Stories from the ACLU of Washington

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.
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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
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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
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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.
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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.
Published: 
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Inaugurating our periodic feature of civil liberties items in the media: Spokane’s Spokesman-Review reports on a new study by Gonzaga University on dropout prevention for middle schoolers. Included are many practical alternatives for people concerned about the “school-to-prison pipeline” – i.e., the reliance on “zero tolerance” discipline and other harsh measures that result in students being pushed out of school and ending up in the criminal justice system. An article in The Stranger calls into question the Seattle Police Department’s many arrests of individuals simply for possessing marijuana when this is supposed to be – by the voter-passed Initiative 75 – the city’s lowest law enforcement priority. Included is this nugget from Alison Holcomb, the ACLU-WA’s drug policy director: "Even if police are stumbling across marijuana secondarily, it's still a waste of their time to process the paperwork for the marijuana offense. It's a waste of tax dollars to submit that marijuana for testing."  And finally, a point of pride: Our recent blog post on the Witt Standard in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” cases is now featured on the national ACLU’s “Blog of Rights,” Daily Kos, and Pam’s House Blend.
Published: 
Monday, August 16, 2010
Although the number of people being arrested and imprisoned for drug crimes in Washington is decreasing, we still rely far too heavily on the criminal sanction for dealing with drug abuse. Only 140 people were in Washington prisons for drug crimes in 1980, while in 2008 there were over 2,300. And this doesn’t include people locked up in jails; for example, in 2008, the average daily population (ADP) of drug offenders in the King County jail was 459 – 18% of total ADP. Similarly, less than 6,000 people were arrested for drug crimes in 1981, while the figure was over 20,000 in 2009 (down from an all time high of 27,909 in 2007). Even after adjusting for population changes, these increases are staggering.
Published: 
Friday, August 13, 2010
Last week, Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach filed a high-profile lawsuit arguing that the Air Force should be forced to meet the "Witt standard" if it attempts to discharge him from military service under Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT). The "Witt standard" comes from a significant 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in an ACLU of Washington case, Witt v. U.S. Air Force, in which the court ruled that the Air Force must prove that dismissing a specific servicemember under DADT is necessary to ensure “good order, morale, and discipline” within the unit he or she served, rather than simply proving in a more general way that DADT broadly advances military readiness. With that requirement of proof, the “Witt standard” was born. Read more
Published: 
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Last week the Seattle P-I publicized the fact that Seattle's University District needle exchange, privately funded and operated by the People's Harm Reduction Alliance, had added clean crack pipes to its arsenal of disease-prevention weapons.  KING 5 News picked up the story, as did KIRO Radio. Many of the reader comments posted to the stories reflect the expected divide in public opinion about needle exchange programs.  On the one hand are those who understand that certain strategies focused on reducing the societal and personal harms of drug abuse not only "meet addicts where they are" and provide a compassionate link to treatment and recovery, they also save tax dollars that would otherwise be spent on emergency rooms, hospitalization, and uninsured treatment of Hepatitis C, HIV, and AIDS.  On the other are those who think harm reduction strategies simply enable addiction, and addicts would be better served by a dose of "tough love" - or simply left to die from overdose or the diseases they contract. Read more

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