Why Is Arizona Forcing Doctors to Lie to Women Who Need Abortions?

Ask yourself this question: Should the government be able to force your doctor to lie to you about medical care?

You are probably thinking that this is a no-brainer — that it’s too obvious for words that the government shouldn’t be in the business of forcing your doctor to practice bad medicine. 

And it is, unless you’re a woman who lives in Arizona.

In April, politicians passed a law that forces doctors to give patients inaccurate information. Under Arizona’s new law, doctors must mislead their patients by telling every woman seeking an abortion that a medication abortion may be reversed.

Simply put, this law would force doctors to practice bad medicine. There is no credible medical evidence that any abortion, medication or otherwise, may be reversed.

That’s why the leading organization of women’s health care physicians, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, opposes Arizona’s extreme law. And that’s why we filed a lawsuit today against the state of Arizona — because allowing politicians to force doctors to violate their patients’ trust and lie to them is grossly unethical and unconstitutional.

But what’s really frightening: Arizona’s offensive new law is just one of a profusion of recent bills based on politics, not medicine, which are aimed at preventing women from getting an abortion or shaming and humiliating them if they do.

In the first quarter of 2015 alone, more than 330 abortion restrictions were introduced in 43 states.

This includes bills from Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina, which force a woman to wait for days before she can get an abortion after she’s already made the decision. The message couldn’t be any clearer or more patronizing: “Honey, you should go home and really think this through.”

It includes new laws from Indiana and Tennessee that impose burdensome and medically unnecessary requirements on abortion clinics with the sole goal of forcing them to close down.

And it includes a slew of attempts by politicians in Wisconsin, West Virginia, and even Congress to simply ban abortions.

It’s clear that extreme legislators aren’t slowing down. But we aren’t either.

Our message is clear. Politicians should stop trying to play doctor, because the exam room is no place for politics.

Doctors must mislead their patients by telling every woman seeking an abortion that a medication abortion may be reversed.

Call Her Caitlyn But Then Let’s Move on to the Issues Affecting the Trans Community

Today Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world in a fabulous Vanity Fair spread. “Call me Caitlyn,” she tells the public in this latest cover story and through her recently launched @Caitlyn­­_Jenner Twitter handle.

It is important that people do actually call her Caitlyn.

Words matter and erasing the identity of trans people by calling them by their birth names and birth-assigned sex is an act of hatred — one that is inextricable from the brutal violence that so many trans people, particularly trans women of color, encounter just for existing in the world.

How we talk about trans people sets the tone for the world in which trans people live.

And because young trans people are dying by suicide and trans women of color are being murdered at alarming rates, those of us forming public narratives about trans celebrities have an obligation to tell those stories with care.

When we write about Caitlyn Jenner, her name and narrative will give enough context. There is no need to mention what her name used to be or what sex she was assigned at birth. And as writer and activist Janet Mock brilliantly explained to Piers Morgan, neither Janet nor Caitlyn were “born boys.” They were born babies and they are women — brave and fabulous women.

But as brave and fabulous as Caitlyn Jenner is, and she is both of those things, her story is so far from the story of most trans peoples’ lives and should not eclipse the truth of the fight for trans justice.  

Telling her story with care means using the right name and pronoun, but it also means highlighting the extent to which it is not the typical trans story. Her story can only be told by also telling the stories of the trans people who are struggling to survive systemic discrimination.

Health care for transgender people remains highly stigmatized and largely unavailable for the majority of trans people. Both private (i.e., employer) and public (i.e. Medicaid) insurance plans continue to have blanket bans on coverage for health care related to gender transition. Even where there has been progress on coverage generally, insurance coverage for care that trans women need is still elusive.

For example, the facial feminization surgery that Caitlyn describes in Vanity Fair is almost universally excluded from coverage. This means that most trans people, particularly trans women of color, cannot access the basic care that they need. It means that going to the doctor feels like a battle — if a trans person can get there at all. It means that trans people participate in criminalized economics like the drug and sex trades to pay for the health care they need or seek the care from friends or unsupervised black markets. It means that trans people die seeking the care they need to live.

To tell Caitlyn’s story with care is to demand justice for trans people.

We must not tell Caitlyn’s story in a vacuum that erases the history of trans organizing, mobilizing, and celebrity of the many trans women who came before her and made her Vanity Fair cover possible. Janet. Laverne. Major. Sylvia. Marsha.

We must not exclaim that Caitlyn looks “fabulous” without interrogating our standards for which trans people get to grace the covers of magazines and all the while continuing to keep the health care that brings life to trans people out of reach.

We must not celebrate Caitlyn without mourning Islan, Lamia, Penny, and the hundreds of other trans women, mostly of color, we have lost to violence. This violence isn’t just at the hands of hateful partners or strangers, but violence in the arms of hateful and exclusionary systems.

Thank you, Caitlyn, for bravely sharing your truth. May your platform shed light on these injustices and the leaders who have been fighting to make them known. 

How we talk about trans people sets the tone for the world in which trans people live.

Call Her Caitlyn But Then Let’s Move on to the Issues Affecting the Trans Community

Today Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world in a fabulous Vanity Fair spread. “Call me Caitlyn,” she tells the public in this latest cover story and through her recently launched @Caitlyn­­_Jenner Twitter handle.

It is important that people do actually call her Caitlyn.

Words matter and erasing the identity of trans people by calling them by their birth names and birth-assigned sex is an act of hatred — one that is inextricable from the brutal violence that so many trans people, particularly trans women of color, encounter just for existing in the world.

How we talk about trans people sets the tone for the world in which trans people live.

And because young trans people are dying by suicide and trans women of color are being murdered at alarming rates, those of us forming public narratives about trans celebrities have an obligation to tell those stories with care.

When we write about Caitlyn Jenner, her name and narrative will give enough context. There is no need to mention what her name used to be or what sex she was assigned at birth. And as writer and activist Janet Mock brilliantly explained to Piers Morgan, neither Janet nor Caitlyn were “born boys.” They were born babies and they are women — brave and fabulous women.

But as brave and fabulous as Caitlyn Jenner is, and she is both of those things, her story is so far from the story of most trans peoples’ lives and should not eclipse the truth of the fight for trans justice.  

Telling her story with care means using the right name and pronoun, but it also means highlighting the extent to which it is not the typical trans story. Her story can only be told by also telling the stories of the trans people who are struggling to survive systemic discrimination.

Health care for transgender people remains highly stigmatized and largely unavailable for the majority of trans people. Both private (i.e., employer) and public (i.e. Medicaid) insurance plans continue to have blanket bans on coverage for health care related to gender transition. Even where there has been progress on coverage generally, insurance coverage for care that trans women need is still elusive.

For example, the facial feminization surgery that Caitlyn describes in Vanity Fair is almost universally excluded from coverage. This means that most trans people, particularly trans women of color, cannot access the basic care that they need. It means that going to the doctor feels like a battle — if a trans person can get there at all. It means that trans people participate in criminalized economics like the drug and sex trades to pay for the health care they need or seek the care from friends or unsupervised black markets. It means that trans people die seeking the care they need to live.

To tell Caitlyn’s story with care is to demand justice for trans people.

We must not tell Caitlyn’s story in a vacuum that erases the history of trans organizing, mobilizing, and celebrity of the many trans women who came before her and made her Vanity Fair cover possible. Janet. Laverne. Major. Sylvia. Marsha.

We must not exclaim that Caitlyn looks “fabulous” without interrogating our standards for which trans people get to grace the covers of magazines and all the while continuing to keep the health care that brings life to trans people out of reach.

We must not celebrate Caitlyn without mourning Islan, Lamia, Penny, and the hundreds of other trans women, mostly of color, we have lost to violence. This violence isn’t just at the hands of hateful partners or strangers, but violence in the arms of hateful and exclusionary systems.

Thank you, Caitlyn, for bravely sharing your truth. May your platform shed light on these injustices and the leaders who have been fighting to make them known. 

How we talk about trans people sets the tone for the world in which trans people live.

The Patriot Act’s Time is Up

The Senate is in gridlock – but the tide is shifting in favor of surveillance reformers.

The showdown between hawks and reformers was on full display over the weekend, as the Senate took up two separate bills to address the looming Patriot Act expiration deadline.

The first, the USA Freedom Act, offers modest reforms to NSA surveillance authorities but does not go nearly far enough. The second, a two-month extension of the expiring provisions, ostensibly preserves the law that has been misconstrued to allow mass spying.

Both fell shy of the 60 votes needed to proceed under Senate rules.

But, the bigger surprise: even with a deadline looming, warnings of impending doom from surveillance justifiers, and pressure from Senate leadership, the extension received less support than the reform bill.

In other words, more senators believe that the prospect of completely losing some surveillance authority is less damaging than allowing the government to continue its current surveillance practices.

This is a seismic shift from where our country was just years ago. To put it in context, in 2011, a four-year extension easily passed both chambers and was barely a blip in the news cycle.

What’s different this time around?

For one, the public. In the wake of 9/11, and the panic that ensued, the public was overwhelmingly supportive of the Patriot Act and the country’s counterterrorism policies. In 2003, only 22 percent of people were concerned by the Patriot Act. Today, close to two-thirds of Americans support reforming the Patriot Act, and over 80 percent are concerned by the fact that the government can access intimate information about Americans without a warrant.

With the weekend’s vote, Congress is still a step behind the public. Notably, however, many of the Republicans who bucked leadership to vote for reform were newly elected in 2014 – meaning public opinion may be starting to shift Congress.

Two, we now know about the government’s illegal activity. Congress has reauthorized provisions of the Patriot Act four times – in 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2011. But, this is the first time they have considered them with eyes wide open.

As a result of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, we now know that our surveillance systems are so massive that they leave no American untouched. “Collect it all” is the NSA’s motto and they have been doing just that. Call records, emails, financial records – all have been swept up in bulk. And, as a federal court ruled earlier this month in relation to the call record program, the government has been operating illegally.

Finally, the intelligence agencies’ fearmongering is increasingly falling flat. By exposing the NSA’s activities, Snowden not only triggered a debate, he also forced the government to try and justify the effectiveness of some of the domestic spying programs. And, they can’t.

An independent analysis of the call records program – where the government collected information about all calls made in the country for over a decade – revealed that it had never made a concrete difference in any terrorism investigation. And, a recently released Justice Department Inspector General’s report showed that FBI agents couldn’t identify any major case developments that had resulted from information received under Section 215 – one of the laws currently being considered by Congress.

Any other federal program that had failed so miserably would have been scrapped long ago. And, in the face of this data, Congress is finally considering doing just that.

The Senate returns to the Capitol on May 31 – just eight hours before provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire. And, after the latest vote, it is clear that the scale no longer tips in favor of maintaining the dismal surveillance status quo. Congress has to enact far reaching reform or allow provisions of the Patriot set to expire to sunset. Otherwise, they risk being seen as increasingly irrelevant and out of touch with the public.

This piece was originally published by The Hill.

The Senate is in gridlock – but the tide is shifting in favor of surveillance reformers.

Nebraska Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto and Gives Dreamers Their License to Drive

Maria Marquez Hernandez just graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a degree in psychology, but she still can’t give her younger sister a ride. That’s because she’s a Dreamer — brought to the U.S. by her parents and raised undocumented as a child.

Shortly after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was announced in 2012, Maria applied for DACA and received a Social Security number and work authorization card, which ordinarily would have allowed her to apply for a Nebraska driver’s license. But the former and current governor decreed that Dreamers could not qualify for driver’s licenses, even if they presented that documentation. This has made daily life difficult for Maria, but not being able to do what other big sisters do bothered her most.

Buckle up. This week that changed when the Nebraska Senate voted in dramatic fashion to let Dreamers drive.

Maria loves Nebraska, which she has called home since the age of five. But as she has noted, standing up for herself and others in the face of injustice is part of being an American. So when Maria was denied a license because of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ adherence to an unfair and unlawful edict, she joined with several of her fellow Dreamers to challenge it in court. But rather than simply waiting on a court to decide, Dreamers and their allies, including the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, convinced the legislature to consider a bill to reverse the discriminatory policy.

At first, it seemed like a long shot. Republican members of Congress are trying to scrap DACA altogether. Republican governors and attorneys general in 26 states — including Nebraska — are suing to stop the DACA program from expanding. How were Dreamers going to convince a majority of Republicans to override their Republican governor?

Ask them. Last week, the legislature passed a bill ensuring that Dreamers with DACA — and anyone else with deferred action — are eligible for driver’s licenses. When the governor vetoed the bill, the senators stood strong, and voted 34-10 to override the veto. This vote is a victory for Dreamers, and for all Nebraskans.

But it is also of national significance for two other reasons.

First, it successfully concludes nearly three years of a nationwide, state-by-state legal and political struggle by ACLU and partner organizations to support Dreamers’ fight to win recognition of their right to driver’s licenses. As soon as President Obama announced his DACA initiative in August 2012, most states embraced the opportunity to integrate young immigrants and to ensure that they are trained, tested, licensed, and insured as drivers. Some states, however, vowed to deny driver’s licenses to them. Others stonewalled.

There was more than driving at stake. For states and Dreamers alike, a driver’s license symbolizes belonging, membership, and acceptance. In most cases, recalcitrant state officials relented in the face of strong legal advocacy, organizing, and the broad public consensus favoring fair treatment of Dreamers.

Three states held out: Michigan, Arizona, and Nebraska. Dreamers had little choice but to sue, with the support of ACLU and other partners. Michigan began issuing licenses soon after being sued. Arizona began issuing licenses earlier this year, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found that the state’s policy violated the U.S. Constitution. This left Nebraska standing alone, the last state clinging to discrimination.

Wisely, rather than await yet another unfavorable court ruling, the legislature took the affirmative step of passing a law to end two governors’ losing battle. The law is effective immediately, meaning that Dreamers granted DACA finally have the right to apply for driver’s licenses in all 50 states.

Second, the Nebraska vote brings an underreported trend to the surface: the unwillingness of state legislatures in both red and blue states to penalize Dreamers and others granted deferred action.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of numerous failed anti-immigrant state laws, boasted earlier this year that he was in consultation with lawmakers from a dozen other states about state legislation to target Dreamers and others who benefit from federal executive actions on immigration.

Yet from Kansas to Georgia to Texas, Republicans state legislators are refusing as a matter of state policy to penalize Dreamers. Why? It’s one thing to file a bill attacking Dreamers, and it’s quite another to have to face them, hearing after hearing, and to listen to their stories, which always disrupt simplistic stereotypes regarding “illegal immigration.”

The media rebroadcasts those stories of young people overcoming extraordinary obstacles to contribute actively to their communities, and public opinion turns even further against legislators seeking to punish Dreamers. The Nebraska vote is another strong indication of support, on the ground, for Dreamers and the presidents’ deferred action initiatives. Republicans may disagree with the way in which the president has gone about his reforms, but they appear to agree with the policies themselves.

Either way, Maria Marquez Hernandez, other Dreamers, and their allies will keep fighting — and winning.

All 50 states now recognize Dreamer's right to a driver's license.

Nebraska Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto and Gives Dreamers Their License to Drive

Maria Marquez Hernandez just graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a degree in psychology, but she still can’t give her younger sister a ride. That’s because she’s a Dreamer — brought to the U.S. by her parents and raised undocumented as a child.

Shortly after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was announced in 2012, Maria applied for DACA and received a Social Security number and work authorization card, which ordinarily would have allowed her to apply for a Nebraska driver’s license. But the former and current governor decreed that Dreamers could not qualify for driver’s licenses, even if they presented that documentation. This has made daily life difficult for Maria, but not being able to do what other big sisters do bothered her most.

Buckle up. This week that changed when the Nebraska Senate voted in dramatic fashion to let Dreamers drive.

Maria loves Nebraska, which she has called home since the age of five. But as she has noted, standing up for herself and others in the face of injustice is part of being an American. So when Maria was denied a license because of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ adherence to an unfair and unlawful edict, she joined with several of her fellow Dreamers to challenge it in court. But rather than simply waiting on a court to decide, Dreamers and their allies, including the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, convinced the legislature to consider a bill to reverse the discriminatory policy.

At first, it seemed like a long shot. Republican members of Congress are trying to scrap DACA altogether. Republican governors and attorneys general in 26 states — including Nebraska — are suing to stop the DACA program from expanding. How were Dreamers going to convince a majority of Republicans to override their Republican governor?

Ask them. Last week, the legislature passed a bill ensuring that Dreamers with DACA — and anyone else with deferred action — are eligible for driver’s licenses. When the governor vetoed the bill, the senators stood strong, and voted 34-10 to override the veto. This vote is a victory for Dreamers, and for all Nebraskans.

But it is also of national significance for two other reasons.

First, it successfully concludes nearly three years of a nationwide, state-by-state legal and political struggle by ACLU and partner organizations to support Dreamers’ fight to win recognition of their right to driver’s licenses. As soon as President Obama announced his DACA initiative in August 2012, most states embraced the opportunity to integrate young immigrants and to ensure that they are trained, tested, licensed, and insured as drivers. Some states, however, vowed to deny driver’s licenses to them. Others stonewalled.

There was more than driving at stake. For states and Dreamers alike, a driver’s license symbolizes belonging, membership, and acceptance. In most cases, recalcitrant state officials relented in the face of strong legal advocacy, organizing, and the broad public consensus favoring fair treatment of Dreamers.

Three states held out: Michigan, Arizona, and Nebraska. Dreamers had little choice but to sue, with the support of ACLU and other partners. Michigan began issuing licenses soon after being sued. Arizona began issuing licenses earlier this year, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found that the state’s policy violated the U.S. Constitution. This left Nebraska standing alone, the last state clinging to discrimination.

Wisely, rather than await yet another unfavorable court ruling, the legislature took the affirmative step of passing a law to end two governors’ losing battle. The law is effective immediately, meaning that Dreamers granted DACA finally have the right to apply for driver’s licenses in all 50 states.

Second, the Nebraska vote brings an underreported trend to the surface: the unwillingness of state legislatures in both red and blue states to penalize Dreamers and others granted deferred action.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of numerous failed anti-immigrant state laws, boasted earlier this year that he was in consultation with lawmakers from a dozen other states about state legislation to target Dreamers and others who benefit from federal executive actions on immigration.

Yet from Kansas to Georgia to Texas, Republicans state legislators are refusing as a matter of state policy to penalize Dreamers. Why? It’s one thing to file a bill attacking Dreamers, and it’s quite another to have to face them, hearing after hearing, and to listen to their stories, which always disrupt simplistic stereotypes regarding “illegal immigration.”

The media rebroadcasts those stories of young people overcoming extraordinary obstacles to contribute actively to their communities, and public opinion turns even further against legislators seeking to punish Dreamers. The Nebraska vote is another strong indication of support, on the ground, for Dreamers and the presidents’ deferred action initiatives. Republicans may disagree with the way in which the president has gone about his reforms, but they appear to agree with the policies themselves.

Either way, Maria Marquez Hernandez, other Dreamers, and their allies will keep fighting — and winning.

All 50 states now recognize Dreamer's right to a driver's license.

Minneapolis Divided: A Tale of Two Cities

Being Black in America today is rough. Turns out being Black and living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, doesn’t make it any easier. Often appearing on “Top 10 Best Places to Live” lists, Minneapolis is billed as a progressive, accessible American city, where residents can work, raise families, and generally live out their own American dream. But if you’re a person of color or of a lower socioeconomic status (or, even worse, both) living in Minneapolis, the numbers tell a different tale – indeed, a tale of two cities.

Picking Up the Pieces – Policing in America,  A Minneapolis Case Study” is an in-depth look at policing in Minneapolis that explores the who, what, when, where, why and how low-level arrests occurred in Minneapolis during a 33-month time span. In recent months the ACLU analyzed data on low-level arrests made by the Minneapolis Police Department between January 2012 and September 2014. To be clear, low-level offenses are those that carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail, a maximum fine of $3000, or both, if convicted.  Many of these offenses are punishment by only a fine.

Results of the ACLU data crunch are staggering, and they make it clear that the most vulnerable populations living in Minneapolis are being policed differently than the more fortunate, resulting in a Minneapolis divided.

According to the data, Black people in Minneapolis are 8.7 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than a white person. Native Americans are 8.6 times more likely to be arrested. And it doesn’t end there.

Youth and homeless populations bear the brunt of unequal policing as well. Black and Native American youth are 5.8 times and 7.7 times more likely, respectively, to be arrested for a low-level offense than white youth. Furthermore, 40 percent of all youth arrests in Minneapolis are for curfew violations. Instead of pushing kids into the jaws of the criminal justice system, law enforcement should guarantee their safety by bringing them home to their parents or to another safe place.

These arrests, and their attendant racial disparities, are not inevitable. Rather they appear to be the product of racially biased policing and broken police practices. Whether caused by implicit or explicit bias, the result is the same. Communities of color in Minneapolis are being pushed further to the margins.

Moreover, the quality and fairness of every interaction with police officers has wide-ranging implications, according to Anthony Newby, the executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change in North Minneapolis. “Political power starts with the police,” he explains. “And that’s most people’s front-line experience with the government.  And when that’s negative, and consistently negative, it informs people’s everyday experience and generally makes people withdraw from wanting anything to do with politics or political power.”

Sadly, any entry point into the American criminal justice system today is a pathway to a more difficult life. Those arrested bear the punishments directly imposed, as well as collateral consequences that can snowball and follow them around, sometimes for life. The financial burdens of fines and fees, loss of employment, ineligibility for certain jobs, the potential housing and financial aid penalties, the social stigma, and the stress of navigating through the criminal justice maze wear people down and make it significantly more difficult to achieve a healthy, fruitful existence.

Moreover, a recent study by the Vera Institute of Justice demonstrated how spending as few as a couple days in jail can “increase the likelihood of a sentence of incarceration and the harshness of that sentence, reduce economic viability, promote future criminal behavior, and worsen the health of the largely low-risk defendants who enter them—making jail a gateway to deeper and more lasting involvement in the criminal justice system at considerable costs to the people involved and to society at large.” Simply put, by unfairly targeting the most vulnerable populations for low-level arrests, police in Minneapolis are making it harder for its own communities to succeed.

Law enforcement exists to serve and protect. But arresting a homeless man of color for panhandling or a young person for a curfew violation doesn’t further this goal. These kinds of arrests achieve the opposite, pushing people further away from health, wealth, and opportunity.

The ACLU has offered recommendations to officials in Minneapolis, and they have taken note. But much more work lies ahead.

Everyone in Minneapolis has the same right to be free from unequal treatment by the police. Now is the time for Minneapolis to seize the opportunity and build stronger, more inclusive community-police relations, guaranteeing that constitutional rights don’t apply to only some people in some parts of the city. Only then can a tale of two cities become a story of one Minneapolis — unified, fair, and equal.

For more information on “Picking Up the Pieces, Policing in America: A Minneapolis Case Study,” click here: feature/picking-pieces.

ACLU finds overcriminalization, and its disproportionate impact on people of color, in Minneapolis is worse than you thought.

Minneapolis Divided: A Tale of Two Cities

Being Black in America today is rough. Turns out being Black and living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, doesn’t make it any easier. Often appearing on “Top 10 Best Places to Live” lists, Minneapolis is billed as a progressive, accessible American city, where residents can work, raise families, and generally live out their own American dream. But if you’re a person of color or of a lower socioeconomic status (or, even worse, both) living in Minneapolis, the numbers tell a different tale – indeed, a tale of two cities.

Picking Up the Pieces – Policing in America,  A Minneapolis Case Study” is an in-depth look at policing in Minneapolis that explores the who, what, when, where, why and how low-level arrests occurred in Minneapolis during a 33-month time span. In recent months the ACLU analyzed data on low-level arrests made by the Minneapolis Police Department between January 2012 and September 2014. To be clear, low-level offenses are those that carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail, a maximum fine of $3000, or both, if convicted.  Many of these offenses are punishment by only a fine.

Results of the ACLU data crunch are staggering, and they make it clear that the most vulnerable populations living in Minneapolis are being policed differently than the more fortunate, resulting in a Minneapolis divided.

According to the data, Black people in Minneapolis are 8.7 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than a white person. Native Americans are 8.6 times more likely to be arrested. And it doesn’t end there.

Youth and homeless populations bear the brunt of unequal policing as well. Black and Native American youth are 5.8 times and 7.7 times more likely, respectively, to be arrested for a low-level offense than white youth. Furthermore, 40 percent of all youth arrests in Minneapolis are for curfew violations. Instead of pushing kids into the jaws of the criminal justice system, law enforcement should guarantee their safety by bringing them home to their parents or to another safe place.

These arrests, and their attendant racial disparities, are not inevitable. Rather they appear to be the product of racially biased policing and broken police practices. Whether caused by implicit or explicit bias, the result is the same. Communities of color in Minneapolis are being pushed further to the margins.

Moreover, the quality and fairness of every interaction with police officers has wide-ranging implications, according to Anthony Newby, the executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change in North Minneapolis. “Political power starts with the police,” he explains. “And that’s most people’s front-line experience with the government.  And when that’s negative, and consistently negative, it informs people’s everyday experience and generally makes people withdraw from wanting anything to do with politics or political power.”

Sadly, any entry point into the American criminal justice system today is a pathway to a more difficult life. Those arrested bear the punishments directly imposed, as well as collateral consequences that can snowball and follow them around, sometimes for life. The financial burdens of fines and fees, loss of employment, ineligibility for certain jobs, the potential housing and financial aid penalties, the social stigma, and the stress of navigating through the criminal justice maze wear people down and make it significantly more difficult to achieve a healthy, fruitful existence.

Moreover, a recent study by the Vera Institute of Justice demonstrated how spending as few as a couple days in jail can “increase the likelihood of a sentence of incarceration and the harshness of that sentence, reduce economic viability, promote future criminal behavior, and worsen the health of the largely low-risk defendants who enter them—making jail a gateway to deeper and more lasting involvement in the criminal justice system at considerable costs to the people involved and to society at large.” Simply put, by unfairly targeting the most vulnerable populations for low-level arrests, police in Minneapolis are making it harder for its own communities to succeed.

Law enforcement exists to serve and protect. But arresting a homeless man of color for panhandling or a young person for a curfew violation doesn’t further this goal. These kinds of arrests achieve the opposite, pushing people further away from health, wealth, and opportunity.

The ACLU has offered recommendations to officials in Minneapolis, and they have taken note. But much more work lies ahead.

Everyone in Minneapolis has the same right to be free from unequal treatment by the police. Now is the time for Minneapolis to seize the opportunity and build stronger, more inclusive community-police relations, guaranteeing that constitutional rights don’t apply to only some people in some parts of the city. Only then can a tale of two cities become a story of one Minneapolis — unified, fair, and equal.

For more information on “Picking Up the Pieces, Policing in America: A Minneapolis Case Study,” click here: feature/picking-pieces.

ACLU finds overcriminalization, and its disproportionate impact on people of color, in Minneapolis is worse than you thought.

Victory! UN Crime Commission Approves Mandela Rules on Treatment of Prisoners

Last week I was in Vienna, representing the ACLU at the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Meetings of the Crime Commission, as it’s informally known, are sometimes contentious. But the commission’s closing session on Friday afternoon was anything but. Instead, the delegates erupted in thunderous applause as the Mandela Rules on the treatment of prisoners were approved by acclamation — the culmination of years of work by the ACLU and many others.

The Mandela Rules — named in honor of the late South African President Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years by the country’s apartheid regime — are the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, or SMRs. The SMRs are the leading international body of principles on the treatment of prisoners, but they were drafted in 1955 and were badly in need of updating.

The revisions provide that solitary confinement “shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review.” Indefinite solitary confinement and prolonged solitary confinement — defined as more than 15 consecutive days — are now prohibited. Solitary confinement will also be prohibited in the case of persons with mental or physical disabilities when their condition would be exacerbated.

The Mandela Rules include other important revisions addressing the treatment of women and persons with disabilities.  The provisions regarding health care are strengthened, and significant safeguards on the use of restraints have been added.

Finally, the resolution approving the Mandela Rules calls for July 18 – the global icon’s birthday – to be known as Mandela Prisoner Rights Day, which will promote humane conditions of confinement and raise awareness of prisoners as a continuing part of society.

One notable feature of this year’s Crime Commission was the positive role played by the United States. The U.S. delegation strongly supported adopting the rules and naming them in honor of Nelson Mandela, whom it called “one of the greatest defenders of human rights and dignity in recent history.” It resisted attempts to reopen the text of the Mandela Rules that had been agreed to in Cape Town earlier this year, and it fought back against efforts to insert language that would allow countries to disregard certain rules for cultural and religious reasons.

Perhaps most important, the U.S. delegation included the corrections directors from Washington and Colorado, two states that have significantly reduced solitary confinement and pioneered other progressive reforms. The two directors described their work at a panel discussion sponsored by the United States, and the duo played a key role in negotiations leading to adoption of the Mandela Rules.

It is important to remember that the outcome is a compromise that was reached after a lengthy intergovernmental process and extensive negotiations, which often attempted to water down progressive revisions. That said, civil society groups as well as independent experts like the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture played a significant role in guiding the process and advocating for progressive human rights-based revisions.

Our work isn’t over yet.

The Mandela Rules still need to be approved by the U.N. General Assembly this fall, although approval is overwhelmingly likely. Unlike a treaty, the rules aren’t binding, although they represent a powerful global consensus on minimum standards.  The real work — ensuring that the Mandela Rules make a difference in the lives of the millions of prisoners throughout the world — begins now. But the unanimous adoption of the Mandela Rules in Vienna last week was an indispensable first step, and a positive development for prisoners’ rights everywhere.

ACLU explains the Mandela Rules, a major victory in solitary confinement protocol.

Victory! UN Crime Commission Approves Mandela Rules on Treatment of Prisoners

Last week I was in Vienna, representing the ACLU at the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Meetings of the Crime Commission, as it’s informally known, are sometimes contentious. But the commission’s closing session on Friday afternoon was anything but. Instead, the delegates erupted in thunderous applause as the Mandela Rules on the treatment of prisoners were approved by acclamation — the culmination of years of work by the ACLU and many others.

The Mandela Rules — named in honor of the late South African President Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years by the country’s apartheid regime — are the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, or SMRs. The SMRs are the leading international body of principles on the treatment of prisoners, but they were drafted in 1955 and were badly in need of updating.

The revisions provide that solitary confinement “shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review.” Indefinite solitary confinement and prolonged solitary confinement — defined as more than 15 consecutive days — are now prohibited. Solitary confinement will also be prohibited in the case of persons with mental or physical disabilities when their condition would be exacerbated.

The Mandela Rules include other important revisions addressing the treatment of women and persons with disabilities.  The provisions regarding health care are strengthened, and significant safeguards on the use of restraints have been added.

Finally, the resolution approving the Mandela Rules calls for July 18 – the global icon’s birthday – to be known as Mandela Prisoner Rights Day, which will promote humane conditions of confinement and raise awareness of prisoners as a continuing part of society.

One notable feature of this year’s Crime Commission was the positive role played by the United States. The U.S. delegation strongly supported adopting the rules and naming them in honor of Nelson Mandela, whom it called “one of the greatest defenders of human rights and dignity in recent history.” It resisted attempts to reopen the text of the Mandela Rules that had been agreed to in Cape Town earlier this year, and it fought back against efforts to insert language that would allow countries to disregard certain rules for cultural and religious reasons.

Perhaps most important, the U.S. delegation included the corrections directors from Washington and Colorado, two states that have significantly reduced solitary confinement and pioneered other progressive reforms. The two directors described their work at a panel discussion sponsored by the United States, and the duo played a key role in negotiations leading to adoption of the Mandela Rules.

It is important to remember that the outcome is a compromise that was reached after a lengthy intergovernmental process and extensive negotiations, which often attempted to water down progressive revisions. That said, civil society groups as well as independent experts like the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture played a significant role in guiding the process and advocating for progressive human rights-based revisions.

Our work isn’t over yet.

The Mandela Rules still need to be approved by the U.N. General Assembly this fall, although approval is overwhelmingly likely. Unlike a treaty, the rules aren’t binding, although they represent a powerful global consensus on minimum standards.  The real work — ensuring that the Mandela Rules make a difference in the lives of the millions of prisoners throughout the world — begins now. But the unanimous adoption of the Mandela Rules in Vienna last week was an indispensable first step, and a positive development for prisoners’ rights everywhere.

ACLU explains the Mandela Rules, a major victory in solitary confinement protocol.