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Victory! Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights finds state is violating civil rights rules

4 Sep

If federal transportation money is spent on expanding highways while dollars for inner-city public transportation are slashed, how can transit-dependent people – who are much more likely to be people of color – get to their jobs? What impact does expanding highways to the suburbs have on a highly segregated city?

These are the kinds of questions groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin and the Midwest Environmental Advocates asked the Wisconsin Department of Transportation back in April of 2011. We raised these questions in the name of racial and environmental justice because we knew the state was headed in the wrong direction on transportation priorities. And we learned a big part of the reason these issues weren’t being dealt with fairly was that WisDOT had simply not followed federal rules that require it to have a plan to implement civil rights requirements – and to update that plan every year. Instead, we learned in 2011 that WisDOT hadn’t had a Title VI plan since 2004 – and officials at the Federal Highway Administration office in Madison knew it and let them disregard the rules.

That’s simply the wrong thing to do. When states use hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars, they have to make sure that the benefits of those funds are shared fairly. And it isn’t fair to add to urban sprawl and ignore public transit – especially when the state knows that communities of color depend on transit much more than other groups. It means making sure the state follows Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and ensuring that transportation programs do not effectively discriminate against people of color. In the highly segregated City of Milwaukee, expanding suburban highways while cutting public transit will keep transit-dependent people from jobs, medical care, affordable housing and other needs.

Last month, after a yearlong review, the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights in Washington DC agreed with us: they found that the state was “deficient” for not complying with the civil rights rules.  Civil rights officials gave the state 90 days to improve. We’ll be keeping an eye on them as well.

And our other work for racial and environmental justice in southeastern Wisconsin isn’t over: earlier this month we filed a lawsuit in federal court over a highway expansion plan to rebuild and widen the Zoo Interchange, a plan that completely ignored the transit needs of urban communities.

Transit advocates believe that we must have a more balanced plan. When it comes to our tax dollars, fairness means that the most disfranchised in Wisconsin aren’t denied investment in their transportation options.

The story was featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin Public Radio statewide headlines today, as well as a wire story in Sheboygan, Wausau and Pierce County. It also got a mention in the Political Environment blog. Attorney Karyn Rotker was also interviewed on 1290 AM WMCS on Tuesday.

ACLU of Wisconsin & Midwest Environmental Advocates Fight For Faith-Based Groups, Black Health Coalition in Transit Lawsuit

7 Aug

Yesterday, two organizations supporting racial and environmental justice – the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin (BHCW) and Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) – filed suit in federal court in Madison, seeking to block the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s efforts to spend $1.7 billion to rebuild and expand the Zoo Interchange at the same time transit is being slashed. The lawsuit challenges the decisions of WisDOT and federal transportation officials to approve the project without including any transit component.

“One of MICAH’s biggest concerns is the extreme and unacceptable rate of joblessness in the central city, for persons of color in general and African-American men in particular,” stated Rev. Willie Brisco, MICAH President. “We all know that people of color depend on transit to get to work at all. We need more transit – to more places where the jobs are – not just highways that don’t help these members of our community get to work.”

The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin follows World Health Organization policies and principles holding that you cannot have healthy people in a sick community,” added BHCW President/CEO, Dr. Patricia McManus. “Allowing multibillion-dollar highway projects to move forward while transit moves backwards reduces the opportunities to access health care, education, and other needs, as well as employment. And expanding highways while cutting transit also hurts our air quality, which is already much worse this year than it was last year.”

BHCW and MICAH are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation and by Midwest Environmental Advocates, both non-profit organizations that support environmental justice. Download a copy of the complaint.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is a non-profit civil liberties and civil rights organization working to protect the rights of Wisconsinites. For more on the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation of Wisconsin, visit our webpage, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @ACLUofWisconsin and @ACLUMadison. Read more news and opinion on civil liberties in Wisconsin on the Forward for Liberty blog.

Midwest Environmental Advocates is a non-profit environmental law center that works for healthy water, healthy air, healthy land and healthy government for this generation and the next. MEA believes that every citizen has the potential to make a difference. Learn more about MEA on their website, midwestadvocates.org.

 

A is for ACLU and Avenue Q

2 Aug

Tickets on sale now…

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, in partnership with Skylight Music Theatre, presents a special preview of the Milwaukee premiere of Avenue Q!

Join us on Thursday, September 20 for an evening of irreverent fun and free expression. Thursday night is the final, full-dress rehearsal for Avenue Q and a limited number of seats will be sold to benefit the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation.

When – September 20, 2012:

6:00 p.m. – Reception – cocktails and ample hors d’oeuvres

7:30 p.m. – Avenue Q in the Cabot Theater

Where – Skylight Music Theatre:

Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee WI 53202

Tickets for the September 20 event are on sale now! Buy tickets online or if you cannot make the event, consider making a donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation.

Find more about the Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Avenue Q on their website.

Winner of three Tony Awards including Best Musical and written by the composer of The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q is a hilarious adult-themed spoof of Sesame Street. Part flesh (human), part felt (puppets) and packed with heart, Avenue Q tells the story of Princeton, a recent college grad who moves into a shabby NYC apartment in the only neighborhood he can afford, all the way out on Avenue Q. He soon discovers that the residents of his building are not your ordinary neighbors. Together, Princeton and his new friends struggle to find decent jobs, stable relationships and a purpose in life, but ultimately realize the real world isn’t so bad after all.

This event is made possible by:

Birch Lodge Fund of

the Cream City Foundation

Pam Kriger

 Johnson & Pabst

LGBT Humanity Fund

of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation

Host Committee:

Ross Draegert & Robert Starshak

Paul Fairchild

Pam Kriger

Jennifer Morales

Joseph Pabst

Louis Weisberg

Paul Williams

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

Voter ID On Hold, But Residency Requirements Lead to Confusion

18 Jul

Wednesday, July 18th starts the 28-day timeframe by which Wisconsin citizens establish their residency for voting. Wisconsin voters who move after Wednesday will have to register and vote at their old address in order to cast a ballot for the August primaries.

Don’t be surprised if residency requirements seem a bit confusing. For the June 5 recall election, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, through our work with the nonpartisan Wisconsin Election Protection (@EPWisco) effort, helped to field many questions from voters about when residency restrictions began and what documents were needed to prove residency for those who were registering on Election Day. A complete list of documents needed to prove residency is available on the GAB website.

Residency requirements raised a lot of questions for college student voters who wanted to vote in the June recall, but moved away from their college residence after the end of the semester,” said Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The new residency rules will definitely impact student voters this fall, particularly those who live or go to school in places where the primary races are the most competitive.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s legal department interviewed students from around the state who would be impacted by the requirements to show a photo ID to vote. Students who move to Wisconsin from out of state would be particularly impacted by voter ID if their school did not have a free student ID that complied with the law. But even students who live in Wisconsin year-around are impacted by new residency restrictions if they move between their family and college residence.

Yesterday a second judge issued an order to stop the implementation of the Voter ID law. A federal lawsuit from the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is still pending.  Read more about why we filed suit and why we amended our lawsuit to include a Voting Rights Act claim about the discriminatory racial impact of the law.

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.

Racial Justice Advocates Ask Sen. Kohl to Support the End Racial Profiling Act

17 Jul

On Monday, July 9, a dozen Wisconsinites went to U.S. Senator Herb Kohl’s office to discuss the problem of racial profiling. They shared stories about their experiences living in Southeastern Wisconsin and described their concerns with race-based traffic stops and other actions by law enforcement they felt were discriminatory. 

ACLU of Wisconsin members were among those who visited Kohl’s office to ask for his support of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA). The End Racial Profiling Act of 2011 (S. 1670 and H.R. 3618) would prohibit and attempt to ban racial profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin at the federal, state and local (including tribal) levels. The House version of ERPA includes gender as a protected category.

Contact Senator Kohl’s office and ask him to be a co-sponsor of the End Racial Profiling Act.

Followers of the Forward for Liberty blog may have already read our statements about how Milwaukee residents deserve professional policing after controversial allegations of illegal strip searches came to light. It is our position that racial profiling creates second-class citizens in Milwaukee and anywhere in Wisconsin where race is a factor in police stopping people on the street or in their cars. We worked to encourage the state legislature to pass a law requiring police to keep data on the race and ethnicity of people pulled over in traffic stops, but that law was quickly repealed by Governor Walker last year.

Some of the advocates who visited Kohl’s office are a part of the Face the Truth campaign which is an effort by the Rights Working Group to get meaningful action taken to stop discriminatory policing across the nation. The campaign is being endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union along with a coalition of over 100 national, state and local civil liberties, human rights, civil rights, immigrants’ rights and racial justice organizations.

Here is more about racial profiling from the Rights Working Group’s website:

What is racial profiling?

Racial profiling is the use of race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin by law enforcement agents as a factor in deciding whom to investigate, arrest or detain, except where these characteristics are part of a specific suspect description. It is a degrading practice, is pervasive across the United States and continues largely unchecked, violating constitutional and international human rights:

- African American, Native American and Latino/Hispanic individuals are stopped and searched much more often by law enforcement, for example, when “driving while black or brown” than whites;

- Since September 11, 2001, members of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities have increasingly and disproportionately been placed under surveillance, searched, interrogated and detained in the name of “national security” and have often times been labeled “terrorism suspects” when in reality many have only been charged with misdemeanors or minor immigration violations, if they have been charged at all;

- In recent years, law enforcement has singled out members of a third population under the guise of immigration enforcement—disproportionately harassing, interrogating, physically abusing and detaining individuals perceived to be Latino or Hispanic, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

By focusing on arbitrary factors unrelated to criminal activity rather than on specific indicators of criminal behavior or specific information about a criminal suspect, law enforcement agents decrease the hit rate on catching criminals. They also lose the trust of community members who believe agents to be biased or unjust. As a result, community members become less likely to assist with criminal investigations or seek protection from police when they themselves are victimized, which makes everyone less safe.

What has been done recently to stop racial profiling?

The U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance prohibiting the use of race and ethnicity by federal law enforcement agencies in 2003 but this guidance is not enforceable, it does not address profiling based on religion or national origin, it does not cover surveillance activities, and it leaves gaping loopholes that allow racial profiling for “national security” purposes and at U.S. borders. The Department of Justice should revise these guidelines and apply them to anywhere federal agents act in partnership with state or local law enforcement agents and to any agency that receives federal funds.

The Secure Communities program and the Criminal Alien Program were established by former President George Bush in 2008 and expanded under President Obama. These programs involve state and local police in the enforcement of federal immigration laws and have formally (and informally) resulted in pre-textual arrests of people whom the police perceive to be “foreign,” including citizens and lawful permanent residents; police stop these individuals for other alleged, often minor offenses, as a pretext for checking immigration status. Programs like these should be eliminated if they result in racial profiling.

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.

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.

Troubles with Requiring Photo ID to Vote – Tell Your Story to the ACLU of Wisconsin

17 Nov

Starting in February, all Wisconsin voters are going to have to show photo ID to vote. For most voters, that means they have to show an unexpired Wisconsin state ID card or driver’s license. A few other kinds of photo identification cards, like some tribal, college and military IDs, unexpired U.S. passport, or a recent certificate of naturalization, will also be acceptable. Read more about what is in the law on the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board’s Voter Photo ID law webpage (Spanish, DMV).

But the ACLU of Wisconsin is hearing from otherwise eligible voters who are not included among those who have one of the qualifying IDs to vote. Will you or someone you know not be able to get a photo IDs to vote in 2012?

People who cannot get a photo ID to vote in Wisconsin under the new law may include people who:

  • were born in Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Puerto Rico, and do not have a certified copy of their birth certificate (For people born in Puerto Rico, the copy must be from October 2010 or later);
  • were never issued a birth certificate (for example, because they were born at home in a state like Mississippi, Alabama or Tennessee), or for some reason other than lack of money they can’t get a birth certificate (for example, they don’t have the kind of ID they need to get a birth certificate from the state where they were born);
  • are having trouble getting a qualifying photo ID because they have little or no income so they can’t afford the papers they need to get the ID such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or certificates of U.S. citizenship or naturalization;
  • are having trouble getting a qualifying photo ID because they cannot obtain a Social Security Card due to lack of proof of identity—and in a Catch-22—have no other way to prove identity to the DMV;
  • are having trouble getting a photo ID because they don’t have transportation to get to the DMV office, or they work during all the hours their local DMV office is open;
  • do not have a regular home address or they do not have proof of their address in their name like a utility bill or paycheck. For example, they are homeless, they live in a shelter, they live in someone else’s house and don’t have bills in their name, or they move often and don’t have a regular address;
  • are a person with a disability that will make it very hard for them to get to a DMV office to get their photo ID, it is hard for them to leave their home, or they are unable to sign their name sometimes or always;
  • are a student at a Wisconsin technical college and they don’t have a Wisconsin driver’s license, state ID card, U.S. passport, or tribal or military ID;
  • or are a student at any Wisconsin college or university, they have a driver’s license from another state (but don’t have a car or drive regularly in Wisconsin) and do not have a passport or tribal or military ID.

If you or if someone you know has a story to share about barriers to obtaining a photo ID to vote in Wisconsin, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin at  (414) 272 4032, ext. 216 or email your story to  inquiries@aclu wi.org.

Please remember that the details of the voter ID law, particularly for students, may still change between now and elections in 2012. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and the Wisconsin Election Protection Coalition will provide more voting rights information in the future. But if you or someone you know falls into a category described above, we still want to hear your story.

Find more on voting rights in Wisconsin on the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Voting Rights webpage, including fliers to download and share with people in your community who may be disfranchised by the new photo ID requirement to vote.