profiling and criminalized individuals who do not carry proof of their citizenship status at all times reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The ACLU, along with a coalition of civil rights organizations, have challenged Arizona’s SB 1070 because it invites unequal treatment of individuals by law enforcement, conflicts with federal law and violates basic individual freedoms.

This info graphic helps to explain what is wrong with the Arizona law, where copycat laws were passed in other states and what’s at stake in the SCOTUS decision. Read on for the latest update from the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. Report from the Supreme Court: SB 1070:

On April 25,  the Supreme Court heard arguments in one of the big cases of the term, Arizona v. United States. Several justices, including Justice Stephen Breyer, expressed serious concerns about the law’s impact on civil liberties, as they recognized that it might lead to prolonged detention while an officer investigates a person’s  immigration status.

In response to those serious civil liberties concerns, Arizona was forced to retreat. Arizona was not defending S.B. 1070 as it was written by the state legislature, but rather an entirely different and fictional law that merely notifies the federal government that it has detained someone whose legal status it deems to be suspect.

But make no mistake: even that narrow reading of the law would result in a serious violation of the rights of citizens and lawfully present immigrants. As we heard in court today, there’s no easy way for a citizen who happens not to have their ID on them to avoid being detained for an hour or more on the side of the road while an officer demands that they prove their right to be here.

Tellingly, Arizona did not step up to defend what the state legislature actually did in S.B. 1070. The law, on its face, implements an Arizona state immigration enforcement policy of zero tolerance and maximum harshness. But the federal immigration law that Congress passed recognizes that immigration status is actually far more complicated under federal law. Under federal law, the executive branch can permit someone who is applying for asylum, or seeking other kinds of legal status, to stay in the U.S. while their status is decided. But under Arizona law, they are subject to detention and criminal prosecution, and they take that risk every time they leave their homes and venture out onto Arizona’s streets.

Chief Justice John Roberts asked today whether Arizona v. United States is a case about racial profiling. And although the federal government lawsuit is about the limits on state power, racial profiling is a central issue in the case, as chief law enforcement officials around the country have stated. It’s simply impossible to enforce laws like S.B. 1070 without relying on false and illegal stereotypes. And because that’s true, U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants are caught in the dragnet. Ultimately, it’s not only up to the Supreme Court to decide if S.B. 1070 will stand. The American people must decide whether we will tolerate a nation with such invidious laws.

This blog post was written by Cecillia Wang from the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and was originally posted on the ACLU’s Blog of Rights.

ACLU of Wisconsin goes to residents for information concerning Milwaukee police strip searches

2 Apr

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has been trying to investigate the policies and practices of the Milwaukee Police Department regarding strip searches.  The ACLU’s investigation began after the MPD in March acknowledged that Milwaukee police officers may have been conducting unauthorized strip searches and illegal body cavity searches on the public streets.

On March 28, 2012 ACLU made a public records request to the MPD for copies of documents such as orders, memos and report that may help us to assess whether the department is following its own strip search and body cavity search procedures.  The department has not yet produced the documents requested or denied our request.

Because of the delay on the part of MPD and the public interest in this matter, the ACLU of Wisconsin has begun seeking alternative sources of information.

The ACLU is asking citizens for copies of any strip search authorization reports that MPD may have issued to them.  MPD procedures require MPD give the subject of a strip search a copy of a Strip Search Authorization Report.  The police ask the subject of the search to sign and affix a fingerprint to the report.

The ACLU is publicizing their request by means of social media and flyers distributed on the street, in public places, and through community organizations. While it is impossible to know how many Strip Search Authorization Reports the MPD issued by asking citizens, it should be possible to learn relevant information about MPD search practices.  The ACLU has promised to respect the privacy of those who submit copies of forms. The ACLU hopes that more information from the MPD will be forthcoming.  The ACLU will share the facts regarding any possible pattern or practice of improper strip searches with appropriate authorities and the public.

Milwaukee residents living in every neighborhood deserve high quality professional police service

2 Apr

Milwaukee residents living in every neighborhood deserve high quality professional police service. No one, regardless of where they live, should have to put up with police misconduct. Recent allegations  that several officers in District Five carried out unauthorized strip searches and illegal body cavity searches need to be investigated carefully, fairly, and comprehensively. While it is important to determine whether or not individual officers violated department policies or state law or civil rights laws, it is equally important that the department evaluate its own policies, practices, and strategies to see if they may have undermined police service and civil liberties.

It is in the interest of residents and the department that the department responds to the alleged incidents of police misconduct with candor, transparency, and self-evaluation. Without violating the due process rights of the officers involved and regardless of the outcome of investigations into their conduct, the department can learn from this controversy and provide better service in the future.

The department must consider what impact its own policies, practices, and strategies may have on the delivery of police services.

For instance, incredible as it sounds, if the officers were truly ignorant of the policies or the differences between a pat down or frisk, a strip search, or a body cavity search, then the department has to explain how its training and supervision failed. Is their training forgotten or ignored when officers detain residents on our public streets?

The department must also evaluate its proactive policing strategy to see if it makes incidents of police misconduct more likely to occur. Under this strategy the Milwaukee Police Department made 240,000 traffic and subject stops in 2010. Traffic stop figures through October 2011 show the department will have made a similar number of stops in 2011, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

This extraordinary number of stops obviously increases the opportunity for interactions between officers and residents to go awry. What’s more as Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn told the newspaper, “Yes, of course we are going to stop lots of innocent people.”  The department should evaluate what message it is sending to officers when its proactive policing strategy disregards a person’s innocence. The message at best says civil liberties are expendable.

We pointed out in an op ed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that the department should also revisit its decision to create the Gang/Drug Unit when the Metropolitan Investigations Division, formed in August, 2010. It appears that the implicated officers including a sergeant belonged to District Five’s anti-gang unit. Many police managers across the country have moved away from special gang and drug units, especially after revelations of widespread abuse by such units of the Los Angeles Police Department. Perhaps, there is a legitimate use for such units, but it appears the type and level of supervision given to Milwaukee’s anti-gang unit was deficient.

Finally, because metropolitan Milwaukee is a hyper-segregated area along racial and income lines, one cannot address policing without addressing civil rights. In the light of the department’s inability to use traffic stop data to identify possible racially biased policing, it is imperative that the department clarify how it is identifying biased officers. We don’t know if these District Five officers are biased, but bias could be a contributing factor. The department needs to be more aggressive in identifying and remedying individual or systemic bias.

The Milwaukee Police Department has an opportunity to evaluate its policies, practices and strategies following the allegations regarding misconduct by officers from District Five. If it simply investigates the officers, it will be setting Milwaukee up for more frustration. Chief Flynn has the capacity to exercise leadership. He can demonstrate that the department will address possible systemic problems. If so, this controversy may be an opportunity to further improve police community relations.

If you have been the target of racial profiling in Milwaukee or in Wisconsin, tell the ACLU of Wisconsin your story.

ACLU’s Federal Lawsuit Against Voter ID: Today’s Filing Asks for Injunction, Voting Rights Act Claim

2 Mar

Today the ACLU took another important step in the federal lawsuit against Wisconsin’s voter ID law. Attorneys working on the case amended the lawsuit to include charges that the law illegally blocks minorities and veterans from accessing the ballot box.  The amended complaint also seeks an injunction so that plaintiffs who face significant barriers to obtaining one of the limited forms of ID required by law can vote in the upcoming April 3 election.

The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court with the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, and Dechert LLP, also seeks an injunction so that many of the named plaintiffs can vote on April 3, when Wisconsin will hold its presidential primary and local elections.

The filing today supplements a federal challenge against one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation and on behalf of a broad spectrum of plaintiffs, including white, black, and Latino voters, homeless and low-income citizens, veterans, and students. 

“We can now demonstrate what we have always suspected—that strict photo ID laws have a more severe negative impact on black and Latino voters,” said Jon Sherman, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “The Voting Rights Act was created to combat exactly this type of barrier, and we intend to see it enforced in Wisconsin.”

You can also hear the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Communications Director Stacy Harbaugh on WORT-FM 89.9′s In Our Backyard describe why this step to amend the lawsuit was important:


The original suit, filed in December, said that Wisconsin’s practice of only allowing certain types of photo identification imposes severe and unjustifiable burdens and imposes a poll tax on voters.

The amended complaint charges the voter ID law:

  • Violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans the use of voting practices that have a disparate negative impact on racial and language minorities. Research commissioned by the ACLU indicates the law has a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino voters, who are more likely to lack photo ID accepted for voting in Wisconsin.
  • Arbitrarily prevents veterans who only have a Veterans Administration ID card from voting. Wisconsin deems such identification unacceptable.
  • Violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because Wisconsin’s photo ID law results in the arbitrary treatment of voters trying to get a state ID card.

Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, emphasized the importance of obtaining relief for named plaintiffs. “It is unconscionable that Wisconsin would prevent veterans who possess a valid federal ID from voting,” he said. “This is no way to thank them for their service to our country.” 

One of those veterans is Sam Bulmer, 63, who served in the Air Force for 13 years and is currently homeless. Bulmer lacks a driver’s license and cannot obtain a state ID card due to the stringent requirements for a birth certificate in his home state of Kansas.   

“Mr. Bulmer’s experience is startling, but it’s not unique,” said Heather Johnson, civil rights attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.  “Veterans experience homelessness at an alarming rate, and many will be excluded from the democratic process if this law goes forward.  We need to send a clear message to Wisconsin and every other state considering similar legislation: we won’t let you silence the voices of homeless veterans.”

Also among those suing are two Black Milwaukee residents: Eddie Lee Holloway, Jr., who used to regularly serve as a poll worker, but whose incorrect birth certificate will prevent him from getting a state ID and voting; and Shirley Brown, who was born in Louisiana at home by midwife and as a result, has no record of her birth.

“All citizens should be free to vote,” said Neil Steiner, an attorney with Dechert LLP. “Disenfranchising eligible voters is not a valid rationale for a law.”

The defendants include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, who oversees the Department of Motor Vehicles and members of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees election laws.

Attorneys on the case include Sherman, Laughlin McDonald, and Nancy Abudu of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Dupuis and Karyn Rotker of the ACLU of Wisconsin, Johnson and Karen Cunningham of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and Neil Steiner, Craig Falls, and Diane Princ of Dechert LLP.

To read the complaint in Frank v. Walker, go to: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/frank-v-walker-amended-complaint

This announcement has also been shared on the national American Civil Liberties Union website: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/aclu-adds-charges-suit-challenging-wisconsin-voter-id-law

For more information about voter suppression, go to: www.aclu.org/voter-suppression-america.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Wisconsin Legislators’ Letter to US Attorney General Brings Attention to Disfranchisement in Wisconsin

13 Jan

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin applauds today’s move by state legislators to request action from the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to “use the full weight of the Justice Department to take legal action, as authorized under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, to ensure that the right of Wisconsin citizens to vote is not abridged or denied on the basis of race or color. Signed by Governor Walker on May 25, 2011, Wisconsin’s requirement to show one of a limited number of government-issued, photo identification to vote will cause confusion at the polls and disfranchise elderly, disabled, veteran, student and minority voters.

“Today’s letter from state legislators echoes the call to action the American Civil Liberties Union has made to the U.S. Attorney General’s office since July 2011. Since then, the ACLU has delivered over 75,000 letters to Holder on this issue,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Communications Director Stacy Harbaugh. “The ACLU has taken legal action in Wisconsin and across the country to stop a new wave of voter suppression laws. It is time for U. S. Attorney General Holder to connect the dots between Wisconsin’s restrictive voter ID law and discrimination against citizens who face barriers to participating in our democracy.”

Take action today: Ask U.S. Attorney General Eric  Holder to investigate voter suppression laws in Wisconsin and across the country.

On December 13, 2011, the ACLU of Wisconsin, the national American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty filed a lawsuit in federal court charging that Wisconsin’s voter ID law is unconstitutional and will deprive citizens of their basic right to vote. The lawsuit is the only active federal challenge against a voter ID law, the most common type of legislation that is part of a nationwide attack on the right to vote.

If you or someone you know will not be able to vote next year due to Wisconsin’s restrictive Voter ID law, share the story with the ACLU of Wisconsin. Download our feedback form online.

The complaint says that allowing only certain types of photo ID imposes a severe burden on the right to vote in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It also states that the law violates the 24th and 14th amendments because it effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax. The lawsuit was filed on the same day that AG Holder spoke at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin about the legacy of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the continued importance of ensuring all citizens’ access to the ballot box without barriers.

To read stories about the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin voter ID challenge, visit: http://www.aclu.org/voting-rights/frank-v-walker-fighting-voter-suppression-wisconsin

In addition to Wisconsin, six other states recently passed voter ID laws: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Other voter suppression measures that have been enacted nationwide include limiting the early voting period, eliminating same-day or Election Day registration, and restrictions on those who help register people to vote. The ACLU has also submitted comment letters to the U.S. Department of Justice regarding discriminatory voting laws in South Carolina and Texas. The ACLU intervened in court cases in which North Carolina, Alabama and most recently Arizona are challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. The ACLU filed a motion to intervene in a similar case in Georgia.

Attorneys involved in the challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law include Jon Sherman, Laughlin McDonald and Nancy Abudu of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Larry Dupuis and Karyn Rotker of the ACLU of Wisconsin and Heather Johnson and Karen Cunningham of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

To read a copy of the complaint, go to: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/frank-v-walker-complaint

Social media: Tag this story by mentioning @ACLUofWisconsin, @ACLU, #VoterID or #votingrights.

ACLU of WI: Racial profiling creates second-class citizens

7 Dec

Milwaukee police last year made nearly 200,000 traffic stops. Police Chief of Edward Flynn acknowledges that his officers are “going to stop lots of innocent people.” What’s more a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Watchdog Report found a racial gap in the 46,000 traffic stops Milwaukee police made in the first four months of 2011. The Chief explains the racial gap by pointing to his targeted policing strategy which uses traffic stops to disrupt criminal activity.

The Chief’s explanation falls short. Attributing racial disparities to a conscious departmental policy not only downplays the existence of biased policing, but by encouraging officers to make so many traffic stops, the policy masks illegal racial profiling.

The Journal Sentinel report found that the greatest racial disparity in traffic stops occurs in Police District 1, which includes downtown and parts of the east side, which have mostly white residents. A more probable explanation in this district than the effects of targeted policing is the phenomena known as “race out of place” stops. In other districts, the notion that police are responding to suspect descriptions isn’t credible when the description du jour appears to be “young black male”.

The Journal Sentinel report also found that black drivers were much more likely to have their vehicles searched than white drivers. Unfortunately, the report doesn’t state how often police used the commonly abused practice of consent searches. It did find that the hit rates for contraband were approximately 22% for both black and white drivers.

Community leaders must demand to know what the Chief is doing to eliminate bias, in addition to exhorting his officers to be fair and treat all motorists with respect. If the Chief’s policing strategy has rendered traffic stop data collection and analysis less useful as a management tool, how is the department determining the extent to which bias may be occurring? How is it remedied?

It has been suggested that the number of complaints filed by citizens about police actions is a measure of how officers treat motorists. Citizen complaints do not give us the same quantitative information as traffic stop data. Individual motorists may complain about rude treatment, but they can’t know how many black or Hispanic drivers are stopped and searched compared to white drivers. There is also reluctance on the part of offended drivers to file complaints when the complaint process is daunting to most ordinary citizens. The ACLU of Wisconsin is collecting stories about biased policing online at www.aclu-wi.org/story.

In serious discussions about using traffic stop data to address biased policing, no one I know claims that the data alone will prove that a particular officer or shift or agency is biased. Officers who do not act contrary to rules prohibiting racial profiling should have nothing to fear. Black and Hispanic drivers on the other hand do have something to fear from racial profiling – second class police service and citizenship.

This “Another View” op-ed originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on December 7, 2011. Read the MJS editorial in support of Chief Flynn’s policies on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion page.

UW Madison Students Learn About Their Rights and the Consequences of Breaking Party Laws

22 Oct

One hundred and ten people attended last night’s Know Your Rights workshop on the UW-Madison campus Mosse Humanities Building, Room 3650. The workshop was timely: next weekend’s Halloween party on State St. called Freak Fest has a long history of student arrests and law enforcement presence.


The workshop was led by ACLU of Wisconsin statewide board President and criminal defense attorney Erik Guenther of the Hurley, Burish, and Stanton Law Firm.

“I conduct ‘Know Your Rights Workshops’ regularly on college campuses around the state,” said Guenther. “It is important to me as an attorney to share my legal knowledge with college students who may not know what their constitutional rights are when they find themselves in precarious situations with police officers.”


Student leaders including Steve Horn and Jessica Johnson worked hard to publicize the event and involve other student groups as co-sponsors. Co-sponsoring UW student organizations included College Democrats, College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty, Students for Russ Feingold, Pre-Law Society, Students for Equal Access to Law School, and Wisconsin Union Directorate Society and Politics Committee.


Members of the ACLU Student Alliance on the UW Madison campus handed out “bust” cards to attendees of Freakfest in 2008. The information on what to do if stopped by police was well-received by the holiday revelers. Down from previous years, mostly due to major changes in the organization and sponsorship of the event, last year totaled 77 arrests. Student volunteers from the ACLUSA-UW will be out distributing bust cards this year as well.

Last night’s Know Your Rights workshop also enjoyed news coverage with photos in today’s Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal.

To contact Attorney Erik Guenther, call (608) 257-0945 or email eguenther@hbslawfirm.com. For more information on Know Your Rights workshops or other workshops offered by the ACLU of Wisconsin on individual rights and civil liberties, contact Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh at (608) 469-5540.

Erik’s next Know Your Rights workshop will be on the campus of the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay on November 24.

Top ten to-do list for President Obama

18 Jan

Tuesday marks an officially new federal administration and the ACLU has a few ideas on how we can restore civil rights and liberties. We even have a top ten list.

A local radio station WORT’s news reporter, Craig McComb, visited the ACLU of Wisconsin’s statewide activist conference last year where he first heard about the ACLU’s transition plan for the new administration. Craig then gathered responses from local and state activists to address the critical need for immediate action to restore the rule of law.

Each segment is around five minutes long. Listen in and then send your own letter to President Obama to ask him to close Guantanamo, end the abuses of federal power, and take our country back to basic, Constitutional rights.

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