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Federal Civil Rights Complaint Challenges Discrimination in City of Richmond Public Schools

NEWS RELEASE: Richmond Public Schools’ disciplinary policies punish African-American students and students with disabilities more harshly and more frequently than their peers, the complaint asserts. read more »

ACLU-VA Comments at Governor’s First ‘Listening Tour’ Event on Police-Community Relations

The following remarks were delivered by ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga at the first of four ‘listening tour’ events on the topic of police-community relations sponsored by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The forum was held on Aug. 16, 2016, at the Richmond Police Academy.

Thank you for this opportunity for law enforcement representatives and members of the communities they serve and police to come together to talk about current issues in policing. Virginia must be careful not to look at Ferguson and Baltimore and think, “that can’t happen here.”

The lesson of Ferguson is that it is past time to reconsider Virginia’s ever-increasing move to a fee based criminal justice system. When fines and forfeitures become a base revenue for agencies and localities, when they become part of the architecture of law enforcement agency budgets, the inevitable move toward policing for profit has begun. As the Justice Department found in Ferguson, where fines and costs made up as much as 20 percent of the budget, an emphasis on revenue generation is inherently corrupting. In addition, it leads to jails occupied in significant numbers by people who are there simply because they cannot afford to pay the fines and costs associated with moving violations and other minor offenses.

Localities in Virginia oppose any effort to limit dependence on fines and forfeitures as a revenue source or to reign in civil asset forfeiture. This is in part because the legislature has failed to live up to the promise made when the moratorium on annexation was put in place, that, pursuant to HB 599, 30 percent of the cost of local law enforcement would come from state general fund dollars. Now the amount covered is less than half that. Virginians must accept that public safety should be a general fund priority and we all need to support adequate funding for police not dependent on fines, forfeitures, and costs.

Taxpayers and law enforcement should come together to demand that communities and the Commonwealth commit to base funding of law enforcement that ensures best practices policing can be implemented across Virginia. To do otherwise is to accept a model of revenue production by police that can only lead us away from best practices policing to the kind of intentional deprivations of civil rights that existed in Ferguson. We agree with comments by the head of the Virginia State Police Association made in 2011 about proposals to allow local prosecutors to convert state law criminal charges to local charges so the fines would go to localities and not the Virginia Literary Fund: “We are opposed to our enforcement actions being a source of revenue for any operating budget in any local government,” said M. Wayne Huggins.

One lesson of Baltimore, as detailed in the Department of Justice report released in the last week, is that we must revisit the “holy grail” of zero tolerance or broken windows policing. The experience in Baltimore (and the recent reexamination of stop and frisk in NYC) shows that this approach does not keep us safer, and it does result in communities of color and impoverished communities experiencing policing differently than other communities and disparate rates of incarceration for low-level offenses like marijuana possession.

We also need to look carefully at how we “license” police in Virginia. Unlike medical doctors and lawyers, people who are certified as qualified to serve as law enforcement officers in the Commonwealth cannot lose their certification for unethical behavior or police “malpractice.” Someone can violate departmental use of force policies, get fired, and maintain the certificate that allows them to be hired at another law enforcement agency. In Virginia, you can only lose your certificate if you are convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors or fail to do mandatory training. You cannot lose it for misconduct. That needs to change.

One thing that also needs to change to make that possible, however, is that, as is the case with lawyers and doctors, there need to be statewide conduct and ethical standards for “licensed” law enforcement officers that are uniform across all Virginia jurisdictions. It is time to come to grips with the reality that there are some principles of policing that cannot and should not vary depending on which side of a jurisdictional line you are on. For example, there should be an accepted set of principles embodied in all use of force policies statewide. In addition, there should be uniform rules on the use of body cams that protect the rights of individuals being policed and the public’s right to know regardless of where one lives or by whom one is policed.

The following principles should be mandatory components of all departmental use of force policies:

• Sanctity of Life: The protection of the public shall be the cornerstones of any use of force policy,” meaning perseveration of life is paramount in dangerous situations.
• De-escalation: Whenever reasonable, police should de-escalate, or slow down situations to minimize the use of force. Officers shall be trained to consider what factors may contribute to a lack of compliance, such as language barriers, drug and alcohol use or a mental crisis.
• Duty to Intervene: Officers at a scene where physical force is used must intervene if it is inappropriately applied, or used when it is no longer needed. Officers will be held responsible if they witness inappropriate use of force and do not try to stop it.
• Duty to Report: Officers must report misconduct at the scene of an incident, including inappropriate use of force, to their supervisor and Internal Affairs as soon as possible.

In addition, as we said in our report last fall on body cam policies, “Getting to Win-Win,” there are four areas in which all body cam policies must be uniform across the Commonwealth:

• Rules governing when law enforcement officers are recording civilian encounters and what notice requirements govern their deployment;
• Rules governing how long data is stored;
• Rules and laws governing individual and public access to data collected by BWCs; and
• Rules governing consequences of failure to comply with provisions of policies assuring transparency and accountability in the use of BWCs, including possible decertification as a law enforcement officer.

In closing, we are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with a number of law enforcement agencies on police practice and policy issues over the last year. We look forward to continuing to do so. Today, we welcome the opportunity to say that our work with Sheriff C.O. Balderson in Westmoreland County has resulted in the implementation of body cam and use of force policies by his department that we believe can and should serve as models for other Virginia law enforcement agencies.

Thank you for listening today. At future stops on your listening tour, we’ll be providing more detail on a proposal regarding professionalization of police licensing, comments on encouraging more citizen engagement and restoring civilian authority over policing, and thoughts about how law enforcement can better serve the public’s right to know and restore trust where it has been broken in part by the culture of secrecy that too often is present in such agencies.

For Younger Generations, No Concept of Pre-9/11 America

BLOG: From personal experience, I can say that only relatively recently have I begun to fully understand why topics like the Patriot Act and NSA surveillance are so controversial, even though I have known about them for quite some time. read more »

ACLU-VA Statement on the Passing of Former Va. NAACP Head Jack Gravely

The following statement may be attributed to ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga:

“The ACLU of Virginia is saddened at the loss of one of our most courageous allies in the fight for racial justice in the Commonwealth. Jack Gravely was fearless in his advocacy, selfless in his dedication to an esteemed life of service, and relentless in his desire to affect change. His presence and influence are already greatly missed.”

Supreme Court Grants “Emergency” Stay to Stop High School Student from Using Boys’ Bathroom

BLOG: The irreparable harm the Court’s decision to stay the injunction will cause cannot be understated. No one can give Gavin back his senior year of high school. And the Court can’t take back the message it just sent to every transgender student in America read more »

Community Forum Offers Important Opportunities to Reflect on Change in Post-9/11 America

GUEST BLOG: Memories of 9/11, like memories of where one was the day JFK was shot, are called "flashbulb" memories because they seem brighter. read more »

Exciting Times Nationally for Voting Rights but Va. has a Long Way to Go

BLOG: We hope that the Court’s ruling will discourage Virginia’s General Assembly from enacting further limitations on the exercise of the franchise in Virginia, and encourage the legislature instead to consider passing laws that would open up access to the ballot box for all Virginians. read more »

ACLU-VA Expresses Concerns Regarding RPD Policing of Protests

LETTER: We ask that you take action as Chief immediately and decisively to respond to these concerns. Given the events of the past week, and, as we move closer to the November elections, we all know that there will be additional political and other rallies and protests in Richmond and the rest of Virginia in the weeks and months ahead. read more »

Reclaiming Our Democracy: 15 Years After 9/11

BLOG: Sadly, many of our founding principles of democracy and due process have been undermined. Countless lives have been affected and even lost. A reassessment is long overdue, particularly as our nation and world is now entrenched in another dark era of terrorism and unrest. read more »

So Much for the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

BLOG: With the ruling in Strieff, the court has again lost its way in its reading of the Fourth Amendment. read more »

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