Weekly Rights Review: Arrest Disparities, and Free Speech Violations, and Surveillance Atrocities, Oh My!

June 09, 2013

Revelations about civil rights violations have been bountiful this past week. We have discovered that black people are arrested for marijuana possession at a very disproportionate rate; activists have been told that they cannot hand out flyers on public sidewalks; and the government has been tracking innocent citizens’ phone calls.

Luckily, though, there are people out there working to protect your rights, freedoms, and liberties.

Michigan News

Pot Problems
Earlier this week, the National ACLU released a report that reveals that black people are around three times more likely to be arrested for the possession of marijuana than white people throughout the country and the state, despite little racial difference in the use of pot. This discrepancy is likely due to racial profiling and more aggressive policing in communities of color.

The report also shows that this disparity in arrests has grown between 2001 and 2010, especially in Michigan. Kalamazoo County and Kent County have had the biggest increases in large counties in the entire country, with over 400% increases each. In 2010, blacks were 8.5 times more likely to get arrested in Kalamazoo County than whites and 7.5 times more likely in Kent County. In Monroe County, the disparity climbs to 15.4 times more likely! Check out more stats in the full story here.

The Public Safety Chief of Kalamazoo, Jeff Hadley, has said that he is surprised by these statistics and believes that the findings should be examined and discussed further. Hopefully Hadley will help work to make Michigan a more equal and just place.

Free Speech Still a Constitutional Right on Islands
On Thursday, May 30, Progress Michigan activists were peacefully handing out flyers, protesting what they view are attacks on public education, on a public sidewalk on Mackinac Island. Then, three Mackinac Island police officers and two Michigan State Police troopers ordered them to stop distributing literature anywhere on the island.

The officers cited a 1978 ordinance that makes the physical distribution of leaflets in public places a crime.

This ordinance is blatantly unconstitutional, so the ACLU sent a letter to Mackinac Island officials, urging them to repeal it. The letter reminded the officials about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states that the protection of speech is strongest in traditional public forums and individuals have a fundamental right to engage in core political speech like leafleting on public sidewalks.

Within two hours of receiving the letter, both the state police and the city of Mackinac Island agreed to no longer enforce the ordinance and the city committed to work with the ACLU of Michigan to amend it.

National News

The Patriot Act Permits Invasion of Privacy Once Again
Since the passing of the Patriot Act, the government’s civil rights violations and concealing of facts have increased greatly.

The government’s latest alarming action was revealed in The Guardian’s report, released on Wednesday, which exposes the U.S. government’s use of the Patriot Act to secretly track the calls of all Verizon Business Network Service customers for the past 41 days. It is unclear whether calls on other Verizon services or other communication companies, such as Sprint and AT&T, have been tracked.

This constant surveillance of innocent people demonstrates the loss of privacy and basic democratic rights to unaccountable intelligence agencies that we have been worried about for years.

These findings will likely affect the ACLU’s pending lawsuit investigating Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

By Kayla Steinberg