Open Letter to Juggalos: Gang Case Accomplished Many Goals
The ACLU of Michigan disagrees with the U.S. Court of Appeals decision yesterday dismissing our challenge to the FBI’s designation of Juggalos as a gang. Nonetheless, we are proud of what the case accomplished and we were honored to represent the Juggalo family.
The court ruled that the Juggalos can only sue the local police, and not the FBI, for violating Juggalos’ right to free expression. We disagree. After all, it was the FBI’s fault that the local police targeted Juggalos after the FBI published misleading statements about Juggalos being a “loosely-affiliated hybrid gang” in its 2011 National Gang Report.
Although the court ruling was unfavorable, it’s important to recognize that the case was very successful in many respects. The ACLU and Insane Clown Posse had four major goals when we filed this case in federal court: (1) Fight back against the FBI for suggesting that the hundreds of thousands of people were criminal gang members simply because they liked a music group; (2) Raise awareness that Juggalos are part of a family, not a gang; (3) Force the federal government to admit that Juggalos are not criminals; and (4) Place the local police on notice that if they mistreat people just because they are Juggalos, they are violating the Constitution.
As shown below, we largely met each of these goals.
Fighting Back and Raising Awareness
When the FBI issued its gang report suggesting that Juggalos were gang members, the Juggalos fought back. With the help of the ACLU and the firm of Miller Canfield, they filed a lawsuit arguing that the gang designation violated their right to free expression. When the FBI first tried to dismiss the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of the Juggalos in a great victory that will help others seeking to challenge unconstitutional government abuse. Recognizing that the gang designation caused concrete harm, the court held that the Juggalos had “standing” to sue to vindicate their constitutional rights.
Critically, the Juggalos did not just leave it to the lawyers to fight for their rights. They took to the streets and organized a very successful March on Washington that drew thousands of protestors.
And perhaps most importantly, the case and the march raised awareness about the absurdity of labelling people gang members just because they love ICP music and Juggalo culture. Because of the case and the march, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of favorable articles, TV news stories, videos or documentaries educating the public about the peaceful nature of Juggalos.
The Feds Admit that Juggalos Aren’t Gang Members
Although the FBI refused to issue a statement to local police to counter the suggestion in the 2011 gang report that Juggalos were gang members, its attorneys repeatedly and clearly made the point throughout the litigation. From the very beginning, the FBI’s lawyers said that “only certain subsets of Juggalos were engaged in criminal activity,” not all Juggalos. Again on appeal, the government said that only “a small number of Juggalos are” engaging in gang-like activity. After we won the first appeal, the government insisted in its second motion to dismiss that “the report does not label the entire group or everyone associated with it as a criminal,” just a small number of people.
Moreover, the only time the FBI listed Juggalos in a gang report was in 2011. The FBI issued two gang reports after we filed our case, but nowhere in those reports is the word “Juggalo” even mentioned.
The Court Put Local Police on Notice that They Can Be Sued for Targeting Juggalos
Yesterday’s Court of Appeals decision essentially let the FBI off the hook because the FBI gang report did not force local police to harass Juggalos. While we disagree with the decision, it’s also important to note that the court made is clear that Juggalos can sue the local police for singling out Juggalos for mistreatment and violating their rights to freedom of expression. The court wrote, “our holding does not foreclose the possibility that [Juggalos] could raise their constitutional claims against individual officers.”
The take-away message is that we need to remain vigilant in protecting Juggalos from police misconduct. If you believe you are targeted by the police simply because you have expressed your identity as a Juggalo, we want to hear about it. Please email as many details about the incident to our co-counsel from Psychopathic Records, Farris H. Haddad at FarrisTheJuggalawyer@gmail.com.
So, while the Court of Appeals decision is unfortunate, the fight continues. The government does not have to like your taste in music and the government does not have to understand you. But it cannot punish you simply because you are part of the Juggalo family. We will stand with you as you assert your rights.