Stories from the ACLU of Washington

Published: 
Friday, September 3, 2010
On September 2, 2010, the Seattle Times ran an op-ed discussing startling details about longstanding racial disparities in Washington’s criminal justice system. The op-ed is written by NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorneys John Payton and Ryan Haygood. Way back in 1980, Washington state “officials asked themselves a hard question about why the state led the nation in the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans.”  Fast forward to 2007 and you can see how the problem still exists. The state’s own Sentencing Guideline Commission reported in 2007 that African Americans were 3% of the state’s population, but “received 14.91% of all felony convictions and were the most over-represented racial group ….” Read more
Published: 
Thursday, September 2, 2010
  With the end of August came the finale of national Hispanic Heritage Month. To celebrate, the Hispanic Business and Professional Association of Spokane sponsored a daylong festival. Amid the music, dancing, and delicious food was an ACLU-WA booth – part of the effort by our activists around the state to speak with people in-person and help them understand their rights. Staffing the booth were students from the ACLU-WA’s Gonzaga University Law School Club, bringing their knowledge about civil liberties into the community.  “The students took the opportunity to inform the Latino community about the ACLU-WA’s work and offer educational resources,” said ACLU-WA Field Director Liezl Tomas Rebugio.  “In particular, they wanted to talk about rights with law enforcement, immigrant rights, and how to protect personal privacy.”  As fall approaches, ACLU-WA student clubs at colleges and universities are gearing up for action. We currently have clubs on campus at Whitman College in Walla Walla, the University of Washington in Seattle, UW in Tacoma, Western Washington U. in Bellingham, and the law schools at Gonzaga, and Seattle University. There’s also a club at Seattle’s Garfield High. Participating in a club is a great way to learn more about – and be an activist for – civil liberties, meet other students, and just plain have fun. Get involved on your campus!  
Published: 
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Gangs present a serious public safety challenge to our communities.  But the approach that our state has instinctively turned to in the past—relying on arresting and jailing those believed to be involved in gangs—fails to get to the root causes of the issue, and likely makes it worse.  To be sure, for Washington cities dealing with violent crime, such as those in the Yakima Valley, meeting this challenge means appropriately punishing violent offenders.  But it is equally critical to find avenues through which individuals can leave gangs and reenter the community.  Simply imprisoning gang members and telling them to leave gangs doesn’t work if there’s nothing else for them to do, and no resources to help them get out. Read more
Published: 
Monday, August 30, 2010
In considering alternatives to arrest and incarceration for reducing substance abuse, it is useful to note that smoking rates continue to decline in Washington state -- and to understand how that decline came about. In 1997, almost 25% of adults were current smokers. By 2009, this number has decreased to less than 15%. In fact, we now have the third lowest smoking rate in the U.S. Well done Washington! What's even more exciting is that we didn't have to arrest, prosecute, or incarcerate any adults for smoking to achieve this result. Read more
Published: 
Friday, August 27, 2010
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Under Fire: As the case of ACLU-WA client Major Margaret Witt moves toward trial on Sept. 13, two of our state’s major dailies weigh in against the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – with Spokane’s Spokesman-Review castigating it as “asinine and counterproductive," and Tacoma’s The News Tribune declaring flatly “it needs to go.”  Meanwhile, a new CBS poll finds the public has moved far ahead of Congress on the issue: nearly two-thirds of Americans support having lesbians and gays serve openly in the military.  The Medical Marijuana Mess: This week’s cover story in Tacoma’s Weekly Volcano provides a very in-depth look at the daunting problems patients sometimes encounter in trying to use pot under Washington’s medical marijuana law, as currently written.
Published: 
Thursday, August 26, 2010
The ACLU-WA has been working for 75 years to protect the free speech rights of Washingtonians. But it’s not every day that one of our cases becomes the subject of a Hollywood movie with a famous director and real [reel?] movie stars!  The movie is called Grassroots, and it is being filmed all over Seattle this summer. According to the web site, here’s how the story begins: “A short-tempered, unemployed music critic who likes to dress as a polar bear thinks he can harness the power of the people to ride the monorail to political victory in Seattle. And he’s right. Almost.”  The man in the polar bear costume (Grant Cogswell) takes his free speech rights seriously. He decided to run for Seattle City Council in 2001 but found himself banned from criticizing his opponent (Richard McIver) in the city voter’s guide. Read more
Published: 
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Questioning Executions: On Crosscut.com: As our state’s first execution in many years approaches, Hubert Locke, dean emeritus of UW’s Evans School of Public Affairs, questions the wisdom of a punishment that cannot be revoked when mistakes are uncovered. Inequality and Prisons: Columnist Jerry Large of the Seattle Times highlights a recent paper by a UW sociologist that explores the negative consequences flowing from our policies of locking up more and more people.
Published: 
Monday, August 23, 2010
Ending the War on Drugs means ending our over-reliance on the criminal justice system to address what is primarily a public health problem. It means replacing arrest, prosecution, and incarceration with prevention, education, and treatment as your primary strategies for reducing substance abuse and improving the health and safety of our communities. And it means ending the civil liberties, civil rights, and racial justice abuses that have flowed with terrible inevitability from our declaration of war not truly on inanimate substances, but rather on people - disproportionately people of color, young people, and poor people. But there is reason for hope that the War on Drugs is coming to an end. And Washington is a leader in making it happen. To support this claim, I offer Exhibit A. Read more
Published: 
Friday, August 20, 2010
The ACLU works to protect student rights in the courts and in the state legislature. But our most valuable job is educating students and families about rights they may not even realize they have.
Published: 
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Another lawsuit against the Seattle police: The Stranger looks at the latest lawsuit over excessive force against a jaywalker by Seattle police officers. It reminds readers of the ACLU-WA’s observation that such incidents point to the need for training in how to de-escalate situations, especially when there is no threat whatsoever to public safety. NSA Snooping: The Seattle Weekly reports that our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (aka EFF) are again pursuing a lawsuit over an NSA spy program created during the Bush era. In an earlier EFF suit that was dismissed a former AT&T technician  claimed that in cities across the county—Seattle included—the NSA was operating "secure rooms" where the agency was allegedly conducting surveillance on customers' online activities.

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