As 2019 is drawing to an end, the ACLU of Virginia would like to thank each of our donors, members, partners, clients and supporters. Thank you for your bravery, trust and generosity. Each of you contribute to the impact we make and the progress we have created.
For more than 50 years, the ACLU of Virginia has been working toward a Commonwealth where everyone belongs. It is our principal mission to protect our constitutional freedoms when the government erodes them, and to advance the rights enshrined in the Constitution but still denied to so many of us today. With your help, we sought to secure freedom and equality for all in 2019, and with your continued support, we’ll gain even more ground in 2020.
As Nelson Mandela said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Our freedom is inextricably intertwined, and we can’t truly be free when many of us are still “chained” by systemic oppression and inequalities.
That’s why our priorities are to reform the criminal legal system and guarantee the right to vote for all Virginians, including people in prisons and jails. Understanding that Virginia’s criminal legal system works differently for different people, we have worked this year to reduce the Commonwealth’s overdependence on incarceration and address the racial disparities at every step along the way, from pretrial detention to conditions of incarceration to reentry into society.
Our freedom is inextricably intertwined, and we can’t truly be free when many of us are still “chained” by systemic oppression and inequalities.
In addition, we believe that the right to vote is essential to our democracy and should never be taken away by the government. We pushed lawmakers to expand access to the ballot box and continued to advocate for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote.
In 2019, through your support, the ACLU of Virginia has defended our freedom of speech, right to privacy, right to equal protection and other civil liberties in court:
Nicolas Reyes is an immigrant from El Salvador who doesn’t speak or write English. For more than 12 years, he was isolated in a cell the size of a parking spot for 22-24 hours a day at Red Onion State Prison. He has lost nearly 50 pounds while in solitary confinement, and his mental health has deteriorated greatly. Because the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) does give equal opportunities to non-English speakers, Mr. Reyes has no meaningful way of getting out of this dehumanizing and isolating condition. We sued to hold VDOC accountable for its violation of his constitutional rights.
Titilayo “Titi” Shiyanbade and Tyesha Brooks were employees of Executive Health Group, a private medical practice in Richmond. Over the course of their employment, they faced repeated discrimination from their employer — stigmatized and humiliated because of their race. Eventually, they were fired and replaced by white employees, without any meaningful explanation. In October, we filed a racial employment discrimination lawsuit to defend their rights and send a message to small employers across Virginia that they can’t fire people simply because of their identity. (Update: This case was dismissed on June 19, 2020.)
Dr. Jalane Schmidt is a historian, activist and associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. She was sued for speaking out against Confederate statues and the legacy of slavery in Charlottesville. We defended her against a baseless defamation lawsuit aimed to stifle free speech and got the case dismissed in October.
Harrison Neal lives in Fairfax County. After filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act, he realized that his license plate information has been recorded by the Fairfax County Police Department without a warrant, using automatic license plate readers (ALPRs). We sued to stop the FCPD’s passive use of ALPRs for mass surveillance, and after four years in court, we won the case in April.
Gavin Grimm was a transgender student at Gloucester County High School who has fought relentlessly for more than four years for his rights and the rights of all trans students to use the bathroom of their gender. This year, the court ruled in Gavin’s favor. Although the Gloucester County School Board appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, we’re determined to stand with Gavin for as long as it takes.
For more than 50 years, we’ve shown up in courts, at the statehouse and on the streets to ensure that every Virginian is able to enjoy the freedoms and rights guaranteed for all of us in the Constitution.
But we can’t do this work alone. When you support the ACLU of Virginia, you take a stand for each of our clients and many others whose rights have been violated and freedoms unjustly denied. Rather than shrinking from those who hold power, you instead join us and declare: “Never again. Not to anyone else. This should never happen again.”
We are stronger and better together.