The ACLU envisions a free, safe and just society, where civil liberties are secure for all. Throughout our history, we have worked to ensure that constitutional protections are extended to all and that opportunities for education, employment, legal representation, and political participation are not denied on the basis of race.
What's Happening in Ohio
With civil unrest still a reality after recent examples of militarized police forces on American streets, President Barack Obama took a step in the right direction this week. He issued an executive order that banned the transfer of certain types of militarized weaponry from federal agencies to local police departments nationwide.
Banned items include: bayonets; armored vehicles; grenade launchers; some camouflage uniforms; and ammunition of .50-caliber or higher. The order also established a “controlled equipment” list, with tightened requirements before federal agencies can transfer equipment to local cops. These include riot control equipment and drones. Federal agencies also will require local police to provide more data so the government can better track equipment.
The 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, and subsequent acquittal of the George Zimmerman, the man responsible for Martin’s death, signaled the beginning of an awakening in America that has been long overdue.
The Black Lives Matter movement was born out of the post death de-humanization of Martin. The movement, unofficially named for the hashtag “#blacklivesmatter” on social media, calls for the affirmation all black lives. It demands an end to police practices of profiling, excessive use of force, and militarization, as well as pushes for criminal justice reforms to reduce mass incarceration.
As the Black Lives Matter movement began picking up speed, the summer of 2014 marked high profile killings of black people and, ironically, the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the 1964 campaign to register African-Americans voters in Mississippi.
In late July 2014, Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York, was choked to death by a white police officer on a city sidewalk. Garner told the police he couldn’t breathe 11 times before he died.
In early August 2014, two men were killed by police. The first, John Crawford of Beavercreek, Ohio, was shot on sight by a white police officer in a Wal-Mart store as he walked with a toy gun he picked up from a store shelf. His last words, “It’s not real.”
Next, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old from Ferguson, Missouri, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the middle of the street. Community outrage grew from the killing. Ferguson police responded to community concerns over abuse of force with military tanks and high powered weapons. For the first time the militarization of American police was in full view for the world to see.
The grand juries in the Garner, Crawford, and Brown cases did not indict the officers involved in their deaths. Particularly, the lack of indictments in the Garner and Brown cases fueled protests nationally.
Other Ohioans—all from Cleveland—have died at the hands of police. The November 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were shot 137 times by police officers, prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force. The DOJ issued its findings in December 2014.
In November 2014, Tanisha Anderson, who was experiencing a medical crisis, was killed by Cleveland police officers who used a “takedown move” as her family watch on. The week following Anderson’s death, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by a Cleveland police officer within seconds of approaching him as a played at a recreation center with a toy gun.
The excessive use of force by police officers not only is a national problem, but very much an Ohio problem. At this time, conversations are continuing on improving police-community relations as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Years of zero-tolerance polices have proven to be ineffective, unfair, and excessive and the federal government has finally taken notice. Acknowledging that discrimination in school discipline is a problem, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice recently issued guidance to schools on the administration of discipline in a non-discriminatory manner.
The Ohio legislature is also examining zero-tolerance policies and taking a much-needed look at school discipline practices. According to the Ohio Department of Education, over 210,000 students received out-of-school suspensions during the 2012-2013 school. Approximately 53,000 students were suspended for fighting, while 131,615 were suspended for disobedient or disruptive behavior.
Ohio Senate Bill 167 would eliminate zero-tolerance school policies for violent, disruptive, or inappropriate student behavior, including excessive truancy, and prohibits the adoption of such policies in the future. Instead, it requires each school district to create its own multi-factored policy to deal with incidents on a case-by-case basis. It also requires school boards to create alternative strategies for handling bullying and harassment, as well as other student behavioral issues.
The ACLU of Ohio is committed to challenging zero tolerance policies that push children out of schools and into the justice system.
Read our testimony on S.B. 167
Read our blog post on the failure of zero tolerance in schools.
Freedom from sexual abuse is not a privilege; it is a right!
Nevertheless, Ohio’s Juvenile Detention facilities have one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the nation. Often the children inside are also being kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time.
The ACLU of Ohio has asked the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to address these problems by formally declaring that juveniles have a right to be free from sexual victimization while inside Ohio’s detention facilities. We’re also asking them to ban the extended seclusion/isolation of juveniles beyond 24 consecutive hours.
See our 5/22/2014 update: Ohio agrees to end seclusion in youth prisons
Update: On June 27, 2013, thanks to an outpouring of support from all around the country the U.S Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform through S. 744, a bill which moves our country one step closer to putting aspiring Americans on the path to citizenship.
This bill is an important first step, but our work is far from complete. The legislation still needs approval from the U.S. House and we remain concerned about the border militarization and employer verifications provisions within the bill. We will continue to keep you updated on the status of this legislation and provide you with opportunities to make your voice heard.
Immigration legislation is finally headed to the full U.S. Senate.
Congress has an opportunity to make history by giving millions of aspiring Americans who contribute to our country every day the opportunity to earn citizenship.
On April 9, 2013 the ACLU of Ohio released a timeline to state legislators and the public chronicling the first 18-months in the life of Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LaECI), the nation’s first prison sold to a for-profit company.
The timeline tells the story of a facility that has rapidly become unsafe for inmates, employees, and the surrounding community.
Update: In late April, 2013, the ACLU met with Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor on this issue. In June, the Ohio Supreme Court announced that it will increase efforts to educate local courts on how they should handle indigent defendants. These efforts will include a publication for judges, magistrates, and other court officials that lists the appropriate procedures for indigency hearings.
In February 2014, The Supreme Court of Ohio released a new “bench card” giving much needed instructions to Ohio judges to help them avoid debtors’ prison practices in their courtrooms. These instructions came as a result of The Outskirts of Hope, and the ACLU of Ohio’s subsequent meetings with Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor on this issue.
The Constitution prohibits courts from jailing those who can’t afford to pay their fines.
So does Ohio law.
Our courts are doing it anyway.
Click here to learn more.
Thanks to the efforts of activists and advocacy groups, the Ohio General Assembly has not yet passed House Bill 159, which would restrict access to the polls for all Ohioans and for voters of color in particular. However, the OGA will continue to debate the bill. HB 159 requires a voter to show one of four kinds of government-issued photo ID and amounts to a modern day poll tax for people who do not already have an ID. Research shows that this includes more than 21 million Americans; a disproportionate number of whom are racial and ethnic minorities.
More information about HB 159 and protecting your right to vote is available on our Voting Rights page.
After declaring their birth certificates issued prior to 2010 invalid, Puerto Rico is facing a backlog of requests for new birth certificates. Without the documents, many Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are unable to obtain a state I.D., which can be necessary for securing employment, voting, or accessing social services.
In January 2010, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico decided to begin issuing new, more secure birth certificates, and by September of that year, they no longer recognized certificates issued before 2010. However, the Ohio BMV refused to recognize Puerto Rican birth certificates from April 2010, well before many Puerto Ricans had their new documents. The ACLU of Ohio called on the Ohio BMV to end this discriminatory policy.
People of color are grossly overrepresented at every step of the criminal justice system, and nearly half of people incarcerated are black or Latino. In August 2010, the ACLU of Ohio released a report that reveals the unfair policies and practices that result in disproportionate incarceration of people of color in Ohio. “Reform Cannot Wait: A Comprehensive Examination of the Cost of Incarceration in Ohio from 1991-2010” also highlights the cost of these disparities for all Ohioans.
In June 2011, the ACLU of Ohio focused specifically on racial justice and drug policy in the greater Cleveland area in “Overcharging, Overspending, Overlooking: Cuyahoga County’s Costly War on Drugs“. The report shows that drug policies are not enforced fairly based on the person’s race and where the person lives and was made possible by support from the Drug Policy Alliance.
Youth of color are more likely than their peers to be arrested, charged, adjudicated delinquent, and detained in a juvenile facility. The ACLU, the ACLU of Ohio, the Children’s Law Center and the Office of the Ohio Public Defender are currently monitoring these disparities, termed “disproportionate minority contact,” and released a Report Card: Evaluating Juvenile Justice in Ohio.
In 2007, the Department of Youth Services began an effort to monitor and reduce disproportionate minority contact. The ACLU of Ohio is currently evaluating if these efforts have been successful and plans to update the Report Card in Fall of 2011.
The ACLU of Ohio is a founding member of Citizens for a Safe & Fair Cleveland, a coalition created to work towards unbiased law enforcement and judicial equity as related to drug laws.
In 2008, the coalition commissioned a study to examine the selective enforcement of drug laws in Cuyahoga County. Selective Enforcement of Drug Laws in Cuyahoga County, Ohio: A Report on the Racial Effects of Geographic Disparities in Arrest Patterns finds that African Americans and other minorities in the city of Cleveland are more often charged with felony drug possession than their suburban peers.
Using the report as a resource, the coalition successfully lobbied Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson to change the city’s procedure for handling drug paraphernalia cases to reflect those followed by greater Cuyahoga County.
Incarcerating a person simply because he or she cannot afford to pay court costs and fines is prohibited by state law and unconstitutional. The ACLU of Ohio has questioned one Erie County judge about his practice of jailing defendants who cannot or do not pay fines or fees, and has also spoken out against pay-to-stay jail schemes in Summit County, Monroe County, and Franklin County.
In October 2010, the ACLU released “In For A Penny”, a startling new report that profiles five states — including Ohio — that imprison people because they cannot pay fines. The report highlights the negative consequences for budgets and public safety, noting that jailing one person for 30 days costs more than $1500, causes disruptions in employment, and can contribute to recidivism.