Posts Tagged ‘racial profiling’

News Digest 07/19/2013

Friday, July 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

News Digest 07/10/13

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

News Digest 07/09/13

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

NYC City Council passes historic NYPD reforms

Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 12:14 pm by

photoIn a late night session, the New York City Council passed two historic pieces of legislation that will bring desperately needed reform and accountability to the New York City Police Department.

One bill will substantially broaden protections against profiling by police. The other will appoint a commissioner at an independent agency to oversee the NYPD.

The passage of the bills is important both for the added protection they bring to New Yorkers and because it shows the power of the broad based organizing model employed by the coalition promoting the bill, Communities United for Police Reform. The legislative victory builds on decades of courageous work in the movements for police accountability and racial justice.

Both pieces of legislation passed by 34 or more votes, assuring that if the votes stay the same a threatened veto by Mayor Bloomberg can be overridden by the city council.


News Digest 06/20/13

Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

Constitution in Crisis::BORDC’s May Newsletter

Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm by

Constitution in Crisis

May 2013, Vol. 12 No. 05

View this newsletter as a webpage:

Department of Justice seizes phone records of journalists


Grassroots News

Law and Policy

New Resources and Opportunities


‘Boston Strong’: Marching in lockstep with the police state

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm by

This commentary was written by John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute. It was originally published on April 22, 2013.

“Of all the tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”—C.S. Lewis

Caught up in the televised drama of a military-style manhunt for the suspects in the Boston Marathon explosion, most Americans fail to realize that the world around them has been suddenly and jarringly shifted off its axis, that axis being the U.S. Constitution.

For those like myself who have studied emerging police states, the sight of a city placed under martial law—its citizens under house arrest (officials used the Orwellian phrase “shelter in place” to describe the mandatory lockdown), military-style helicopters equipped with thermal imaging devices buzzing the skies, tanks and armored vehicles on the streets, and snipers perched on rooftops, while thousands of black-garbed police swarmed the streets and SWAT teams carried out house-to-house searches in search of two young and seemingly unlikely bombing suspects—leaves us in a growing state of unease.

Mind you, these are no longer warning signs of a steadily encroaching police state. The police state has arrived.

Equally unnerving is the ease with which Americans welcomed the city-wide lockdown, the routine invasion of their privacy, and the dismantling of every constitutional right intended to serve as a bulwark against government abuses. Watching it unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering’s remarks during the Nuremberg trials. As Goering noted:

It is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.

As the events in Boston have made clear, it does indeed work the same in every country. The same propaganda and police state tactics that worked for Adolf Hitler 80 years ago continue to be employed with great success in a post-9/11 America.

Whatever the threat to so-called security—whether it’s rumored weapons of mass destruction, school shootings, or alleged acts of terrorism—it doesn’t take much for the American people to march in lockstep with the government’s dictates, even if it means submitting to martial law, having their homes searched, and being stripped of one’s constitutional rights at a moment’s notice.

As journalist Andrew O’Hehir observes in Salon:

In America after 9/11, we made a deal with the devil, or with Dick Cheney, which is much the same thing. We agreed to give up most of our enumerated rights and civil liberties (except for the sacrosanct Second Amendment, of course) in exchange for a lot of hyper-patriotic tough talk, the promise of “security” and the freedom to go on sitting on our asses and consuming whatever the hell we wanted to. Don’t look the other way and tell me that you signed a petition or voted for John Kerry or whatever. The fact is that whatever dignified private opinions you and I may hold, we did not do enough to stop it, and our constitutional rights are now deemed to be partial or provisional rather than absolute, do not necessarily apply to everyone, and can be revoked by the government at any time.

Particularly disheartening is the fact that Americans, consumed with the need for vengeance, seem even less concerned about protecting the rights of others, especially if those “others” happen to be of a different skin color or nationality. The public response to the manhunt, capture and subsequent treatment of brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is merely the latest example of America’s xenophobic mindset, which was also a driving force behind the roundup and detention of hundreds of Arab, South Asian and Muslim men following 9/11, internment camps that housed more than 18,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II, and the arrest and deportation of thousands of “radical” noncitizens during America’s first Red Scare.

Moreover, there has been little outcry over the Obama administration’s decision to deny 19-year-old U.S. citizen Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his due process rights and treat him as an enemy combatant, first off by interrogating him without reading him his Miranda rights (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”).

Presently, under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule, if law enforcement agents believe a suspect has information that might reduce a substantial threat, they can wait to give the Miranda warning. For years now, however, the Obama administration has been lobbying to see this exception extended to all cases involving so-called terror suspects, including American citizens. Tsarnaev’s case may prove to be the game-changer. Yet as journalist Emily Bazelon points out for Slate: “Why should I care that no one’s reading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights? When the law gets bent out of shape for him, it’s easier to bend out of shape for the rest of us.”

The U.S. Supreme Court rightly recognized in its 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona that police officers must advise a suspect of his/her civil rights once the suspect has been taken into custody, because the police can and often do take advantage of the fact that most Americans don’t know their rights. There have been few exceptions to the Miranda rule over the last 40 years or so, and with good reason. However, if the Obama administration is allowed to scale back the Miranda rule, especially as it applies to U.S. citizens, it would be yet another dangerous expansion of government power at the expense of citizens’ civil rights.

This continual undermining of the rules that protect civil liberties, not to mention the incessant rush to judgment by politicians, members of the media and the public, will inevitably have far-reaching consequences on a populace that not only remains ignorant about their rights but is inclined to sacrifice their liberties for phantom promises of safety.

Moments after taking Tsarnaev into custody, the Boston Police Dept. tweeted “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won.” Yet with Tsarnaev and his brother having been charged, tried and convicted by the government, the media and the police—all without ever having stepped foot inside a courtroom—it remains to be seen whether justice has indeed won.

The lesson for the rest of us is this: once a free people allows the government to make inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government. Increasingly, those on the left who once hailed Barack Obama as the antidote for restoring the numerous civil liberties that were lost or undermined as a result of Bush-era policies are finding themselves forced to acknowledge that threats to civil liberties are worse under Obama.

Clearly, the outlook for civil liberties under Obama grows bleaker by the day, from his embrace of indefinite detention for U.S. citizens and drone kill lists to warrantless surveillance of phone, email and internet communications, and prosecutions of government whistleblowers. Most recently, capitalizing on the nation’s heightened emotions, confusion and fear, government officials used the Boston Marathon tragedy as a means of extending the reach of the police state, starting with the House of Representatives’ overwhelming passage of the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which opens the door to greater internet surveillance by the government.

These troubling developments are the outward manifestations of an inner, philosophical shift underway in how the government views not only the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but “we the people,” as well. What this reflects is a move away from a government bound by the rule of law to one that seeks total control through the imposition of its own self-serving laws on the populace.

All the while, the American people remain largely oblivious to the looming threats to their freedoms, eager to be persuaded that the government can solve the problems that plague us—whether it be terrorism, an economic depression, an environmental disaster or even a flu epidemic. Yet having bought into the false notion that the government can ensure not only our safety but our happiness and will take care of us from cradle to grave—that is, from daycare centers to nursing homes, we have in actuality allowed ourselves to be bridled and turned into slaves at the bidding of a government that cares little for our freedoms or our happiness.

BORDC releases model legislation to address domestic surveillance drones

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 10:17 am by

Drone State?This week, Bill of Rights Defense Committee is releasing model drone legislation to assist local communities and states in the growing battle against domestic surveillance drones. BORDC worked with the organizers across the country  who have been leading the opposition against rushed drone proliferation. The American Friends Service CommitteeAlameda County Against Drones, the No Drones Network,  and the Tenth Amendment Center all consulted on the language.

In response to the diversity of grassroots organizing efforts currently taking place, there are two models of the legislation. One creates a drone free zone, meaning it completely prohibits the use of drones over a city or county to the extent legally permissible. The other strictly limits the use of drones to specific situations. Both of the models contain significant explanations of why unregulated drone proliferation and use is so deeply concerning.  They also contain policy statements urging action at the state and federal level to restrict drone use.

The regulated use of drones model allows law enforcement to use drones only when they have obtained a warrant from a judge and they certify that drones are the least expensive and best option. It would also allow non-law enforcement missions, including search and rescue, fire response and prevention, and hazardous material spills but the language ensures that these exceptions will be strictly regulated.  Additionally, there are very strict auditing requirements and regulations on the use and destruction of data obtained via drones.  Portions of this model were contributed by civil rights lawyer David Frankel, representing a grassroots coalition called Aligning for Responsible Droning (“ARD”).

The need for action on drones right now is clear. As the prefatory clauses of the model legislation emphasize, drones have the potential to introduce ambient and persistent surveillance, meaning surveillance could be everywhere at all times and impossible to avoid. That’s because the drone technology ensures that specific and limited surveillance is impossible. When strict regulations are not imposed, drones can potentially catch images of everyday activity on their way to and from specific missions and law enforcement can use that information in any way they want. There is little incentive for law enforcement not to exploit this ability. What’s worse is that drone use will exacerbate the targeting of vulnerable groups by law enforcement.  Biased policing through the local enforcement of federal immigration laws, arrests for low level victimless crimes and racial and religious profiling will inevitably increase.

Because of the major concerns around domestic surveillance drones, activists and community leaders across the country have  begun to put the halt on unimpeded drone proliferation. Legislatures in at least 31 states have introduced measures to regulate, limit, or prohibit the use of drones for domestic surveillance. However, not all of the legislation has had the chance to get to a vote, and many of these bills contain significant loopholes. That is why action at the local level is opportune. Recently, Charlottesville, VA, became the first city to pass a resolution imposing a moratorium on drones, and called on state officials to implement a statewide moratorium.  Just this month, St. Bonaficius, MN, followed suit, outlawing the use of drones for up to 400 feet above the city. Similarly, as the result of the advocacy of the group Alameda County Against Drones the Public Protection Committee of the Alameda County Board of Representatives held a packed public hearing around Sheriff Greg Ahern’s purchase of a surveillance drone.

The surge in organizing around the domestic use of drones  has dovetailed with growing concern at the national level over the use of drones for so-called “targeted killings” overseas. Last year, in December 2012, representatives of various groups around the country created the Network to Stop Drone Surveillance and Warfare (NSDSW), a “nationwide grassroots network to stop drone surveillance and warfare.” The group’s national month of action in April has kicked off with demonstrations across the country, and has already helped increase awareness of the issues around domestic and foreign drone use. Joe Scarry of the No Drones Network and NSDSW, notes:

Starting with the protest at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada at the end of March, events and actions have taken place so far in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Fayetteville, Ft. Wayne, Dayton, Chicago, Janesville, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and San Diego, and dozens more are planned throughout the month.

The month of action highlights three sets of institutions that encourage the proliferation of drone technology; drone manufacturers, colleges and universities conducting drone research, and military bases involved in operating drones.

Not content to rest with killing thousands of civilians overseas, the drone industy is seeking to expand their market by spying on Americans at home, and they have spent millions of dollars to lobby Congress to that effect. Drone manufacturers and their representatives have made it plain that they are willing to go to any length to ensure widespread adoption of their military technology. As demonstrated by the presence of a drone caucus in congress, elected officials are listening to them.

The good news, however, is that the time is ripe for local organizing. The drone lobby is far weaker in cities or counties, where BORDC’s model legislation is intended to be used. The models are organizing tools, and BORDC encourages local grassroots groups to edit and customize them as needed. With the availability of both models, as well as myriad resources in an annotated version of the legislation , these models can be used anywhere by anyone, including organizers without a legal or technical background.

BORDC is also available to consult on organizing campaigns. You can contact us at organizing [at] bordc [dot] org. Review our model legislation today, and join us in saying no to drone surveillance in your community!


The Fourth Amendment and Warrantless DNA Testing

Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 9:56 am by

Lady JusticeOn February 26, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Maryland v. King, which raised the question of whether the Fourth Amendment permits warrantless DNA collection upon an individual’s arrest but without charge.  The case began on April 10, 2009, when Alonzo King was arrested for pointing a shotgun at a group of people.  He admitted his guilt, was originally charged with a felony assault and ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.

At the time of King’s arrest, the police swabbed his mouth to gather a DNA sample, which matched DNA from an unsettled rape case four years prior – King was convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to life in prison.  His warrantless DNA sample was the only evidence linking him to the rape case; the police had no probable cause to sample his DNA.  Patricia Millet, who heads the Supreme Court practice at Atkin Gump, explained this by saying ,”DNA is more commonly used not to identify the individual but to link the individual to other crimes for which he is not otherwise a suspect (or at least there is not probable cause to think he committed the other crime.”

There are several problematic facets to warrantless DNA collection, the first of which is that this specific form of testing appears unconstitutional according to our Fourth Amendment protections.  This is the ground on which the Supreme Court will determine whether police can conduct DNA testing upon arrest, but there are far more complex issues beyond the simple constitutionality of this sampling.

Invasion of Privacy

Justice Stephen Breyer argued that DNA tests are “no more intrusive” than fingerprints but “much more accurate.”  This is a gross overstatement on Breyer’s part – unlike fingerprints, DNA tracks an individual’s medical history, ancestry, gender – even whether or not an individual is adopted.  It is a wonder that Justice Breyer argued DNA tests are “much more accurate,” being that in 2011, over 10,500 DNA samples were taken, only 19 of which led to arrests.  Not only, then, are DNA samples fairly unproductive, resulting in a meager percentage of arrests, but they also expose some of our most personal information.

Racial Bias

DNA tests are already used as racial dragnets among whole families and communities of color, The Nation argues. Because the majority of individuals stopped by police are African American and Latino men, DNA samples taken in these instances are inherently skewed, representing a disproportionate number of men of color.  The Nation writes, “DNA is a value-neutral biological molecule, but DNA databases are mirrors that reflect the bias in justice systems.  By 2008, Britain’s National Database stored DNA from 27% of the black population and 77% of black males.” It is imposible to overstate the racial, age and gender bias present in DNA databases.


Kimani Gray and state-sanctioned terrorism

Friday, April 5, 2013 at 11:10 am by

On Saturday, March 23, 150 people filled St. Catherine of Genoa Church in Brooklyn to mourn the death of Kimani Gray.  Outside, police surveyed the scene from the street and from rooftop. On the night of March 9 in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, sixteen year-old Kimani Gray was walking home from a birthday party when he was shot and killed by two plainclothes policemen.   Many witnesses say that Gray “pleaded for his life” as the police fired eleven shots, seven of which hit him.


While Gray was simply returning from a birthday party with friends, the police no doubt “saw a gang,” rashly taking stock of the age, gender and race of the boys before them.  Some reports have argued that Gray allegedly pulled a .38 revolver on the officers (without firing), but at least one witness has denied that Gray drew any weapon.  Gray’s possible weapon possession has raised questions about his potential gang affiliation.  Any possession of firearms or gang affiliation on Gray’s part is irrelevant, though, and only detracts from the conversation—The tragedy of Gray’s murder, above all else, speaks to the unnecessary and dangerous militarization and surveillance of American ghettos.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk programs, communities of color like East Flatbush have been subject to near-constant surveillance.  Rosa Squillacote of the Police Reform Organizing Project in New York City commented in the wake of Gray’s death, saying that as young men of color, they fear that “if [they] go outside, [they're] being watched.”  Her comment was specifically in response to stop-and-frisk programs, which operate on a racial bias (87% of those stopped by the NYPD in 2011 were black or Latino and weapons were found in less than 0.02% of those cases), but it applies to a broader state of living in New York City as well.

There exists a long history of police surveillance and profiling in lower-income, majority non-white neighborhoods in New York City.  This was evidenced in the nights following Gray’s death, when reporters noted scores of police surveilling his East Flatbush home.  Mere days after his death, the neighborhood was overrun: “Walking east along Church Avenue from Nostrand last Thursday afternoon, The Observer counted two police officers on every corner.”  Those police were allegedly there to manage the protests after Gray’s murder, but a similar scene would likely have greeted any passerby before Gray’s death.